An A-to-Z of Self-Care: Part 2
N is for NATUROPATHY. There are an incredible amount of alternative and complementary health treatments out there, and naturopathy is just one of them. Homeopathy, traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture, acupressure, reiki, osteopathy, massage therapy, the list goes on and on. If interested, take some time to research which one may be right for you, while taking into consideration that every single one of us will respond to a treatment differently. Unfortunately, some alternative health treatments can get pricey. The good news is that many practitioners offer free consultations, to help you figure out if the healing modality is a fit for you, and many will offer discounted or sliding-scale services for a variety of reasons: being low income, receiving financial assistance, having a registered disability, being a youth, being a student, etc. Ask around and find the right fit, both for your health and your wallet.
O is for OPTIONS. Sometimes, on our bad days, it can feel like we have no options open to us, and all we can do is lay in bed. On those discouraging days, it can be a great practice to frame things differently, and to make an effort to become aware of the fact that we always have different options and choices open to us. Stuck in bed? Take time to be consciously aware of your options – what side to lie on, how many pillows to use, whether or not to listen to music. The biggest option is within your mind, in choosing where to focus your thoughts. Do you want to practice an empty mind? Visit a happy place? Relive favorite memories? Daydream about the future? It can be empowering in moments where we feel we have no control to recognize these small ways in which we really can exercise our choices and options.
P is for PENPALS. There is something about getting a handwritten letter or postcard in the mail that is so special. You can spread some joy by writing a letter to a long-distance friend, or a simple postcard if your energy is limited. Ask friends who live far away or who are travelling to send you along a postcard if they are able. And if you are feeling adventurous and interested in sharing snail mail with strangers, check out the Reddit forum Pen Pals or The Pen Pal Project on Tumblr.
Q is for QUITTING. Sure, we’re taught from a young age not to be “quitters”, so a scent of failure lingers around the word. However, quitting can also be a form of success and self-care! If you are feeling burnt-out, in a flare-up, or in need of decreasing your stress, take a look at your schedule and see what is unnecessary. Go ahead and give yourself a break – quit the club or class you are taking that just isn’t all that enjoyable or important, or quit a scheduled appointment or meet-up that you simply aren’t capable of attending in your current state. Give yourself some deep nurturing and forgiveness. After all, you can always reschedule or try again another day. If you need time for yourself, take it.
R is for READING. This is one of my favorite forms of self-care and escapism. I even have different strategies for what I read – new fiction or nonfiction when my brain is feeling awake and limber, and old favorites when I’m dealing with a brain fog. That’s when I love to re-read the Harry Potter series all over again or dig out books from my childhood, as it doesn’t require all of my faculties for me to just enjoy myself and follow the story, as I know it so well already. On days when I am feeling particularly low or sad, I bust out The Blue Day Book by Bradley Trevor Grieve and Hope for the Flowers by Trina Paulus.
S is for STUFFED TOYS. Nothing comforts me quite as much as hiding under the covers and cuddling my great big tiger stuffy. In fact, on really bad days, I pile all my stuffed animal friends into bed with me – it helps me feel safe and protected. Years ago I started what inadvertently has become a habit of buying myself a new stuffed animal whenever I am going through a particularly rough or difficult time. The tiger came after a bad break-up. I have a monkey I bought after a depression and flare-up kept me in the house for months. My latest is a penguin that comforted me after the strenuous trip I went on most recently. I also have “pocket” stuffed animals that fit in my palm that I will carry in my bag or purse on bad days – I can reach in and give it a squeeze in moments when I need comfort, without anyone the wiser.
T is for TEA. This is another of my favorite acts of self-care, and goes splendidly with R (Reading). I have a vast assortment of teas to suit my mood and need – green teas when I’d like a bit of caffeine, herbal teas when I don’t, and medicinal teas for different symptoms or ailments. Tea is relatively easy to make, especially with an electric kettle and pre-packaged tea bags. Of course it is important to be self-aware of what teas have positive or negative impacts on your body (for example, I don’t drink black tea as it contains too much caffeine for my system to handle, and I can’t drink chamomile because it upsets my stomach). Pay attention to your body and any thoughts from your health care practitioners on what to drink and not drink. Then brew up a cup (or ask someone to do it for you) and relax into the soothing steam and flavors. Mm.
U is for UNDERWEAR. Yes, that’s right, underwear! As someone who spends a large amount of time sick at home in bed, I’ve come to realize how very important it is to have cute, comfortable underwear and jammies. I’m all about making the best of every situation, and it helps me feel that much better to have underwear and pajamas that feel soft, look cute, and fit my body just the way it is. I’m subscribed to a few mailing lists of shops that sell super comfy under clothes and jammies, and like to load up when they have a good sale. You can even shop online from the comfort of your bed! You deserve to feel better in every little way possible, so treat yourself to something made in a fabric you adore feeling against your skin (like cotton, satin, or silk).
