Now more than ever, individually, and for society as a whole, self care has become increasingly important an act. I, like millions of others around the world, suffer from anxiety. For a long time I never wanted to admit to it, largely due to the taboo around any discussion of mental health as some sort of weakness that was different to any other body system ailment. You’d think the experience of medical school would prime me as well as a nurse with an IV line for ‘pressure’, but my stressors only grew in depth and number, as I stepped into actually working in the medical profession. An unlike metamorphic rock which solidifies with such forces applied, I felt like I was melting into a puddle of molten lava. I was also afraid that perhaps it was all in my head, and what the doctor diagnosed as anxiety was maybe just me being acopic at dealing with an expected rite of passage through my 20’s and regular life.
This is despite a series of statistics naming anxiety as the most common mental health condition in Australia. Meaning 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men suffer from it. I’m not sure what the relevance of some statistics is here, perhaps to reassure myself again that this is real and not just fabricated in my head.
My anxiety is not just feeling a little blue and ancy here and there. It has always manifested at the most horrendous of times and reared its ugly head in the most debilitating of ways. This has included a range of fun things such as full blown palpitations whilst I am standing in a crowd of people, or the overwhelming urge to burst into tears at the smallest trigger. The extreme, panic attacks, leave me literally gasping for air desperately trying to deep breathe to recalibrate.
At my worst, I can liken the feeling to the water that turbulently moves with a hurricane like formation and momentum, as it drains down a sink. It feels like you are being sucked into this unrelenting abyss, spiralling down and down and losing all control. For me, this combination of burnout, anxiety, self induced pressures I placed on myself and a lack of sleep proved a lethal concoction to my general wellbeing. Perhaps even worse is this newfound ‘glorification’ of being busy, where lack of sleep and working yourself to extremes cements you into an elite club of high functioning members of society. It’s interesting to see the calm and collected facade most anxiety sufferers wear so well, whilst truthfully underneath the surface, exist human beings longingly clasping for stability and craving a break to catch and not really knowing exactly how to do that.
It’s even more difficult to look after yourself when your energy reserves are so depleted. By the time I have come from work, mustering the energy to do very much at all proves difficult. This, leads to poor dietary choices, skimping out on the workout, and going to bed later than I probably should and waking up early in order to make that morning round absolutely exhausted due to insomnia. This, for me, has always built up resentment towards my profession, creating this vicious cycle that only re-inforces poor self care behaviours.
Over time, I have developed a multifaceted coping strategy that I have learnt over the years by trial and error to tame the beast. Self care may sound a bit wanky, I mean, it definitely sounds wanky, but it’s what I needed more than anything. And though this sounds like the type of thing you read in those bullshit wannabe wellness magazines that tell you drinking hot water with a squeeze of lemon is going to kickstart your metabolism (it’s not by the way), If you ever are feeling drained and in need of some self care, these little strategies below might help you.
You may be struggling right now, so I think you should know you’re not alone in feeling that way. It’s very easy at times to think you’re the only one who has lost a sense of direction when everyone around you seems to be so put together and so on track. The mid twenties crisis is so underrated. But most people I know are a bit lost.
I guess its important to remember that people show you what they want you to see, and behind closed doors, the reality may present itself differently. Which is why it’s important to be attuned to ourselves and our friends and family around us. I promise you taking the time to recharge your batteries is an investment that you will not regret like the 200 dollar dress you just bought from The Iconic (don’t worry, they have 100 days of free returns).
My self care routine
Open the window and get some fresh air
I am fortunate enough to live in a spot presently that has amazing sunrise views over Sydney, and 6 floors up catches some nice fresh morning air. In this moment, I usually say a little thanks to the universe for another day to start anew, a little prayer my grandma taught me when I was very very young. Having gratitude and good intentions forces your brain’s amygdala to override any anxiety and stimulates the hypothalamus to regulate any further anxiety.
Coffee time and affirmations
I find the routine of a morning coffee cathartic, and a great time to play some affirmations. This is something one of my best friends introduced me to and I find hearing the words out loud enable me to flex my mind to better deal with the spanners the day throws at me. The affirmations diffuse subconsciously into my mind and remind me in times where I may react poorly to do otherwise.
The last thing you want to do when you’re feeling blue is work out. But there is so much evidence out there showing the link between lack of exercise and mental health issues. For me exercise is the biggest help in combating my mood and I feel so great and alive after that rush of endorphins and sweat dripping down my face. There’s something about pushing your body to an extreme that for me is a form of meditation itself, bringing my attention to everything each muscle is doing, my breathing, my heart, all working together trying to get through the workout.
Have an honest discussion with yourself
Sometimes I find the biggest stressor can be feeling overwhelmed and not knowing why. But often this means we aren’t listening or paying attention to our thoughts and actions and seeing only the negative outcome without the process that has led there. I find sitting down and making a list of the things that are stressing me out to be extremely beneficial to helping me identify problems, recognising my negative self talk, and putting in motion thoughts and actions to negate those stressors. Writing things down I find also helps the stressors lose their power, that looming over your head feeling.
I have this app that I tell all my good friends about called Headspace and it, when I remember to use it, has become an extremely powerful tool. Mindfulness is“awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” In moments where I feel good, or bad, mindfulness allows me to draw my attention back to the now and focus on the certain things like my breath and learn how to be still and in tune with myself for a part of my day.
Shower and bath with candles
A shower does me wonders. And it’s such a simple thing. Something about the hot water beating down on my face makes me snap out of moods and feel refreshed. I find lighting candles in the bathroom delightful, for that spa – esque ambience. On occasion, I spoil myself with a bath bomb from lush to make use of in my ginormous free standing bath tub, paired with a generous glass of red to sip and some rom coms on Netflix.
Be kind to yourself
In this day and age, we put so much pressure on ourselves to just have it all figured out. And the absence of feeling like we know what we are doing can prove very unsettling. Throw in a sprinkle of comparison, and you are now truly feeling like bullocks. Remember that no two people need to go along the same paths, and don’t put pressure on yourself to have everything figured out right now. You’re allowed to feel exhausted from time to time! Expand your timeline within which you want to achieve certain milestones, travel more, commit to one thing at a time.
Read read read, get off the internet
It’s hard when your work semi revolves around social media, but the whole web experience can be incredibly soul sucking and draining at times, trying to painfully curate an image. Often when it’s getting a bit too much, I like to put on some slow jazz on Spotify, you know like the type that’s in all those mood scenes in the movies, and pull out one of my mane self help books and just read. Even if it’s a chapter, I find reading these books to be so helpful at re-iterating or discovering truths about combating negative self talk. Some of my favourites include ‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k’, ‘The Happiness Project’, ‘ First, we make the beast beautiful’.