Hey, guys. We’ve been through some hell this year, haven’t we. A global pandemic, racism, more racism, violence, the politicization of the pandemic leading to the disastrous prolonging and spread of the pandemic, corruption in politics, corruption in business, and that’s all without mentioning the personal losses and upheavals many have suffered and continue to suffer as a result of some or all of the above. It sucks.
Our Year of Suffering has brought self care front and center in many mental health discussions. I’ve been all about self care for years, obviously, so I figure it’s a good time to talk about it again. Our Year of Suffering might be about to end, according to the calendar, but the Suffering may continue. It’s a good time to get our heads on straight and figure out how we can mitigate the Suffering in the months to come.
We’ve talked in old episodes of the Snailcast about how we disliked the corporate hijacking of the concept of self care to mean “buy yourself some more fun shit and have a bubble bath.” At its core, that’s not all that self care is. The kind of self care that will get us through yet more Months of Suffering is more about discipline than it is about indulgence. That might sound less fun, but ultimately it’ll bring us more calm, more resilience, and more peace.
Self care: The physical side
It was right around this time last year that I started practicing yoga using the Daily Yoga app. I haven’t looked back since. I originally picked it up to deal with back pain, particularly lower back spasms and sciatica that I’ve suffered from since I was pregnant almost ten years ago.
At this point, I’ve progressed far beyond the ten-minute beginner flows and slow and easy back pain practices that I started with. I can do all kinds of things with my body that I’d never thought possible (especially at forty years old), from backbends to splits to balancing on one foot without falling over, and I love it. I got the Yogi Approved app and added barre, HIIT, and Pilates to my fitness routine. I eat better, in part to support better performance during workouts. I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been.
The health benefits of exercise are beyond dispute at this point. Cardiovascular, joint, and bone health all improve with regular physical activity. There’s plenty of research demonstrating the mental health benefits of exercise as well, with explanations of mechanisms like endorphin release and the reduction of inflammation.
Those aren’t all, though. For me, the greatest benefit of exercise comes from the tangible growth and improvement it provides. It feels incredibly rewarding and empowering to reach my goals over time (even when those goals are just things like “grow an ass” or “lay my cheek on my knee while in the full splits”). In a year when so many things seem to be standing still or moving backwards, feeling capable of producing forward growth means a lot.
Working out isn’t always fun. Sometimes I dread it. Sometimes I have to talk myself into getting off the couch, getting out the yoga mat, and just doing it. But I never regret it when I’m done, because every session is another step forward towards my next goal.
Self care: The mental side
Mental self care during this pandemic often seems to fall into one of two categories. On the one hand, there’s the “KEEP DOING STUFF YOU HAVE TO DO STUFF BE PRODUCTIVE DO STUFF NOWWWWWWW” hysterical positivity. Which is what I personally lean towards, but can be toxic on its own.
Leaning into hysterical positivity means that when fatigue hits, when we really need to get into bed with a book and a cat, guilt seeps in. Then the guilt ruins the relaxation and creates an extra mental burden to carry.
On the other hand, there’s the “forgive yourself for not wanting to do anything” camp, which also has its good points, but is obviously counterproductive in the long run if it becomes a way of life.
Let’s be real. These are not normal times. Most of us aren’t going out the way we used to and plenty of people aren’t making the money they used to, further limiting activity options. It’s normal and natural to have more idle days. Now that winter is coming to the northern hemisphere, it’s also normal and natural for many of us to spend more time cocooned inside, too. But doing too much cocooning and too much relaxing breeds guilt, anxiety, and depression.
The lesson I’ve learned this year is how to balance both the need for growth and achievement with the need for rest and relaxation. How that works will be different for everyone.
For me it boils down to having a list of things that must get done, but not breathing down my own neck to do them at specific times–as long as they do (mostly) get done when they need to be. Is everything checked off for the day? Time for guilt-free slug life. Is everything checked off for the week? That mental health day is looking mighty good, and I can come out of it feeling refreshed and ready for more.
The light at the end of the tunnel
With all the insane shit happening this year, it’s been easy to fall into doom and gloom. I’ve dragged myself through several depressive slumps, dragged myself out of them like a reanimated corpse digging up through a coffin lid and a century of dirt, and sometimes I feel completely exhausted.
What’s kept me going has been the knowledge that despite all the opposition to human happiness and growth this year, good shit has still happened and can still happen. It can for all of us, but we have to keep going and we have to keep fighting. Ultimately, that’s what self care is for. It builds our strength and resilience and refills our tanks with energy and optimism so that we can keep going. That’s important.
Oh, and about buying fun shit and taking a bubble bath? If you can, do that too. Find comfort in the little things. That way, you’ll be more ready to face the big ones.