Yesterday I spent World Mental Health Day having a self-care day, which seems appropriate. In reality you ought to be good to yourself every day of course, but that’s just not plausible for most of us, so for those who need it, it’s important to put aside special days – or even just some hours or moments if that’s what you can spare – to prioritise feeling good and being kind to yourself.
The reason I need self-care days is basically down to anxiety. My approach to controlling my anxiety these days is preventative, because once it’s there it’s basically a straitjacket and the more you struggle the tighter it winds around you. I know the circumstances that set off my anxiety and when I start to eliminate them – coffee instead of food on an empty stomach, alcohol, being disorganised, running out of money, lying – my quality of life gets measurably better. Other anxiety triggers are unavoidable – guilt, emotional friction, fear of violence, bad health, running out of money – while some episodes have no tangible origin whatsoever and you just have to have your tactics to hand for when they arrive.
Two things are definitely true for me: the more I look after my body – yoga, exercise, sex, good food, less alcohol and caffeine – the less anxiety I will have to go through; and the more I look after my mind – yoga, reading, learning, meditation, art, new experience, conversation – the less anxiety I get and the better able I feel to deal with the way I live and the world I have to live in. Self-care days help me to sustain all of that.
What my self-care days are
An opportunity to think about my mental and physical health.
An opportunity to learn from people going through similar.
A chance to think how far I’ve come.
Truly lovely times.
What my self-care days are not
‘Treat days’. It shouldn’t be a big treat to want to go for a walk for no reason, or make a 5 hour playlist just for yourself, or make imaginary AirBnB wish lists. They’re just simple pleasures that I deserve and that harm nobody.
‘An excuse to bunk off work’. I’m a freelancer, that means I work hard and I work long hours, but I work them when I want to. Also there ain’t nothing wrong with bunking off work anyway.
A day to get over hangovers. My self-care days are all about improving on my default condition, not struggling to get back to an emotional ‘norm’ after self-abuse. If you’re only ever recovering, then you’re never improving!
Things I like to do on a self-care day
Ride my bike with no destination and in any weather.
Notice really small things.
Take ages to do things.
Watch, read, listen to bell hooks. She is my intellectual icon, she theorises love as a survival tactic, she is teachable, she makes me think about my own political accountability, she loves conversation as a method of teaching. All this sustains my brain, I am very grateful to her.
Listen to every single version of a single song that I can find.
Watch TED Talks, listen to On Being.
Yoga, either at home or at a class if I feel like facing people. Classes are great because people pay attention to you in a caring way and everyone is there to feel good.
Reciting Victoria Wood.
Trying to learn ‘Billy in the Darbies’ off by heart.
Getting in touch with friends I’ve not seen for ages.
Comedy comedy comedy.
Give money to charity if I have it.
Re-read things I love.
Make really insanely optimistic plans for the future.
Things I don’t do on a self-care day
Check messages if I don’t want to.
Read the news.
Worry about money.
I hope you gave yourself some quality time on World Mental Health Day. Try a self-care day, they are fun to curate, fun to do, and have seriously good repercussions. Put one on the calendar, you’re worth it.