V is for VACATION. I find there are a couple of ways I like to do vacations. The first is to save my money and then go to a nearby non-profit wellness resort, where I can indulge in an infrared sauna, meals that fit my dietary needs, and enjoy the beautiful surrounding forest. If you think you could afford to treat yourself to something like this, do some Google investigating and see if there is something nearby that can accommodate all your needs. Another excellent way to vacation, and the way I do it most often, is doing a “stay-cation”. As the name implies, you don’t even need to leave the house to do this! The first step is to brainstorm what you’d like from a vacation – a break from homework? Great, stuff it under the bed! Delicious food? Treat yourself to some order-in meals, or go to a nearby supermarket and pick-up something decadent! Peace and quiet? Turn your cell phone off and if you have roommates, put a “do not disturb” sign on the door. I find if you tell your friends and/or roommates what you are up to, they’ll be more than happy to accommodate you and give you space! My personal need in a vacation is a break from house chores. Normally when I’m at home, I’m thinking of a toilet that needs to be cleaned, carpets that need vacuuming, or closets that must be organized. Not so on a stay-cation – I pretend I’m in a hotel or foreign locale and act accordingly: I’d certainly not be vacuuming in those places!
W is for WALKING. If you are able, walking can be an amazing way to clear out the mind. Even if you have mobility boundaries, you can always ask a friend to push you around the block in your wheelchair or to offer you an arm to help keep you steady. Basically, the point is to get out and get a change of scenery and some fresh air in your lungs. When I am feeling stuck but still able to go for a walk, I’ll push myself to get out and take as much time as I need to simply walk around the block my apartment building is in. This can take less than five minutes and helps boost my mood tremendously – I love observing the birds flying by, the flowers in peoples’ gardens, and smiling at each passerby. Remember to be compassionate with your body and its abilities, and only do this when it is an actual act of self-care, as opposed to a stubborn insistence that you’ve decided your body must obey.
X is for XMAS. Or, really, any holiday that you enjoy and that gives you some warm fuzzies. If you adore Christmas, it doesn’t matter the time of year – bust out some Christmas jingles, watch your favorite Christmas movies, do some Christmas crafts, and make yourself some mulled apple cider. I love Halloween, so doing some Halloween-themed crafts while watching classic Halloween movies and indulging in some (healthy) junk food is a great act of self-care for me. Love Easter? Paint eggs, watch cute videos of bunnies on the Internet, and re-enact whatever family traditions you love. If you are feeling extra-ambitious, invite friends or roommates to join you for a holiday-themed potluck or movie night, any time of the year! The point is to get in touch with whatever it is that you love about the holiday, and to re-create those joyous emotions for yourself.
Y is for YELLING. Generally, I advocate keeping positive and practicing gratitude as much as we’re able. However, it is important to honor all the emotions that come with chronic illness, including those times when we are mired in self-pity or furious at our inabilities or what we perceive as setbacks. At these times, letting it all out in the form of yelling or sobbing can be a beautiful and important release. If you are like me, and live in an apartment, the neighbors might not appreciate a full-volume temper tantrum, so bury your face in a pillow and then let it all out. Most importantly, leave it behind when you’re done. I find the best way to do this is to set a timer. Literally allow yourself fifteen minutes to have a pity party: yell and cry into your pillow and dwell on all those things that you find so overwhelming in the moment. Let it all out! And then move on. When the timer goes off, it’s important to metaphorically close a door and decide to move forward, so that your own frustrations or letdowns don’t consume you completely. Remember, it’s all about balance here. Take time to compose yourself and then move on into the rest of your day with a positive attitude.
Z is for ZINES. Zines (basically small self-published DIY magazines) can be a fantastic way to learn new things as well as a way to connect with others. I have a massive collection of zines I’ve acquired over many years, and love reading and re-reading them. Topics include everything from photography, poetry, and fiction to such diverse fields as permaculture, homeopathy, activism, history, and fashion. You name it, and someone somewhere who is passionate on the topic has created a zine about it. Collecting zines can be as easy as searching them out on the Internet (I suggest trying Etsy or Tumblr; start simply by searching for “zines”), and since they are small and self-published, they tend to cost very little. Best of all, you can connect with the author through email or snail mail, and might make a new friend! Zines are all about the DIY ethos, so with no rules or limitations, you could always try your hand at creating a zine yourself.
[Lizzy: Coincidentally I run a little business selling other people’s zines – marching stars zine distro!]
There you have it: a complete A – Z resource of self-care activities. Hopefully at any given time, at least one or two activities will appeal to you. Why not try compiling a list of your own! Keep it handy, because self-care is always important. You deserve it!
C hase Clark lives in Canada, is 30-years-young, and has been dealing with M E/CFS since her diagnosis at age 14. Further complicated by IBS, Interstitial C ystitis, and Chronic Costochondritis, she also lives with OCD and PTSD. Still, she thrives, and enjoys a world full of bugs, birds, and beauty.