Open Thread: How Do You Practice Self-Care?

A teapot and a mug that says, "Write like a motherfucker."
90 degrees outside. No fucks given.

I’m going to give open threads a try! The folks who comment here seem to have a lot of interesting things to share, so I thought it’d be cool to have some threads where you can talk about yourself as much as you want.

The topic I’m starting with is self-care. Whether or not you have what could be called Mental Health Problems, everyone needs to calm down, unwind, or get their mind off of things sometimes. Different things work for different people, and sometimes something that seems really weird or counterintuitive will help someone.

Self-care is not a replacement or substitute for treatment (if you need it). It’s a way for people to cope with stress and jerkbrain, maintain recovery from a mental illness, or help manage mental illness symptoms if you have them. So none of these things are intended to cure or treat anything, and a lot of frustration tends to arise when people offer them up as “advice” for those with mental illnesses.

We each know best what helps us best. Here’s how I like to do self-care:

  • Hot tea. (Even in the summer. Must be because I’m Russian.)
  • Writing, even if it’s about something heavy.
  • Taking a hot shower, even if it’s just to have a place to cry in private.
  • Cleaning, organizing, doing dishes. My apartment tends to get cleaner the more life problems I’m having.
  • Going for a walk and listening to music. Unfortunately, I don’t get to do this so much now that I live in the city, where it wouldn’t be relaxing or necessarily pleasant. But my high school years, back in Ohio, were full of leisurely walks around the neighborhood.
  • Playing music. Now that I finally have a keyboard piano, I’ll finally be able to do that again.
  • Reading sci-fi novels or nonfiction articles. For some reason, it has to be one or the other. Nonfiction books don’t work, and short stories or poetry don’t work.
  • Watching something that tells a good story but doesn’t require careful attention. So, Star Trek and Doctor Who are in; West Wing and Damages are out.
  • Talking to a friend about something totally unrelated.

Some things that help lots of people but not me are: YouTube videos, animal photos, talking to someone about the thing I’m upset/stressed about, eating, video games (though I like them at other times), basically anything that’s supposed to be funny/uplifting. The first two are especially frustrating, because the first thing many people will do if I say I’m feeling down is send me YouTube videos and animal photos. Then I have to either pretend that it helped, or tell them that that doesn’t help. (Except sometimes. Hard to predict.)


What works for you? What doesn’t?

Open Thread: How Do You Practice Self-Care?

28 thoughts on “Open Thread: How Do You Practice Self-Care?

  1. 1

    Cute animals and other assorted schmaltz doesn’t do it for me, either. When I am not doing well I pretty much feel like cuteness is mocking me just to try and get on my last nerve and deserves to be doused with a bucket of cold water. I am a surly depressed person.

    What does help is melancholy or morose music. Specifically, belting my fool heart out to sadtunes as if I am all the feels and those feels were made into song then put on the radio just for me.

    And Scrubs. For some reason that utterly escapes me it’s just enough parts silly and serious for my tired brain to accept.

  2. 2

    I don’t need much since I’m neurotypical, but I think zonking out with passive entertainment like TV is very soothing to stress. My partner isn’t so lucky in the neuro, so he plays a lot of video games. Sims 3 y’all… it’ll be a while before Sims 4 is proven to be worth “upgrading” to.

  3. HFM

    When I’m anxious, I have trouble sleeping – lying there half-awake with plenty of time to think and no ability to do is bad. I’ve learned to listen to podcasts or similar light entertainment as I drift off. It’s got to be something reasonably engaging but not especially story-like (something that I can drift in and out of without missing too much). I’ve found Magic draftcasts are perfect for this – half an hour of “here’s the pack, the best cards are A, B, C, I’m going to pick B because reasons, next pack”. Informative (I’m a reasonably competitive Magic player), and better than sleeping pills.

  4. 4

    If I’m stressed, angry (with myself or others), bitter, or depressed or especially if I feel like drowning in booze, I step back and smoke a joint. In the short-term, it calms me down, blocks the self-hate & spiraling thoughts, makes me a lot more pleasant to be around and lets me sleep so the next morning I’m often my old chipper self. I’m sure a lot of people will say this is “wrong” somehow but it has been a huge help when I feel like everything is black.

