In light of Mental Health Awareness Week, there’s a lot of talk about self-care. And it’s a lovely concept – looking after ourselves properly should always be a priority. But scroll through the #selfcare feed on Instagram and it looks like a lot of people are using the hashtag as an excuse to post artfully staged shelfies of expensive skincare products, or smug pics of themselves on exotic holidays. Which is fine, if that stuff really makes you feel better and you can afford it.
But what if you’re stressed out and you don’t have a luxury holiday to look forward to, or a bathroom full of pampering treats to come home to? There are lots of small, everyday things you can do to feel a bit better straight away.
1. Talk to someone. It’s a no-brainer, but when you’re feeling down, the thoughts of reaching out to even a close friend can be daunting; it’s often the last thing you want to do. But give your friends (or family or colleagues) a chance to help. Next time you’re tempted to answer ‘fine’ when you’re anything but, be honest. You never know what they’ve been through – maybe they know exactly how you’re feeling. Realising you’re not the only one can put things in perspective and, at the very least, sharing a problem instantly makes it feel less scary.
2. Get moving, preferably in the fresh air. Sometimes all you want to do is crawl into bed with Netflix. But fight the urge. Get outside, go for a run, go for a walk, get some fresh air in your lungs, feel your blood pumping and remind yourself what your body can do. We promise, it will make you feel better (and your bed will be waiting for you when you get back).
3. Do something creative. Did you used to love doodling as a kid? Is baking your thing? Whether it’s knitting, bread-making, playing the guitar, writing or making origami (whatever you’re into), we all have a little creativity inside us, and tapping into it can be really rewarding. It doesn’t even matter whether you’re any good, just focusing on the act of creating something gives your mind a rest from all the anxious thoughts swirling around and lets you breathe.
4. Write a happy list. Remember that amazing holiday you went on? What about that hilarious night out with your mates? Jot down a list of all the good things in your life, from the people who make you laugh to the things you’ve achieved and the positive experiences you’ve had. Add pictures of yourself when you felt happiest and flick through it whenever you need cheering up.
5. Stay away from booze. It’s tempting to have a glass of wine (or three) after a tough day, but it’s such a short-term fix. After the initial buzz you get from the first few sips, the alcohol starts to disrupt the balance of chemicals in your brain, lowering your levels of serotonin, so you wake up next day feeling even more anxious. And the cycle continues. Chocolate, on the other hand…
6. Eat yourself happier. Good-quality dark chocolate has been scientifically proven to improve your mood by boosting the production of endorphins. And foods rich in omega-3s (salmon, tuna, walnuts) give you a hit of serotonin and dopamine. So that’s basically all the happy brain chemicals. Making yourself a healthy meal is such an act of self-care. Sure, it’s easier to stick a pizza in the oven, but you’ll feel so much better if you treat yourself to some proper food.
7. Wear red lipstick. It’s superficial, but when everything seems a bit rubbish, bright-red lippie can at least give the appearance that you’re feeling confident. While you’re at it, stick on your favourite outfit (one that makes you feel good no matter how you’re feeling about your body) and fake it till you make it.
8. Step away from social media. People live their best lives online – we all know that. But when you’re down, those gremlins in your head can make you forget that fact and start believing everyone’s having a better time than you. Put down your phone and do something IRL instead. Or if you really can’t resist scrolling, we love @bodyposipanda for body positive vibes, @gemmacorrell’s cartoons for LOLs, @glamourUK (obvs) for dreamy beauty inspo and @puppystagrams because, there’s very little a video of a cute dog can’t fix.
9. Read some good news. Scrolling through the news, it’s very easy to believe that the whole world is full of bad things and bad people. But there are lots of good deeds and positivity out there if you look for it. Feeds such as #goodnews on Twitter are filled with evidence that human kindness and hope is everywhere.
If you’re feeling out of your depth and you need professional help, these websites can point you in the right direction:
Anxietyuk.org.uk; mind.org.uk; samaritans.org