If you’re involved in any mental health or inspirational community online, you’ve likely seen the term self-care. We all probably have an idea of what it is. After all, it doesn’t take a Ph.D to deduce that the words self and care probably have something to do with taking care of yourself.
We’re taught that it’s an act of self-love, that it’s a way to relax and treat ourselves, maybe even do a little pampering. It’s bubble baths, manicures, massages, painting, candles, a good book, or just watching your favorite Netflix show for hours, while you eat ice cream.
It’s taking a break. Having some “me” time. And not feeling guilty about it!
We’re sold on the fact that these oft-repeated methods of self-care will cure our depression, make us happy, or just relieve all our stress.
When “Self-Care” Doesn’t Seem to Work
The traditional methods of self-care do make me feel better and can brighten my day or help me calm down. But they’re not the cure-all I thought they’d be.
I love candles and baths and face masks, but the problem is that sometimes what I need to take care of myself isn’t a 20-minute soak in my own stew of juices.
I have suffered from some nasty depression episodes where drawing a bath sounds like an absolute chore. I couldn’t even keep up with the dishes, much less indulge in anything that even resembled pampering.
Even now, where I am not actively suffering from depression, I have low energy days. Super low energy days where I don’t know if I’m sick or just having an “episode”. Mental fog surrounds me. I’m functional, but everything is hard. I put a lot of things off because I’m “tired”. Self-care seems like a luxury, and if I can even pull it off, it feels meaningless.
It sounds counter-intuitive, but self-care, as we know and love it, isn’t always what I need.
I need to clear my head. I need to feel present. I need to reboot my system.
I need something on a more basic, survival level.
The Self-Care Method I Didn’t Know I Needed
When my mind is restless, foggy, or deeply entrenched in emotional warfare against itself, I don’t turn to yoga or meditations. I can’t indulge in the Pinterest-perfect pamperings that I normally love. They’ll irritate me, overwhelm me, or just do nothing at all.
I wanted to devise a way to clear my mind and start small. Sort of a back-to-basics of self-care. The place to turn when I didn’t know where else to turn. The ultimate self-care is equalizing yourself to a state that’s more or less normal. That’s what a chaotic mind needs.
The Bare Minimum Method is self-care for those who are depressed, who are low-energy, who experience mental chaos or mental fog. It’s not the kind of stuff you put on Instagram. It’s not “pretty”. It’s not the kind we’re supposed to talk about. But if you need to reach a mental equilibrium, it’s the self-care method for you.
It’s the self-care before the self-care.
Focused on small, minimal effort things that actually do calm and center your mind. Everyone is different and everyone’s list will include different things.
It’s broken into tiers for your energy level, too.
The Bare Minimum Self-Care Method
For when you’re at your lowest mental energy level and don’t want to move much (ideal for a particularly bad depressive episode or whenever your mind is all noise and no help)
Make a “cleanse” drink. Though evidence shows your body doesn’t need help detoxing, I still like making something that’s good for my gut. I am a big fan of probiotic drinks or wellness shots from the natural food store. But I like to make my own cleanse with green tea, apple cider vinegar, honey, lemon juice, and cayenne pepper.
If you’re not in the mood to buy or make a drink like this, focus on staying hydrated with water. Make that your top priority for the day. I can be feeling bad about everything else in my day or in my life. I have no answers. But I do have my bottle of water. It’s one tiny victory, but it’s something.
Brush your teeth or use mouth wash for a quick 60-second refresh. I’ll be honest, if you’re struggling with depression, basic hygiene can fall by the wayside. I wouldn’t brush my teeth until the afternoons sometimes. Some days, I skipped it altogether. Doing so made me feel like I had gained a small modicum of control back, though. If I’ve already brushed but I’m feeling gross anyway, a splash of mouthwash can get me feeling refreshed again. I may be gross on the inside, but I won’t be on the outside.
Use a face wipe in between showers to also give a quick 10-second refresh. More on depression and hygiene. During an episode, it can be extremely hard to convince yourself to shower. I’ve been there. Even if you’re not depressed, your physical state has a huge impact on your mental state. I personally hate to feel sweaty after a long day. Refreshing yourself with a face wipe, or baby wipes, can give you that clean feeling in between showers. The trick for me was to try to overcome the mental muck by handling the physical muck.
Indulge in lotion. This is one of the best low-effort ways to treat yourself. I like lighter lotions that have a clean, non-perfumed scent, with plenty of skin-loving vitamins and nutrients.
Lay on the floor. Close your eyes. Breathe. No meditations to try to focus on. No mindfulness to practice. No doing it the “right way” or the “wrong way”. Just lay there. Enjoy a break. You deserve it. Plus the floor is good for your back.