    After that? Futurama or Bob’s Burgers on Netflix and a bubble tea sound pretty nice šŸ™‚

  5. 5

    If I still have some energy & wits about me (which is often not the case when I start feeling bad) a run in the forest with lots of hills is a nice way to clear away jittery, nervous energy and some anxiety.

  6. 6

    If I can force myself (and sometimes that’s a job in itself) to work on something creative, that helps. Especially when I finish the project and cross it off the list.

    Also rereading old favorites – I have “comfort books” that I reach for when I need to relax or destress. Most of them live in the headboard bookcase.

    Going for walks helps sometimes, but right now it’s too hot during the day.

  7. 7

    Thanks for opening this up- it’s something that is on my mind quite a bit, and lately as an opportunity to re-evaluate my self-care. One huge thing I do for self-care that is relatively recent (last year-ish) is mindfulness (and sometimes a bit of related) meditation. Sometimes it helps me to clear my mind in the moment, but one thing I have found it to do is serve as a way of boosting my ability to notice when I need to change my approach to something or enact some other self-care activities. It serves in many ways as a preventive mechanism. I think because it helps me to get to know myself better, which is not always pleasant in the moment.

    I’ve also noticed that regular exercise that gets my heart-rate up is good self-care, in a similar fashion. Not always so much of a noticeable benefit immediately during or after, but when it is regular I feel more balanced and put-together, less fatigued by stresses in general and able to have a more stable mood even with fluctuations. I guess the fluctuations are not as big.

    Cooking is another soothing thing for me, as is reading fiction (usually novels).

  8. 8

    I’ve learnt that there are certain things that, for me, are both causes and symptoms of stress. For example having a messy room, or not making time to exercise. If I’m not careful I end up in a vicious cycle of becoming more stressed because I’m so stressed, but it works the other way as well: cleaning my room makes me feel calmer even when the original cause of stress is something beyond my control.

  9. 9

    Depends on the situation. Sometimes coffee and cigarettes help. Sometimes I just need to binge watch either Supernatural or Doctor Who. And sometimes I just need to call my BFF and say, “HELP!!!!”

  10. 11

    I find having friendly chatter in the background to be very beneficial when I’m having a bad time. I’ll usually put on youtube channels like Game Grumps or Friendzone – something where people I could get along with IRL are having fun and the content is interesting but not important. It’s sort of like what I’d like to be doing – passively hanging out with friends who are having a good time – but without the crippling anxiety of being around actual people who might be weirded out or offended by my lack of engagement.

  11. 12

    I apologize if this isn’t appropriate, but what do people think of marijuana? Now that it’s legal here in Colorado, I’ve been thinking of trying it. Other than that, basically everything I’ve tried in the past (medication, therapy, yoga, meditation, running, reading, etc.) hasn’t really helped. I guess I’ve never been good at unwinding. I think maybe I just need people to unwind with.

    1. 12.2

      I used to partake fairly regularly until I realized it was making my anxiety issues a lot worse.

      I have a person in my family of origin who uses it for the opposite reason. For them it relieves their anxiety and allows them to tune out that spiraling part of their brain for a while.

      This person and I are fairly closely related so there’s two points of conflicting anecdata for you. šŸ˜‰

    2. 12.3

      Andrew B – Not everyone likes it, but those that do swear by it. I’m not a great example because, prior to trying marijuana I would often use beer to relax which has a lot of health issues (in addition to not working very well) so that’s what I’m comparing it to. What might sound like a very acceptable side-effect to me could be a huge black mark to other people.

      If you’re curious and try some, start with small doses (ODs won’t kill you, but you’ll have an unpleasant evening of nausea and maybe anxiety), at home, when you’ve got nowhere else that you need to be and no one will be annoyed if you start acting goofy.

