I’m sure we’ve all seen them. Ads for bath bombs, candles, blankets, books, soft snuggly things, restaurant trips, massage parlors, and more, all advertising their self-care mantra. This will make you relax, this will make you happier, this will buy you that one hour of time to yourself you could never get otherwise!
But of course, us ecofrugal weirdos (💚) Like to do things a little differently. Consumption for consumptions sake is just not our jam. So here are different ways to destress, re-balance and take care of your own self.
At its core, I believe that self-care is whatever makes us feel truly better about ourselves and our day. It can be deeply personal, but we do have to be honest about ourselves about whether or not something actually brings us lasting joy.
I’ve learned, for instance, that junk food and candy might taste good right there and then, but it usually makes me feel sluggish and tired in the long run. Prioritizing cooking our own food and choosing the apple over the chocolate bar is not just about wanting to be healthy, for me it is a self-care practice because it improves my mood and overall health in the long run.
Similarly, buying an expensive item might feel great in the moment, or it might fill me with dread and guilt because I needed that money for other things. Buying an expensive item is not necessarily “wrong” or not self-care, but we need to be really honest with ourselves about why we want it. Does a thing bring us a short-lived flash of joy but then bring us trouble further down the line? Or does it add to our stack of things we truly value?
If you’d told me 10 years ago that I would keep a journal on the regular, I’m not sure I would’ve believed you. Then again, I use it more to focus on what is important on any given day, so that I prioritize up front. This has greatly reduced my stress levels, and I really can’t recommend it enough.
I sit down with my cup of tea and open my journal before I’m allowed to turn on my computer at work. I write a few sentences of whatever is on my mind, but the most important are the bullet points:
Focus of the day
I write down 3 things that are the priority today. They only take a couple of hours to knock down if I focus, meaning I can get a “win” even if I have a slow day. Keeping it small and specific is the key here, as win streaks over several days do much more for my self-confidence (and consequently, my productivity) than any large task I wasn’t able to finish would do.
Joy of the day
My doctor suggested this one after I told her about how writing down what to focus on was helping me reduce stress at work. Every day I try to find one thing just for me that brings me joy. I have a list of suggestions at the back of my journal for when I’m out of ideas. This can be anything from doing yoga, reading a book, visiting friends, going for a walk, baking a cake, writing, sewing, whatever is good for you. These joys are obviously personal, but my one “rule” is that it must be something that actually boosts my day in a positive way. So mindlessly binging candy and Netflix doesn’t count, but consciously sitting down to enjoy a movie (can still be Netflix) that I’ve been looking forward to does.
Gratitude of the day
Similar to the focus of the day, I jot down 3 things I am thankful for today. There are several studies illustrating the benefits of gratitude to our overall happiness and an important self-care practice. I don’t spend a lot of time trying to come up with new and unique things I am grateful for if I am feeling grateful to the hot cup of tea in my hand and my being in a weatherproof house during heavy rain, that is what I will write even if I have written it several times before.
Overall, this practice takes less than five to ten minutes at the beginning of my day, but I notice a huge difference in how well my day is going whether I do it or not. Taking the time usually equals having a good day, so that is a win in my book! And for just a small book and a writing implement? Well worth it in my view.
And if you think work has nothing to do in an article on self-care, I can’t tell you how much better my mental health is if I’ve actually had a good day at work. It’s not a luxurious spa day, but it has such an impact on my daily life.
You can of course use a word processing software or online tools if you don’t wish to keep a physical journal. But I do find that the act of writing it down is part of what helps for me. I don’t write as fast as I think, so I have to slow down for those few precious minutes in the morning.
Reading and taking time to ourselves
Taking time to ourselves can be difficult, but half an hour of quiet reading can do wonders for my own mental health. I usually know that I am living on borrowed time if I feel like I don’t have time to sit down for an hour during the week. I am prone to depression and burnout, and taking the time to rest and not do anything “productive” (a problematic mindset in its own right) is very important for my self-care and mental health.
Luckily for me, our local library is stocked full of interesting books, both in physical and audiobook form. Getting really into a book is almost meditative to me. My own mind quiets for a while as the words of someone else fill my thoughts and mind. Just make sure they are good and worthwhile words. Putting down a book you didn’t like before you’ve finished it is totally okay!
I usually do a mix of fiction and non-fictional. I enjoy both for different reasons and usually find my brain craving the other whenever I’ve spent a long time reading either one of them. I’m not the voracious reader of my youth, and a book can take me several weeks to finish. But I don’t mind. I’m also a big fan of non-fiction on audiobook, as it allows my hands-free reign to do other things, like sewing or housework. Right now I’m reading How To Be a Tudor by Ruth Goodman (affiliate link).
In this category for me, I also put things like snuggling down with a hot cup of tea, meditating, a bath, or enjoying an hour or two with my favorite YouTubers at the end of a long week, quite possibly with some craft or repair project in my lap. The main goal is to take time to yourself where you don’t feel like you should be doing anything else.
Going for a walk
I can’t tell you how much better I feel mentally if I get in at least some form of physical movement in my day, and a walk allows my mind to wander. If I can take that walk in nature of some sort, even better. Not just for its restful atmosphere, but it is such a joy to watch one season glide slowly into the next.
It can’t be rushed. If we want winter midsummer, we’ll just have to wait. And I find that a great reminder to try to enjoy things while we have them. Change will occur soon enough.
And as I listen to podcasts or music on my bike to work, I usually take my walks free of digital distractions. This is often where ideas for new blog posts or solutions to a problem at work occurs to me. Letting my mind wander while I take in the changes in nature is something I’ve truly come to appreciate over the years. I’m not sure I’d be as reflected if I didn’t take the time away from headsets and focus and expectations.
Getting enough sleep
I’m the kind of weirdo who gets really thrown out of whack if I haven’t had a good nights sleep. I’ve prioritized my sleep for so many years, I just don’t know what to do with myself if I don’t. I know that is lucky, but it really helps me keep an even keel. I actually like lying in bed while I wait for sleep. In the morning it’s easy to feel like you have to get up because you have all-these-things ™ to do!
But in the evening, tomorrow is still a whole nights sleep away. It feels luxurious, even extravagant to lie there feeling warm and snug and allowed to think about anything and everything.
Turning off notifications
I can’t even recall the last time I had my phone turned off silent mode for anything but short periods of time where I am waiting for someone to call. The only screen notifications I have at this point are for personal messages, calls, and customer questions in my little Etsy shop. No email notifications, no games, no instagram or twitter notifications. And I haven’t missed it for a day.
More and more, I am training myself to leave my phone somewhere in the house and not keep it on my person at all times. I turn it face-down while I work so I won’t be distracted by a blinking light letting me know that my friend’s totally cute one-year-old did a thing. The world will not catch fire if I don’t see that until I take a break. This helps me do better work while I am at work (also meaning I get to feel good about my day, so I don’t spend my free time riddled with guilt), which in turn gives me more valuable free time. And of course, phones stay out of sight whenever socializing occurs.
I have the same attitude with the marvelous world of IT and digital wonders as I do for physical stuff: Less is more. Decluttering and simplifying is good for us and it is good for the environment. I am in control of my things. I don’t let my things control me.
If you feel like you need to buy or rent a bigger space because you can’t fit all your things, that is usually a warning sign that your things own you. Undoing this takes a mental shift that can take several years of small improvements, but trust me when I say it can be done.
Those are some of the self-care practices that have had the biggest impact on my ever-ongoing mental health journey. I’d love to hear what tips you might have picked up along the way!
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