Self Care 101
Too much of the time, I find myself stressed out over nothing. I’ve learned to journal over the past few months, perhaps in an attempt to diagnose the problems that are clogging my spirits, but that’s only left me more puzzled.
This is an excerpt from an email I received, sent in by a reader. And girl, let me tell you: I totally get it.
It’s really difficult to find the source of our problems because there’s never really one source. I think it’s human nature to bottle up our struggles and release them at once in some big (or small) gesture; the only problem is that after those troubles are released, the cycle starts back up again. My social life is hard for me in this respect, and so is my school life; sometimes I like to believe that my failing a test is a direct result of my teacher’s plots against me (even though I mostly know this isn’t true).
Even so, I’ll fail that test, and then I’ll start studying for the next one, and then I’ll stress and stress and stress until it’s all over, even though “all” isn’t the right word to use in that context since there will always be more and more tests...a thought process that will lead me into lunch, during which I’ll think about this infinitely-frustrating academic cycle, one that I know I must go through so I can get to where I need to go--isn’t that why I go to school in the first place?-- but again, where is it that I’m going, and why do I care? And then I’ll eat my sandwich, which will only be kind of good, promising myself that tomorrow I’ll wake up earlier and make something better… but I won’t. Arbitrary circles, random loops, the little things that tie knots in my head until I get physical aches and need to lie down for a while, to nap, maybe, which might transcend me to some other, less-stressful, less duty-filled place…
If this is you, read on. Self care is hard in this overly stimulating world, and staying sane is so so important, so so basic, but so so ignored. Don’t forget about yourself, people! Your health is as important as the math problems you’re fussing about, and your health is as important as your activism. Be thankful for your body: the strong legs that let you run, the arms that flex to tighten hugs you give your friends, the hands that make art and throw footballs and hold other hands. I hope I’m not sounding too preachy. The point is: Take good care of your body for as long as you have it.
Okay, I’m going to be real here: I doubted this… at first. The whole “clear your mind” thing didn’t sound true to me, because I know myself, I know that my mind has a tendency to bounce around everywhere. But that’s all the more reason to try it!
Focused meditation really works when someone else is guiding the meditation by talking to you, but even if you simply lie on the floor and start relaxing your muscles in isolation, beginning from your forehead, eyebrows, and tongue to the last knuckles of your toes, you’re doing it right. You’ll be surprised by how rejuvenated you’ll feel after a seven to ten minute session. And really focus! Calming music, white noise, nature sounds, and sometimes guided meditation programs online can help you do this; and there are a TON of playlists posted up on Youtube that you can play while you ‘lax, too.
Okay: stretching hurts--I’m not 100% flexible, and I can’t do yoga for more than an hour at a time. But after a couple weeks of practice, I can finally do the splits (THE SPLITS), which is pretty dope. As someone who doesn’t run or play a sport, it’s nice to have small physical goals that I can work towards by stretching for half an hour to an hour everyday. Gently doing so helps your muscles (and mind!) relax.
Plus, as I said, being able to do the splits is dope.
3. Make a movie.
Hang out with some of your friends, make a skit, go skating, go surfing, play basketball… and film it. It’s all about the editing process. Editing videos--adding music, filters, visual effects--to make your life seem like a movie is so soothing because it really is a way of taking yourself to another world, where your life is something like fiction. It also gives you a brief space to reflect on the good things in life, the things that make you really happy without you actually doing the thing… and reflection is always a catalyst for more reflection. It’s something like visual journalling.
Plus, filmmaking is a super fun, super productive, super documentative hobby. A Youtube career might be in your future.
Okay, to the girl who sent me the email quoted at the beginning of this piece: I know journalling cannot always help. As a writer, journalling stresses me out too, because every time I sit at my desk I always expect to write something good!
But lose those expectations. It is not the end of the world if you write badly: drill this into your head now, before it is too late!!!
Going down a stream of consciousness by scribbling literally everything that is on your mind, anything you can think of, is a great way to unload baggage hidden in the deepest parts of your mind. The physical act of writing can externalize any stress you may have, and seeing your thoughts on paper--recognizing them as real, but allowing yourself to close the journal cover at the end of the day--can help you loosen the knots that are so tightly wound in your head.
5. Listen to music.
There is so much music out there. Bring yourself to another decade; try out new genres. Country might not be so bad if you give it a try (but if listening to country stresses you out even further, by all means: avoid country). I’ve always had this secret wish to make music, because there’s something really special about melody and written word coming together. The power of song is truly indescribable.
Remember that musicians didn’t make music so their work could act as background entertainment while you drive to work, to school, bus home, walk to Walgreens, or shop for avocados at Trader Joe’s. Music is meant to be savored and enjoyed in its fullest form. So sit on your bed, put on some headphones, and pay attention! You’ll love what you find.
Stop everything you’re doing and go do something else. Sometimes you need to take a breather in order to be productive, to stay sane, to be healthy. Stopping is always okay. Stopping does not mean you are quitting.
Take a few deep breaths before you continue. I’m not talking about the quick and sharp inhales and exhales during a heavy run, I’m not talking about any desperate, time-tight breaths. Because when you’re caring for yourself, you do have time, and you do have energy.
So make those breaths huge. Fit as much air as humanly possible in your lungs before you breathe out. Feel it with your diaphragm. Use your muscles. Your lungs are a balloon and you are floating and GLOWING, girl. A little longer. Feel that oxygen in the pit of your stomach, push it against the bottom of your rib cage--Then let go.
Repeat three times.
I don’t care if you’re a good singer, a bad singer--there are no good singers, and there are no bad singers. Not now- not while you’re stressed. If “You Are My Sunshine” is a song that simply cannot leave your head, if you cannot stop singing Lady Gaga, if Drake lyrics echo through you as you do your calculus: damn it, sing! Rap! Scream, if you want to. Do what you need to do to release yourself, and don’t let the aches inside you build up when you damn well know how to relieve them.