Self Care On A Budget For Those Who Can’t Buy Happiness
Ailsa gives us all some tips for looking after yourself when you don’t have the luxury of buying happiness.
Self care used to make me squeamish. Often folks equate self care to self indulgence. It is not that. Self care is looking after yourself. It’s taking the time you need and deserve to rest and do those things that you do solely for you. Not for your CV, not for friends, not for a good instagram post…just for you.
Though self care is often talked about in association with mental illness, you don’t have to have a diagnosed illness to be worthy of care. Everyone needs and deserves being looked after. If it helps, think back to when you were a wee kid and how society accepts that kids need caring for. You’re older now, but you still need looking after. That wee kid is still inside you, and all that happens as you grow is that you have to take on more responsibility for caring for yourself. You don’t just magically become a hardened, callous individual who doesn’t need affection or love. Well, I hope you’re not.
Self care is important. Often though, people will recommend acts of self care that require buying something –whether that’s an experience (like a massage), a meal out, or an expensive bath bomb. Leaving aside how our capitalist society primes us for false fulfillment through material goods, some of us just straight up can’t afford to do this form of self care. But that doesn’t mean you can’t look after yourself. And, in fact, low cost self care can have a deeper, longer lasting effect than buying a quick fix new top. So here are my top tips for self care on a budget. Now, look me in the eye/screen and promise me you’ll do at least one of these things for yourself today. Okay? Let’s go.
1. Write Notes To Yourself.
I know, I know. This sounds like a surefire way to end up with your stomach cramping up with cringe. But honestly, it works. You know how getting sweet texts from friends lights up your face and the rest of your day? Well, you don’t need to rely solely on friends for that feeling. I came upon this by accident when I wrote a nice note to myself and then forgot about it. A few days later I found it in the book I was reading and my thought process went: this is a nice note. From Ailsa. Telling me I’m nice. Ailsa’s nice. She’s nice to me. We should be nice to her.
Simplistic but effective: the ultimate weird brain hack. Now I write notes to myself when in good moods or low ones and leave them about my room for me to find. And it always cheers me up, at least a little. And the cringeyness only adds to that feeling.
2. Get Clean.
I find that when I’m generally kinda sad and droopy, my mood is very easily exacerbated by me not being clean. Feeling a bit greasy just seems to reinforce those thoughts of ‘I’m an incompetent person’ and feeling gross mentally. Crawling to the shower and standing under hot water had wonderful symbolic value of washing away bad feelings and all those yesterdays when you didn’t quite do everything you wanted to. And then stepping out, towelling yourself off and putting on clean underwear and a t-shirt is like putting on a new skin. You get to start again. You can always start again. And it’s even easier to start again when you smell great. Plus I always feel better with clean hair?
3. Watch Things That Make You Laugh.
There is a lot of free comedy on youtube. Josie Long is one of my faves for curling up in bed with (no, not in that way, spooning is what my real life friends are for). I wrap myself up in my duvet or several along with all the soft things I own and leave just my little, tear-filled eyes peeping out to watch Josie doing stand up. And I chuckle quietly to myself and drift off to sleep knowing that I can still laugh. Also, Simon Amstell makes me feel less alone in my despairing, cashmere-lined* void.
*Thanks to charity shops. Another top tip: when you see cashmere in charity shops. Not only do you feel luxuriant but more people hug you more willingly because you are soft soft soft.
4. Hug Yourself
I know, I know. But it works. Physical contact releases oxytocin (the happy hormone) and lowers your blood pressure and stress levels. And that physical contact doesn’t need to come from someone else. You can be the hero you need. Once you’ve gotten over the weirdness of it, this one’s pretty self explanatory. Wrap your arms around yourself and squeeze. Hold that hug for at least twenty seconds. Go on. Just try it.
5. Ask Someone Outside Your Brain For Validation.
Sometimes it’s too hard to care for yourself by yourself. We’re social creatures. We have friends for a reason. You don’t need to do this alone. You don’t need to always rely solely on yourself for validation. Nor do you need to be at crisis point (in serious danger) for you to be worthy of help. Asking for help before you hit that low can often prevent you from falling that far. Think about how you feel when your friends ask you for help: would you rather they just kept quiet and didn’t say they were struggling? I’d wager no. Trust me on this: they feel the same way about you.
On that note…
6. Treat Yourself As You Would A Person Outside Your Brain Whom You Like.
Ask yourself if you would say the things you are saying to yourself right now to a friend. Would you tell a friend that they didn’t deserve help? That they need to deal with this all by themselves? That they’re a terrible person? No? What would you say to them instead? Now turn around and apply that to yourself. If it’s easier, imagine what your friend would say to you right now if you told them everything you were feeling.
7. Save Messages From Friends To Look At Later.
Something that can help with the above –but also help at any time– is having nice messages from friends screenshotted and saved somewhere for you to look over if you ever do need a boost. Having a reminder that there are people who love you and care about you is wonderfully validating.This is a handy way of getting round that squeamishness about asking directly for validation when you’re in a slump.
8. Scribble On A Big Roll Of Brown Paper With A Big Black Marker.
It took me far too long to learn that anger can be a major symptom of bipolar and depression. For most of my life I believed that it was my fault that I was so angry. Now, I know it’s part of how my brain works and I focus less on beating myself up for experiencing rage and more on how to channel it safely. One of my top ways of doing this is by always having a cheap roll of brown paper on hand and several big black marker pens. When in that glorious whirlwind of anger, pain, hurt, fear and energy floods my brain I simply cover my bedroom floor in the paper and scribble all over it. Sometimes it’s just lines. Sometimes it’s words. Sometimes it’s just one word. Anything is fine. Just let it all out.
Okay so I’ll admit. This is not the same when your housemate suggests you could maybe do the washing up because you’re feeling a bit lost and listless. It’s much more empowering when you make the choice without any external input but cleaning does really help me. It can ground you in your body and at the end of it you can see the results of your hard work. I also find it very helpful, when my moods are tumultuous, to be able to take control of my external environment. Obviously this can go too far, but in moderation, it’s a great coping technique.
Whatever your jam is, go for it. The act of making something from scratch can help you to counteract those thoughts of ‘You haven’t done enough with your day’ because you have: you’ve made something. And it gives me the extra boost of my housemates loving me more because there’s warm chocolate cake on the table*. Whatever you choose to do, take your time, and give yourself the opportunity to make mistakes. Put on some good tunes and try and focus on what you are doing with your hands.
*They have since reassured me that their love is not conditional.
I really hope that you find at least some of these tips helpful. Whilst not a way of curing depression, they have helped me through many an episode in a gentler, kinder way. I’ll end with a quick note from me to you (and me –we’ve gone over this, remember?)
You are not to blame for feeling down. The best thing you can do right now is to be kind to yourself. Take things easy. Take taking things easy easy. Focus on what you can do. Make yourself that cup of tea. Rest. Be gentle. You are still only small. Your worth is independent of your productivity. You deserve love, respect and care. Looking after yourself first is not selfish, it’s essential. Look after yourself, kiddo.
Do you have any other self care tips that don’t cost all of last week’s wages? Let us know on twitter and facebook.
If you would like some more support with looking after yourself, head along to Resilience Lab