By Julia Di Simone
If you get your mental health advice from Tumblr, you might think that the best way to take care of yourself is to curl up into a burrito of blankets and watch Netflix for as long as your heart desires. I understand this sentiment, but I have learned that this advice doesn’t actually help me when I’m in my lowest moments. Of course, we all need time to be idle and simply veg out (or go out) on a Friday night, but it has become important for me to distinguish between taking time for quality self-care and mindlessly indulging myself.
What I’ve learned from spending most of the spring semester of my junior year in bed is that isolating myself when I’m depressed doesn’t actually make me feel any better. Skipping my morning class to lay in bed with my smartphone is not me making a revolutionary decision to prioritize myself and treat myself. It’s doing exactly what my depression wants me to do.
It took courage to face the fact that mindlessly spending hours on YouTube doesn’t feel rejuvenating. So instead, when I feel down, I try and ask myself, “What do I really want?” This question is important because instead of prioritizing the short-term and seemingly irresistible desire to isolate myself and retreat further into my hole, it makes me consider what I want for the long term.
When I honestly answer this question I discover a way I can truly replenish. And yes, sometimes replenishing does mean vegging out in front of an early episode of “Glee.” But with surprising frequency, the answer is that I truly want to push myself to go class, even though it’s hard. Sometimes my deepest desire actually is to leave my house for a walk even though it’s scary.
I also notice that when I’m not being proactive and intentional about my self care I have a harder time dealing with being overwhelmed. When my self care routines get pushed to the back burner, I tend to cope with anxiety by numbing myself out. I built self-care routines for myself I practice regularly. This let me escape from the stressful demands of life while also keeping me in the present.
I have comfort objects. I love having tactile, sensory comfort items I can intentionally turn to when I feel a spike of anxiety. Smelling coffee beans, snacking on a Cliff bar or listening to Beyoncé can help connect me to my senses, helping me feel grounded in the moment and less likely for my mind to be taken away into an anxious spiral. Consider carrying around items that have an interesting scent, sound or texture.
I establish routines. I wake up and go to sleep at more or less the same time each day. I study during certain blocks of time and carve off Friday afternoons for cleaning my kitchen and Friday nights for spending time alone. Consider planning daily routines so you can spend less mental energy worrying about what is coming up next in the day.
I play sports. The truest escape I have is athletics because I physically cannot think about my homework or my personal life when all my mental energy is focused on racing across Sparks field without letting the ball fall out of my lacrosse stick. That two hour respite is powerful because it allows me to hit the reset button. The hours after practice are consistently my most focused and energetic ones where I feel the most in love with my life. Think about an activity you can completely lose yourself in and see if an on-campus organization can help you practice this regularly.
Lastly, I exercise. My mind always seems to be running at 100 miles an hour. So when my body is stationary for too long, I can start to feel restless and trapped within my own body. Regular movement, whether indoors or out, may be able to help you feel more energized, too.