Spring into self-care

Spring into self-care

Drink water. Take a deep breath. Get some fresh air.

Seems obvious, right? Maybe for some. But for me, a vessel of anxiety before the pandemic, remembering to do even the simplest self-care tasks has been off my radar for quite some time. The panic and uncertainty that March 2020 brought into our lives turned me into someone I didn’t recognize: I was shoveling Trader Joe’s peanut butter cups into my face at an alarming rate (I’ll report back on how many cavities I have when I finally go back to the dentist) while constantly refreshing Twitter to read the latest horrible headlines about this new coronavirus. I started having stress dreams about walking around the grocery store without a mask; that is, after I finally fell asleep after wondering for hours if things would ever go back to some form of normal.

When we hit the one-year mark of this health crisis and it was obvious I wasn’t going to wake up one day and learn it had just magically disappeared, I knew something had to change. And since I couldn’t do anything about the world at large, I knew I had to change myself – more specifically, my thinking.

This spring, the season of new beginnings, seemed like the perfect time to embark on a journey of self-care. I’ve been amazed at how prioritizing even my most basic needs (seriously, drink some water) boosts my mood. If you’re feeling similarly burnt out from the pandemic and whatever else life has thrown at you over the past year, try taking just a few minutes a day to focus on yourself. Once I started prioritizing self-care and learning to let go of the things I can’t control (which is essentially all of the things except my actions and thoughts), I began to feel freer, calmer, and more grounded.

Do something that brings you joy and energizes you, whatever that may look like for you. While self-care is different for everyone, here are some activities that have worked for me.

Let me also preface this by saying that I’m not a mental health professional (but I will recommend talking to one to anyone who will listen; virtual therapy is a wonderful, safe option during the pandemic, as long as Zoom cooperates).

• Guided meditation. Since I’m usually buzzing with anxiety, I’ve never mastered sitting still but thought I’d give it a try. I downloaded the Headspace app and let a calming British man tell me to breathe, which shouldn’t be a necessary reminder, but it was. I started small, meditating for five minutes a day and then upped it to 10 minutes a day. Taking the time to just sit and focus on my breathing has both physically and mentally chilled me out, which if you know me, is a big deal. Headspace also offers courses, ranging from 10 to 30 days that focus on specific topics, such as managing anxiety, finding focus, navigating change, sleep health, and more. There are plenty of other apps, videos, and courses online, too.

• Nature walks. Like so many of us, the pandemic has given me a newfound appreciation for nature and even spring. I’ll always love autumn the most, but slowing down to admire the flowers blooming, the birds chirping, and the warmer temperatures has significantly boosted my mood. Whether it’s a stroll through your neighborhood, on a bike path, or a hike on one of the many trails and nature conservation areas in the state, take advantage of the wild world out there.

• Practicing gratitude. I’ve always rolled my eyes at this suggestion, but I was wrong. Write down a few things or people you’re thankful for and try not to smile. Focusing on the positives, rather than the negatives, can really shift your mood. Similarly, take some time each day to focus on the small joys around you: for me that’s sitting down (again, even for a few minutes) with a good book and a hot cup of coffee.

• Talking about my feelings. About a month ago, on a whim, I posted a thread on Twitter about my struggles with anxiety and some of the coping strategies I’ve recently developed, second guessing as soon as I hit send whether I should have said anything. The response from friends, colleagues, and strangers was overwhelming in a positive way and made me realize that we’re not all that different. Everyone is dealing with some challenge in their life, whether they’re vocal about it or not. You don’t have to post it on social media, but sharing your story is empowering. Find a trusted friend or relative and tell them how you’re feeling. Reducing the stigma around mental health starts with open communication, and I guarantee you’ll start to feel less alone. If you don’t have anyone in your life to talk to, feel free to message me.

A few other activities that have helped improve my mental health and overall mood: exercising consistently, yoga, and dog cuddles. Why buy a weighted blanket when you can have a 100-pound golden retriever lay on top of you? Another effective way to blow off steam is to drive around in your car and sing terribly (or not terribly if you’re blessed with an angelic voice). I can also be found dancing alone in my apartment to Lizzo, which does make me feel “good as hell.”

This spring, no matter what you do, take some time for you. You’ll not only feel better, but you might also inspire the people around you to do the same.