    3. Meg

      This sadly isn’t something I can say under my real name, but marijuana is an essential tool in my self-care tool box. While it isn’t great for full-on panic attacks (sadly, those require either just waiting-it-out or benzos), I find it very helpful for the more chronic, low-grade anxiety I deal with like, most of the time.

      The first time I got stoned was practically a religious experience–I had been even more stressed than usual for MONTHS (starting grad school, leaving an abusive relationship), and literally as the drug hit me, I felt myself relax in a way I hadn’t in ages. Like, for the first time in all of those awful months, I felt like I could take a deep breath. I felt peaceful.

      Beyond using weed for anxiety specifically, I also use it to help me endure extremely intense emotions of any kind. I’ve always been a person who feels things very strongly/deeply, and sometimes an emotion–sadness, anger, despair, frustration–will hit me so hard that it’s incapacitating. It makes me feel insane, out of control. Like there isn’t even any room for ME any more… even my sense of self is being overwhelmed by all the feelings. I have other ways that I weather these times, which I’ve come to think of as emotional storms, but they’re all either pretty unhealthy (self harm) OR require a great deal of energy/effort (mindfulness/breathing techniques, reminding myself over and over that it will pass/that it’s just a feeling and that I’m still real and will survive), and sometimes I just don’t have the fucking willpower or give-a-damn left to chose the harder, healthier options of those things. Getting stoned helps in these cases because it doesn’t numb the emotions exactly–they’re still very much there–but it gives me a feeling of having some distance from them. I can look at them, on some level, as an outside observer. This makes me feel safer, and gets me through the most intense periods without doing anything stupid or harmful…. I either calm down enough to get some sleep and address the feelings later, or I calm down enough to access other methods of self care that are beyond me in my worst moments, like journaling.

      All that said, whether pot is a useful relaxation tool seems to vary widely person to person. In my head, I conceptualize it as the drug fitting or not with a person’s brain chemistry, a notion I developed in part because the other users I know seem to have a lot in common with me in terms of how their brain works re: experiencing stress/anxiety. Not a scientific theory, but a way of framing it in my head that, for me at least, helps me not make any value judgments regarding people’s like/dislike of marijuana.

      1. “Beyond using weed for anxiety specifically, I also use it to help me endure extremely intense emotions of any kind. Iā€™ve always been a person who feels things very strongly/deeply, and sometimes an emotionā€“sadness, anger, despair, frustrationā€“will hit me so hard that itā€™s incapacitating”

        Holy Jesus almighty yes, that’s me to a “t.” I’ve always felt like I’m just a big ball of nerves and raw feelings wrapped inside a thin human skin.

  12. 13

    Physical exercise used to be my major stress reliever, especially running. As that’s become more difficult due to [personal reasons], I find I’ve had a much harder time managing stress. For awhile I was needing more and more time alone to detox…but too much of that isn’t exactly conducive to a healthy marriage either. Still working on finding better solutions. Video games don’t do much for me either, but after my father-in-law died, my wife played a crap-ton of Diablo (“Die, monsters, die!”) for about 6 months and it really helped her.

    I have concluded there’s one thing that does NOT work for me: when I’m already stressed, surfing the Internet (especially reading blogs – no offense Miri!) seems to just amplify that stress.

    1. 13.1

      The internet became somewhat more tolerable for me when I realized I was free to simply ignore anyone I wanted for any reason, or for no reason at all. This sounds so banal and stupid, but on some deep level- probably related to disparate feelings of depression and insecurity which I have always struggled with- I used to feel obligated to consider the viewpoints of almost anyone on anything (because of course they’d know more and better than me). It wasn’t good for my mental health, especially when, bad luck, I discovered the terrible human beings who make up the Tumblr community, who, after all, have a penchant for telling people to go kill themselves.

  13. 14

    Yoga is a big part of my physical and mental wellbeing. I started doing it about 9 years ago when I was having some issues with anxiety, and the breathing exercises were extremely useful.
    I also like to take long baths (like 2 hrs+) – in fact that is my standard Friday night wind down from the week – a long bath with some chocolate and a trashy book.

