(Warning: this post includes frank discussions of a variety of mental health problems, including references to suicidal thoughts, and self-harm.)
May is Mental Health Month in the US, and 14th-20th May is Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK.
You've probably heard, at some point in the course of your internetage, the phrase 'self-care.'
Hopefully, what you've heard has been positive. Unfortunately, you may have heard others mocking people who practice self-care, or calling it selfish.
Self-care is not selfish. Self-care is vital for everyone.
Just as everyone has both mental and physical health, though not necessarily mental or physical health *problems,* likewise everyone can (and should) practice self-care as a way of keeping yourself as happy and healthy as possible.
So, what is self-care?
Well, definitions vary. The only constant seems to be 'taking care of yourself' - which, y'know, duh.
But that, at its heart, is what it is. It's looking after yourself - no matter what that may entail.
As far as I'm concerned (and you can totally disagree - I don't mind!) the principles of self-care are these 2 simple points:
1. Stay alive.
2. Try to make your health and general wellbeing the highest level that is practical at this moment.
Physical self-care can be reactive - a response to a problem, for example:
- staunching bleeding
- cleaning wounds
- applying bandages or plasters (band-aids to American folks)
- phoning an ambulance in emergency situations
- physiotherapy for muscles, joints, etc.
But self-care also covers the everyday stuff, such as:
- staying hydrated
- going to the toilet
- keeping clean
This is even harder to define than physical self-care, but it starts with the same principles.
You need to stay alive - because yes, we need you in this world my dearest, dearest nerdlet! - and you need to be as well as you can be.
Mental health problems often put your physical health in jeopardy.
If you're finding it difficult to figure out what you need, try asking yourself these questions:
- Am I physically safe, right now, this moment? If not, fix this before anything else.
- Am I in immediate danger of hurting myself, right now (this includes addiction relapses)? If yes, remove yourself from the method you'd use, and get someone to talk to. Call them from their room or phone them. I don't care what time of the day or night. GET HELP. If you feel you need it, phone an ambulance. NEVER be afraid to seek help - you are IMPORTANT.
- Am I feeling an extreme low or having suicidal thoughts? If this is an immediate danger, see the above point. If not, try to lift your mood - do something you enjoy, watch cat videos, WHATEVER you need! If you feel like you need to talk to someone, call a friend or family member, or a helpline. There's a link to a list of helplines at the end of this post.
- How much food do human beings need per day? Have I eaten this amount? If no, eat something. It doesn't have to be a lot, just eat one thing.
- Have I washed my face/brushed my teeth/put on clean clothes today? If no, try to do so. If you don't manage it, it's not a failure. And I am so SUPER proud of you for even thinking about it!
Self-care can also take forms which, to other people, might not seem to make much sense.
- my cats
- my family and The Bestie
- Oliver Queen
- Judge Judy
- cupcakes - or any cake, really
- cat videos
- crack fan videos
- The Wolf Gift by Anne Rice
- watching butterflies
- the sound of owls outside my window
- my Ted Baker t-shirts
- My Chemical Romance
- Fall Out Boy
- Green Day (especially the song 'Still Breathing')
- reading - all types
NEVER be ashamed of what YOU need.
You know what it is you need. As long as it's not hurting you or anyone else (and is like... legal,) then you have every right to it. YOU are important.
Of course, we should also def. remember that physical health and mental health affect each other.
You are one person. One whole, beautiful, breathtakingly unique, person. You need to take care of both your mental and physical health - it's uber-important!