This year has been straight up brutal. I saw a statistic, not sure if it’s accurate, that 1 in 4 millennials have had thoughts of suicide this year. That’s horrifying. And as someone who’s naturally unhappy and uneasy, my mental health has been not great at many points since the start of the pandemic. I see a lot of self-care tips floating around social media, and a lot of them strike me as unhelpful or unrealistic. But here are a few things that have helped me in the past several months—
Cancel plans if you need to.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with doing this. So many people feel like they have to honor plans because they “made a commitment”…but emotional wellness needs to come first. This applies to Zoom calls with family and friends too. And if your mental health isn’t great, all you have to say is that you’re not feeling well. It’s true.
Expect and accept you may not be at peak productivity.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t push yourself, but be realistic and know that winter of the loneliest, shittiest year on record may not be the best time to hold yourself to high standards. Combine Seasonal Affective Disorder with everything else going on, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Nobody is at their best right now—remember that.
It’s important to strike a balance between stressing yourself out and falling into an unproductive rut, but honestly I’ve been airing on the side of take care of yourself, for goodness sake. It’s Friday night. I’ve gotten a good six hours of work done today. Could do a lot more. But it’s been a stressful week (moving on Sunday) so I’m gonna have an edible, microwave a Hot Pocket, and watch Jersey Shore. That said, it’s important to make sure that’s not your daily, sun-up to sun-down routine.
Allow yourself to indulge to some degree, but stay healthy.
It’s the perfect time to order a pizza, have an extra beer, roll a joint, watch some trash TV, stay in pajamas all day…whatever helps you relax. But I’ve found that it’s also super important as far as mental and physical health to limit lazy time, junk food, and substance use to some extent. This has definitely been true for me. Too many consecutive days spent eating like shit and doing nothing, I do notice myself feeling worse. It’s all about balance. Know when to get up and do something that makes you feel like a healthy, functioning adult.
Disconnect when you need a break.
If reading the news constantly is impacting your mental health, take a few days off. Things have gotten better since the election, but it’s still a shitshow out there. Despite the promise of a vaccine, the pandemic is as bad as ever. It’s a lot. Being constantly inundated with all the scary stuff happening in the world is literally one of the last things you need in the midst of a mental health crisis, so if you’re in a bad place, just turn it off. I know it’s hard—I probably check my CNN app a couple dozen times a day. But it really can help to distance yourself from it now and then.
While you’re not watching the news…this is another thing that really helps me, in moderation. Too much daydreaming and I start to hate my actual life and enter a quasi-dissociative state. But within reason, fantasizing to escape reality is not as unhealthy as it sounds, especially in 2020. Nothing wrong with planning your dream life, or imagining you’re a character in your favorite book. My daydreams usually turn into (ill-conceived) paranormal novellas and Harry Potter fanfics. So whatever floats your boat, let yourself soak in it for a while.
Allow yourself small luxuries if you have the means.
I know money is tight right now for a lot of people, myself included, so when I say small luxuries, I do mean small. Buy yourself a coffee. Get some scented candles from the drug store (Glade’s are around $4). Bake cookies. Take a bubble bath. It sounds cliche, and it is—but it’s cliche for a reason. Small comforts can be a big help, particularly given the current state of the world.
Talk to somebody.
Someone you like, obviously, who isn’t draining. For me that knocks out about 95% of people, but the 5% have saved me many times in the past several months (and the twenty-six years before that). Don’t be afraid to reach out and be honest about how you’re feeling. If you’re not comfortable talking about your feelings, just talk. Humans are not made for isolation, which is a big part of why this year has been so brutal.
Maintain and improve your living space.
Having a clean, uncluttered home just feels good. Environment absolutely affects mood, so in tough times it’s especially important to create a comforting, clear space for yourself. Cleaning can also be pretty calming, and it feels good being productive. Also, get some air freshener or light a candle. Nothing I love more than a warm, nicely scented room on a cold night.
Hygeine and taking care of your physical appearance matters.
Even if you’re not super into cleanliness or person hygeine (🙋🏼♀️), I promise you not being dirty and unkempt will make you feel at least slightly better. Even in my worst moments, when my depression is at its most severe, a hot shower helps me a little. If you have the energy, paint your nails or do a face mask. But don’t force yourself to do more than you feel able to.
When you’re at your worst, start small.
This is big. When you’re feeling low, certainly in the midst of a mental health crisis, it may not be feasible to clean your whole house or make yourself look your best. Try to just make your bed or brush your teeth, and see it as an accomplishment when you do. Exhaustion and apathy are two symptoms of depression people don’t acknowledge nearly enough. To quote Desiderata (my favorite poem)—beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
There is absolutely such a thing as toxic positivity.
This is important to remember when talking to other people, especially those with mental health problems. Telling someone struggling with depression or anxiety to just be positive or feel lucky they don’t have it worse can be extremely unhelpful and make the person feel more horrible. It’s not always possible to feel better, in the same way someone with a broken leg can’t simply get up and run on it.
God, this helps me a LOT. Create anything—something that makes you happy and doesn’t feel like a chore. Whether it’s a piece of writing, a painting, a gift for someone, a cake…whatever. Personally, increased productivity is the single best thing for my mood.
Sounds cliche and presh, but laughter is absolutely the best medicine. I often say to my friends that the slogan of my life, like Nick @ Nite TGIF, is Thank God It’s Funny. Seriously, thank the Lord. I would be dead if I couldn’t laugh at life, and I mean that very literally. Gonna indulge my sick sense of humor and re-watch the Human Centipede 3 for the hundredth time tonight when I finish packing for my move. 👌🏻
Just my two cents on self-care. Hang in there. It will get better, and you’re not alone.