I just had a fantastic bath. A fantastic evening bath. Here’s how it went down:
- Whacked those taps on circa nine thirty pm.
- Full blast taps. Temperature range in the very-hot-to-too-hot.
- TEN drops exactly of tea tree oil.
- While the bath is running, I’m brewing a cup of tea. Twinings St Clements.
- Slam down the bathroom blind. Screw shut the bathroom window.
- Strip, obviously.
- Phone by the bath. Got a podcast on. A comedy one.
- I’m dunking down into the bath once it’s around half full.
- My body…. screams? This is very hot, way too hot. I should probably get out.
- A few seconds later that passes. No, this is the ideal temperature. My skin is a light pink already.
- The water is almost at the taps. This is no time for cowards. I ramp the taps up to the hottest they’ll go.
- Finally I kick the tap off as I begin to sous-vide.
- I’m sipping on that tea. It’s also scalding.
- There’s sweat running down my face. Steam from the bath is trying to escape the room, but it’s no good – it’s locked in here with me now.
- Considering the tea sufficiently brewed I remove the tea bag. It plops down into the bath with me. The water is now a extremely weak broth of oranges, lemons, and like all my dirty skin and hair.
- Laying here for a few minutes perfectly still is key. Sipping the tea just a bit. Taking in the podcast. Feeling the sweat.
- Eventually the tea runs out. Out comes the plug and I get out the bath. If you don’t feel dizzy at this point, you’ve done it wrong.
- Congratulations on the best bath of your entire life.
And that’s just one way I do so-called ‘self care’. We spend a lot of our days rushing around to fix things or do things for other people, so it’s important to take time to do things that make you feel happy, or relaxed.
Self care is commonly prescribed in mental health treatment and coping strategies. My CBT therapist has even recommended it to me recently, and my reaction was basically “isn’t that just candles and hot chocolate and youtube vloggers with strings of fairy lights?”
Why do I think that? Well, because those are the things you hear most about it. It’s a term somewhat hijacked by both pseudo-scientific spiritualism and vacuous lifestyle vloggers. To quote this Buzzfeed article:
“It might be overly cynical to suggest that vloggers have simply found in the mental health advocacy phenomenon another avenue through which to peddle products….But regardless of intent, the lines have become blurred over what, exactly, the audience is to assume they are watching”
And if you google “self care” you get a lot of stuff like this. Pictures of flowers, hearts, and words in the shape of a meditating alien. None of which is appealing to me at all.
Which is a shame, because I think self-care is really good and important. The main things it covers seem to be:
- Healthy eating and meal planning
- Seeing people
- Taking care of your body (exercise)
- Doing activities that are beneficial to your mental well-being.
Or to sum it up: be good to yourself. But what does that even mean?
Is it a treat yo’ self situation? Or a do what you feel one? Is it meant to be outright hedonism? Or is it more about self-discipline?
The most important thing IMO is that self care is about looking after your self (duh!), down to your basic needs of food and hygiene. Depression in particular can make things like just showering or changing into proper clothes a chore. So it’s vital to engage in these things.
Last year I read A Beginner’s Guide to Losing Your Mind by Emily Reynolds, which is a good book absolutely jam-packed with practical tips. Tips like:
Before you get depressed, or before you realise you’re overwhelmed and can’t cope, put small and manageable systems into place. Make tidying a habit, and be strict with yourself. Make your bed every day. Put bleach down the toilet every other day. Get a laundry basket and put dirty clothes in it at the end of every day, instead of on the floor.
And that’s what I think self-care is about. Not so much bath bombs and face masks, but remembering that you’re living your life, and taking care of that. Having that sympathetic, caring approach we find it easily to dole out to others, but almost never ourselves.
That all said, I think there’s still room for the ‘do things that make you feel good’ interpretation of self care. And I’d like to share some of the things I do:
1. Meditation and other exercises.
I’ve had mixed feelings about Headspace before. But I’m back on the “Headspace is good” train. If you don’t want to use it, there’s other perfectly good and free resources out there that do exactly the same things.
And if mindfulness / meditation isn’t your bag, there’s just plain breathing exercises that are really helpful. My CBT person recommended the Soothing Rhythm Breathing Practices here, and I do too! Real handy to calm you down in a stressful situation if nothing else.
2. Junk food.
Ok, this is probably a bit controversial. The official Mind guidance on self care specifically notes that you should watch your diet. And of course bad food has a negative influence on your mood. But sometimes eating rubbish just makes me feel better. And I’m ok with that.
3. Video games
Video games are very fun. There’s no denying that. I like to play them, often more than anything else, and especially more than having to deal with people in real life. Which is why I struggle with multiplayer games – if I’m trying to escape from other people, why would I actively go and seek them out?
But yeah, video games are fun. And I’ve learnt not to feel guilty about spending time on them if they cheer me up.
Ironing belongs in a special category of things including colouring and knitting. I call this it ‘secret mindfulness’. It’s a category of activities where you have one task to focus on that requires some amount of technique but not any particular amount of difficulty. It’s brain-on-autopilot territory.
Man, I love ironing. There’s something just really satisfying about pressing the creases out of clothes with hot steam. Turning a pile of laundry into a neatly-folded stack of shirts ready for the drawer is molto, molto bene.
Plus it’s also proper self care in that it means you have clothes to wear that aren’t all creased looking. Top self care, ironing.
Memes are very self care. I’ve fallen lately into the pit of Vine compilations – 10 or so minute youtube videos of collections of funny 6-second videos. As my housemates point out, these compilations invariably contain all of the same Vines each time, but that’s the point. Seeing the same things again and again, and laughing at them again and again, they soon become like close friends to you.
6. Getting real organised. Probably too organised.
I’ve written before about my stupidly overly-organised online life. But I stand by it. There’s something liberating about letting a complicated system of rows and columns rule my life. I don’t really have much control any more about what TV series I watch next, or the next book I read, and that’s fine. I’m sort of glad that these decisions are being made ‘for me’.
Is getting up at the same time every day to follow the same routine every day good or bad? I’d say it’s good. It lets me actually get things done, like regular exercise every day, which is what self-care is all about.
7. Loud music.
Today I had a stressful walk. I was walking between offices and had a lot to do, but knew the walk itself would take up about ten minutes of valuable time. So I put on my intensity playlist and power-walked the hell out of it. On the way, I listened to ‘Ize of the World‘ by The Strokes and ‘Big Unit‘ by Abedisi Shank – two of my favourite songs – super super loud. It felt amazing.
Music really does have that power to exorcise our emotions. And its use in self-care is enormous. Most importantly, it doesn’t have to be light, fluffy Katie Melua stuff; heavy metal, electronica, rap – it’s all good if it makes you feel better.
(‘What Went Down‘ by Foals is another very good song for banishing stress. For me at least. And you have to play it really bloody loud).
And that’s probably enough self-care tips for now. I hope you found them useful.
I’m still not 100% clear on what SC is. But I think we’ve at least been feeling around the right kind of area. The main takeaway is that we should love ourselves, which I hope you do. Because I love you. You know that, right? x