  14. 15

    Celtic Woman. Lovely Irish ladies who sing like angels. Yes, I’m an atheist, but I’ll use a good mythic image when it fits, and for such lovely music and such staggeringly lovely ladies, I can suspend disbelief. Only some of their music is Christian. Some is traditional Irish, some is classical and some is pop. Look them up on YouTube if your computer has a good sound system or at least good headphones. Their 2011 PBS special probably saved me from a major winter depression. And I haven’t even mentioned Mairead Nesbitt, the one who doesn’t sing. Have you ever seen a beautiful violin virtuoso dance with her instrument?

  15. 16

    Hi! I’m just re-discovering FreeThought Blogs a little and discovering your blog for the first time. I really like your blog. Sorry if it seems like I’m posting all over the place, but I like the conversation in your comments too.

    Anyway, on topic, I discovered, by the accidental combination of a bad day at work and a kick-boxing class at the gym that I really enjoy unwinding by kicking and punching a punching bag. It drains the physical energy that builds up from wanting to tell people what you think of them but not being able to because you have goal and that would distract from the goal.

    Also, counted cross-stitching works to quiet my mind. Something about the simplicity of the stitch combined with the need to count and be accurate in placement seems to occupy my mind but not too much. Of course, I end up with a lot of cross-stitched pictures, samplers and Christmas ornaments. One particularly stressful fall led to everyone getting a cross-stitched ornament or two for Xmas.

  16. 17

    Cinema – a large screen, a good sound system and a film that’s visually appealing and atmospheric but not too intellectually challenging (monster films or something similar are ideal). As an added bonus, going to the cinema forces me to leave my room!

  17. 18

    When I was suffering from untreated depression, nothing helped.

    Now that I am more or less a well person, there are some things that do. They are:

    Good TV that doesn’t require a high level of either attention or commitment. Basically what you said. I don’t like brainless garbage, but ultra-serialized dramas like LOST- where you basically have to watch every episode in order for it to make any sense- or complex political thrillers like House of Cards are not particularly conducive to helping me relax. Shows that do help include Supernatural, Orange is the New Black and most of Fox’s animated comedies.

    Reading SF/F novels. I generally prefer books that are a bit weird and somewhat challenging (or at least require my full attention), but are still more or less commercial. So not Dhalgren, but I like complex worldbuilding and creative prose. To give you an idea of what I mean, my favorite contemporary SF/F authors are, in order, China Mieville, Iain Banks, Charles Stross, William Gibson, and Neal Stephenson.

    (Yes, I am aware that they are all white men. I’ll like whatever the hell I want, thanks.)

    Reading this blog, as well as John Scalzi’s Whatever, the only other blog I regularly frequent. I’m not a writer, and so sometimes I feel as though my comments don’t fully do justice to my thoughts. But I do find the central topics here interesting, and I like considering the issues and working them out in my head.

    Common stress-relievers that don’t work for me:

    Marijuana. Most of my old high school friends are, shall we say, power users, so it’s not for lack of trying. However I’ve found that it tends to make me jittery and paranoid, and so while I’m not opposed to smoking recreationally and in small doses, I don’t like getting stoned, and it’s certainly not something I’d do to relax.

    Surfing the internet. I do this somewhat less than I used to, precisely because I tend to gravitate to spaces devoted to contentious topics, and this is not helpful when I’m already feeling crappy. It’s not a very productive trait, I recognize that.

    (There’s an interesting contradiction here in that Brute Reason is mostly devoted to contentious topics, and yet reading and thinking about the posts here is something I like to do. I’m not sure why this is. Part of it may be that the tone here is mostly friendly; part of it may just be that I’ve been commenting here for a longish time. Regardless, this is about what works and doesn’t work for my idiosyncratic irrational self, and I don’t have to justify anything.)

    Eating. I do not have an eating disorder or anything remotely like that, but I’m also not unaffected by the rise of the hilariously unattainable male ideal that has become ubiquitous in the past twenty years or so. I’m convinced that Millennial males are and/or will be as insecure about their bodies as their female counterparts, though this insecurity may manifest differently.

    That’s it.

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