Listen to music with headphones on. I love music. It’s one of my favorite activities. You can do it while you’re occupied with something else. You can actively listen and connect with it. You can convey so much or so little with a song. There’s a song or playlist for every mood, feeling, and situation. I have a couple pairs of headphones, depending on what I’m doing. I find it so satisfying to put on a pair and just lose myself to the music. It cancels out all noises around me and truly puts me in my own little world. I can be doing something on this list, or I can be doing absolutely nothing. This can be a mood-changer on some days.
If you have a little more energy, but still aren’t sure what to do, or still feeling mentally chaotic
Tidy up small areas of clutter. Throw away trash, put dishes in the sink, load a few into the dishwasher, if you’re feeling up to it. Grab a few errant pieces of laundry and put them in the hamper. Look at the clutter around you on the coffee table, kitchen table, or on your dresser. Are there any items you can quickly put back in their home location without triggering an entire Hoarders-style cleanup crew? Think small and easy. Don’t push yourself. Revel in what you are able to do because it is progress. A little progress can go a long way on bad days. The alternative is to do absolutely nothing, but that rarely sits well with me.
Make your bed, if you aren’t in it. Open up some blinds and let more light in. Fold up any unused blankets. Let the place breathe in between all the spaces, in hopes that it will help your body and soul breathe, too.
Spray Febreze and light those candles. Yep, we’re talking about candles. They make a lot of those self-care lists and graphics I see. They’re a great add-on to any routine though, especially if you’re cleaning Humans are emotionally connected to certain smells, and it can possibly alter your mood. I know it certainly does for me. If it doesn’t, the lovely vanilla-caramel scent wafting through the air will be a pleasant contrast to your cruddy, dark mental state.
For when you have a bit of mental clarity and mental energy, but you’re still feeling restless and need a boost to your mental health and overall well-being
Meditation. Yes, for real. I specifically mentioned it as something I can’t do when I’m low energy or depressed. That’s because I struggle to do it. When I’m in either of the two previous tiers, I can’t do it. If I try, I am all over the place. But when I can, I do like to meditate. It changed my life to discover guided meditations on YouTube. Why have I never done it before? It’s way better than just trying to meditate on your own. I’d much rather listen to someone else talk while I listen and breathe. Way easier. The difference between Tier 1 Jessica and Tier 3 Jessica doing meditation is the effectiveness. When I’m in a place where I have the clarity to accept the meditation and try to take it to heart, that’s when it can actually work. I also discovered that meditation doesn’t have to be a one-size fits all, stare-at-the-wall-and-clear-your-mind type of exercise. You can do one for anxiety or self-acceptance or stress relief!
Yoga, light-stretching, or a short walk. Low-impact exercise that won’t tire you out and it releases feel-good endorphins — that’s the goal of this one. If you can move around at all, your mind and body both will benefit, even if you don’t immediately feel there’s been any change or improvement. This is a great one if you have the mental and physical ability. I’m always surprised how much simply stretching can help me. No backbends or seeing how flexible you can be. Just stretch your muscles out the way it feels best. Or walk to your mailbox and back. If you really want to be bold, do a whole yoga routine, but there’s no pressure here. It’s all about what you’re feeling capable of doing.
Reciting personal affirmations. Writing them is even better. If you have low self-esteem like me though, I’d recommend learning how to write affirmations about your own accomplishments and characteristics, rather than just blanket, feel-good statements about yourself and your worthiness. Either way, telling yourself affirmations while you’re getting ready or making dinner or cleaning up can be an extra little boost that your mental health needs.
Listen to a podcast, an educational video, a sermon, or an audio book. I like to pair this one with cleaning, or some other activity on this list. The goal for me here is to feel like I‘m giving my brain a good workout. I like having something to stimulate me. If left unchecked, I often fall into a trap of mindless entertainment. It’s easy on the brain and it helps me decompress. By listening to a podcast or a Ted Talk, I feel like I’m feeding my mind something useful, even if I just have the strength to lay there. I put this in Tier 3 though because my mind doesn’t always want to learn something or have the capacity to. For others, this might be very simple, but I can’t feel guilty anymore that I have less mental RAM than I used to.
That’s it! That’s what I created for the Bare Minimum routine. If you clicked on the original blog post I wrote about it, you’ll notice that I’ve changed it quite a bit. The beauty is that it can evolve with you as you learn and grow, figuring out your best personal self-care habits.
Once you’re feeling mentally and physically rejuvenated, you will hopefully be feeling like your old self, ready to face challenges and be a productive go-getter.
Or instead, maybe you’re ready for some more active self-care, like the aforementioned bubble baths and face masks.
Whatever your choice, I hope it finds you well.