mental health

Practising self-care that actually works.

In September I wrote that I was aiming to write one post a month, obviously that did not happen, regardless how much I meant to be committed. There is not really any excuse, only an explanation: I have been busy practising self-care through one of my hardest periods this year. Which up until this working, I had no idea that it was actually working up until last weekend.

My happiness has always been anchored to other people or even things (like my FitBit). Or maybe rather whether or not I can catch on to someone else’s wave and stay afloat on their life raft. Most of the time I would not even be aware that I was doing it until it was  way to late.

That is a receipt for disaster every time, and a vicious circle, spiralling out of control so fast. It is also unfair, because no one should ever be solely responsible for someone else’s happiness, it is straining on any kind of relationship you try to forge. So for the better part of a year I have been practising being my own anchor, because the circle can only go one way.

The hard thing is, that there is no one-size fits all route to wellness and happiness. I used to read through all these self-help books, I did hypnotherapy, CBT. I tried listening to these wellness or happiness gurus whatever you might call them. I have read The Secret a million times, Later I tried making lists of things I am grateful for and I tried crying hysterically by myself trying to make it all come out. But the truth is that for any of these things to work, you actually need to have a fundamental shift within yourself. A shift which for me was entirely on a subconscious level.

Below I will write somethings that worked and seems to be working for me, I do not claim that these will work for everyone but it is was I think is affecting my mood and help me to better anchor myself.

So winding back a couple of months, I was at the height of being miserable, again. It was the sort of bottomless feeling of giving up on everything. A place where the sole act of breathing became a chore. When I was swimming there in the bottomless black sea of nothing but numbness I started to have a look around my current state of being and I made some decisions. First I decided to make lists of things I wanted to have done, I love lists and ticking things off them. So I put the most pedestrian things into my phone’s reminder app:

  • Re-Fill water bowl for the cats
  • Go to bed before 23:00
  • Play with the cats
  • Make dinner 2 times this week
  • Smile
  • Don’t eat bread
  • Do laundry

It was just every day things that I wanted to have done, tagged to dates and times I wanted to have them done by. And I still do this. I do not think I was aware of it at the time, but ticking off my self-given chores gave me a sense of accomplishment, which gradually helped to lift my mood.

I started to try to make things nice for myself. I purchased a lot of tea candles, votives and fragrant candles and I lit them, even if I was alone watching TV in my living-room. Just to create some god ol’ “hygge.” I purchased lots of tea, because I really like the idea of drinking tea in a candlelit room (turns out I do not like tea very much). And I even purchased myself flowers (turns out Lilies does not smell anything like most lily-fragrances will have you belive).

Making food has always been something I cannot be bothered with making if I am just making it for myself. But I started to make my own food, turns out I can make a great chicken curry and that even I can make gravy that does not lump. Not to mention that homemade food does taste much better than most of the bland takeaways you find around (I am not saying there are no good takeaways, but most of them are the same bland food in my opinion).

Over the summer I also finally signed up for that PT-course, which I completed in October/November. Which brings me to my next point: a change of scenery. I am not suggesting that you book a one-way trip to Australia or go on a crazy adventure. What I am suggesting is that you give yourself a break. For me it was the PT course. Even if it was highly intensive and compact course, it was a breath of fresh air. I was out of my normal 8-5 work environment. I did not have a single headache for those two weeks, I talked to new people and got a fresh input. It even kicked me back to the gym which I had been avoiding for the last 3 months prior to the course due to my mental exhaustion and lack of motivation which sprung on at the end of summer.

The course also gave me a new and bigger sense of accomplishment, because I have always been doubting my own abilities in all kinds of matters. I am a great student, I am good at acquiring new knowledge, understand it and put it to use. But, when push comes to show I usually bail out or I panic and fail, or I leave everything to the last-minute and screw everything up for myself, exams has always been the absolute worst for my nerves. This time I managed to pass all my exams with no fuss, no panicking (until after I turned in the exam at least) and on the first try because I did not make a half-assed attempt (like I often do to sabotage myself because I am too scared of not being good enough so I bail on the reading all together). It was a great win for me.

More recently I have started something I have always thought of as rather stupid. I have started to keep a journal, which I write in everyday. It is not like I list everything I did every day or write down a thousand things I am grateful for. What I try to do, is to write down anything I experienced as positive during the day. Sometimes it might just be one sentence, other days I can fill in paragraphs, depending on the day. The key is that I only write down anything I perceive as a positive event or train of thought. It was an Idea I got from listening to Introducing Happiness from Audible as one of the “exercises” they give are similar. The thought behind it is to try to remember the positive events and let the negative fade into the background. I started it as a silly experiment following listening to the Audible Podcast, but it is actually very giving or soothing now that I have adapted the suggested exercise to something that suits me. And I keep on doing it.

That leads me to the big finale where I for the first time could answer a pedestrian question “How are you?” with “I am fine.” For once I actually recognised that I was actually happy, and hardly recognise or trust. Which leads me to why it has taken me 7 days to compose this text, because I needed to be sure it was not the start of mania. So far, I feel safe about it.

So I think the message from me here is, that you need to find something that works for you. In order to find your inner calm or happiness, you need to do things that bring you joy.

Recommended reading, if you are interested: 

  • Introduction to happiness (Podcast on Audible.co.uk)
  • The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor
  • No Excuses!: The Power of Self-Discipline by Brian Tracy
  • The Master Key System by Charles F. Haanel
  • The Secret by Rhonda Byrne
  • The Power by Rhonda Byrne
  • Wallace D. Wattles Premium Collection (You can get the 9 books in One Volumes)

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