By Grace Scolyer
There was a stage last year where if I heard my therapist use the term “self-care” one more time, I would have actually screamed. It was such a vague, elusive term that brought to my mind bubble baths and facemasks, green smoothies and 5am runs – a bunch of things that seemed so beneath what I considered to be effective ways of dealing with my symptoms. I didn’t see how adult colouring books were meant to fix my cloudy brain, and I didn’t have the energy in me to give it a go, or the resilience to deal with it inevitably failing to cure me.
So if any part of that resonates with your relationship with the idea of self-care, perhaps this guide will be of some help to you. Self-care isn’t all 10pm technology curfews and yoga; it takes many forms, depending on your experiences, what your busy schedule permits, but most importantly, what you need for yourself.
This umbrella terms refers to self-care activities for the healthy patient – in other words, preventing deterioration. For me, this term reminds me of things like cooking groups – preparing fresh food every evening, and sitting down with your housemates to enjoy the meal, all without distractions. It also brings to mind community netball teams, jogging or walking groups – activities that are productive, social, healthy, and focus on the moment you’re in.
Preventative self-care is also about being organised – creating study schedules to prevent burnout around exam season; setting goals for the month to stay motivated; keeping a bullet journal to stay on track of your weekly and daily tasks. I consider this a form of self-care because it leaves me feeling in control, proud of myself, and calmer. When combined with a cup of herbal tea and a ten-minute technology detox, I feel cared for.
Primordial self-care is about creating positive habits that contribute to a healthy infrastructure, leaving you better equipped to deal with daily, unavoidable challenges and stresses.
Chronic self-care is what I was looking for in therapy when I was recommended time and time again to better engage in self-care activities. This form of self-care is for the burnt-out or unstable patient trying to find their footing while dealing with a heavier allosteric load. This is the most elusive form of self-care, but so important to recovery. It is about arranging and attending GP appointments, persevering until appropriate support is found. It is about researching types of therapy, bulk-billing practices (see our updated Get-a-GP guide here – which now includes the details of psychologists), and attending therapy even when you least feel like it.
This type of therapy is giving people involved in your care the benefit of the doubt and being cooperative with your care – but also resolutely and firmly believing that you deserve the best care possible, and the time it takes to find a GP, therapist, or medication that suits you, is very much worth it.
It is about being kind in your expectations of yourself. Whether it is the pressure to attend every Nott night, run every VESPA session, or achieve above the median in every exam, at the very core of caring for yourself is being kind to yourself. It’s about asking for help when you need it, and saying no when you need to.
It is also about creating routines and habits that help you feel your best. Whether it is writing, reading, or running, this form of self-care is about committing to these practices, and practicing them often. It is about investing in the relationships that elevate you, and cutting ties with those that don’t. Chronic self-care is about insight and compassion, and prioritising your needs above anyone else’s.
This is for the late nights that are darker than others, or the mornings where your body won’t get out of bed. This is for the brains that have completely clouded over, when the sheer idea of green smoothies and bullet journals seems preposterous.
Emergency self-care is firstly about basic human needs. Drink a glass of water. Eat something – anything. Good. Now, if it’s daytime; have you showered and put on clothes? Have you stretched your legs or been outside today? If it’s night-time, shower, put on your pyjamas, and get as cosy and comfortable in bed as possible – it’s okay if you can’t fall asleep. If you haven’t spoken to anyone today – call someone who you know won’t mind; ask them to tell you about their day.
And, importantly, and as soon as possible, make an appointment with your GP. If you can, write down what you are feeling right now to bring to them to help them better understand what you are going through.
For emergency self-care, remember that this too will pass, and there are people here who love you and will listen to you cry for as long as you need to.
At the core of all self-care lies the belief that you deserve your own time and energy. It is so much more than bubble baths and Instagram hashtags. Looking after yourself is the most important job you have – and you have to care for yourself before you care for others. Right now (and every day, and all day), do something nice for yourself. Put your phone away, close your laptop, make yourself a cup of tea or go for a walk. You’ll thank yourself for it.