Have you ever woken up already in a bad mood? Or had a day where everything seemed to go wrong?
You are not alone.
I battle with anxiety and depression, so I've started many days feeling heavy and hopeless. I've also had many days where I've distorted small mishaps like being late to work, getting a parking ticket, or missing a deadline into monumental crises. And I've also had days with monumental crises that have made me rethink every "bad" day I've ever had.
We're all human. We're all going to make mistakes, be in bad moods, and have bad days. It's inevitable. Therefore, we must tend to our mental health and exercise self-love when we feel defeated.
This blog post will cover five self-care practices to help you decompress and reset so you can be your best self.
Journaling is the practice of spilling all of your deepest darkest thoughts and feelings onto paper. Or a word processor. Writer's choice! It's like therapy, but PLOT TWIST… you become your therapist. And upside: It's $FREE.99!
On my bad days, my thoughts spiral: "I can't believe I missed my exit. I should know where to go. I'm so dumb. I can't do anything right." I become trapped in a tornado of endless negative self-talk, worries, criticism, judgment, and anxieties.
To calm the storm in my mind, I brain-dump and write everything down. I don't worry about conventions, neatness, or if it makes sense. My pen grabs the thought, separates it from my mind, and slaps it onto the paper. *Cue Gandalf Voice* "You shall not take up space in my mind!"
Then, if needed, I take a small break. I recommend doing one of the other self-care practices as a break, but we'll get to those soon!
With everything written down, I can focus on one thought at a time. I can see where I overreacted. And I can choose where I want to target my energy.
Writing can be a cathartic experience and can help you heal. But, I understand how paralyzing it can be when you don't know where to start. Asking myself and answering journaling prompts have helped me reflect on and process my thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Thus, challenging me to be my own therapist.
Here are some guiding questions that I use:
>> What am I feeling right now?
>> Describe the physical sensations.
>> What would I say to a friend in this situation?
>> What can I learn from this feeling or situation?
>> What is the most supportive thing I can do for myself right now?
#2 Breathing Exercises
Breathing comes so naturally and automatically that it's easy to forget that we're doing it. But when we bring our attention to our breath, we can use it as a powerful relaxation tool.
According to the Mayo Clinic, breathing exercises can "ease anxiety, depression and other stress-related issues." This article also discusses how conscious breathing can help "anchor" you "in the present moment" and embrace difficult emotions.
Anxiety has been my biggest adversary, but having breathing exercises in my arsenal has been a game-changer. It calms me down, clears my mind, and silences my loud thoughts.
There are many different breathing techniques and exercises, but the two that I consistently use are box breathing and 4-7-8 breathing. If those techniques don’t feel right for you can also listen to guided meditations.
Here are some of my favorite guided meditations:
#3 Physical Activity
Getting active will help you to feel better. Sad burrito blanket mode? Try dancing in your underwear. It will get your heart rate up, pump some fresh blood through your body, and energize you. Feeling like an anxious hot potato? Again, dance in your underwear. It will help burn off the extra energy.
Honestly, on my bad days, I don't even want to leave my bed, so I understand how soul-sucking exercising may sound. The hardest part is starting, so be kind to yourself and do one thing at a time. Praise yourself for getting out of bed. Praise yourself for putting on your workout clothes. Praise yourself for each step you take.
Just listen to your body and honor your needs in that present moment. For example, some days I go for a 5-minute walk or do a 20-min yoga video, whereas other days I go for a 40-min jog. You may decide that a five minute-walk was perfect for the day, or maybe that motivates you to keep walking or do a different workout.
According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, “bouts of any length contribute to the health benefits associated with the accumulated volume of physical activity.” These health benefits include “reduced anxiety and depression risk, improved sleep, and quality of life.”
And if all you did was step outside for the day, that's great! There are many benefits from going outside and enjoying nature, including getting some fresh air and vitamin D from the sun.
If you don't feel like going outside or going to the gym, that's fine too! Here are my favorite exercise videos from my favorite YouTubers that you can do in the comfort of your own home:
#4 Healthy Fuel
"One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well." - Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own.
When I'm upset or stressed, I reach for all the junk food: chips, cookies, candy, soda. It makes me feel better at the moment, but when I crash, I end up feeling worse.
Reach for food that is:
- Rich in antioxidants (fruits and vegetables)
- Omega-3 fatty acids (walnuts, flaxseeds)
- Whole grains (oats)
- Protein (beans, peas, nuts, seeds, and soy products)
According to the Dietary Guidelines For Americans, "most Americans exceed the recommendations for added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium." They promote a diet that limits the above mentioned and "shifts" towards a "healthy eating pattern." Figure 2-2 from the Dietary Guidelines For Americans provides you with ideas for healthy substitutions.
#5 Do Something You Love
Life is stressful. There's never enough time but always something to do. To keep up with the pains of life and avoid burnout, sometimes it's best just to stop and recharge.
After a hard day, I like to recharge by engaging in an activity or hobby that I love. Doing something fun and having something that I’m passionate about adds value to my quality of life. There are also many health benefits of doing what you love.
Here is a list of things that always bring me joy:
- Reading novels and self-help books
- Watching motivational videos
- Listening and dancing to music
- Lighting a scented candle
- Doing a face mask
- Making no-sew blankets
- Practicing origami
There was a time when I didn't find joy in the things that I loved, so I understand if that is where you are at right now. Just know that you are loved, and you matter.
Regardless if you're fighting a long-term battle of mental illnesses, just having a bad day, or just want to work on yourself, these practices are beneficial to everyone's overall wellbeing.
You can use these practices for both restorative and preventative care. I used to do these practices only when my anxiety or depression became too overwhelming, but now I use them every day. All five of these practices are a part of my daily routine and are foundational for maintaining my mental health.
May you find as much peace and joy as I have from using these practices. I hope these self-care practices assuage you through those tough times and help you to become your best self.