Feeling anxious? Try a different approach to self-care
Perversely the idea of self-care can make feelings of anxiety worse as worries may arise that the chosen self-care activity is not being done ‘correctly’. The #selfcare online world is full of perfect photos of people in yoga poses at sunset, which for most of us are unachievable on a good day, never mind when feeling stressed and anxious.
At the time of writing the impact of the Covid pandemic and uncertainty over our employment, health and social lives have led to more of us experiencing poor mental health, of which increasing anxiety is a part. The mental health organisation, MIND, remind us that;
‘Anxiety is a natural human response when we feel we are under threat… Most people feel anxious at times. It’s particularly common to experience anxiety while coping with stressful events or changes, especially if they could have a big impact on your life.’ MIND.org.uk
Anxiety can be experienced in many different ways. You may feel tense, have a sense of impending doom, have difficulty sleeping or concentrating or feel restless. It is well known that one of the best ways to improve mental well-being is to care for ourselves better. There are countless lists online of things we are told to include in our self-care routine. Yet somehow following these tips can seem like another chore to add to the to-do list, rather than being something that helps us to rest and recharge.
Choosing the right kind of self-care
How do you feel when you’re taking a long hot bath? Relaxed and at peace? Or does your mind race with your work to-do list?
What about when you’re pottering in the garden? Do you feel at one with nature and part of the greater whole? Or irritated by the mud under your fingernails and frustrated that you don’t know whether to prune that shrub or not?
One of the things we don’t often read about is how personal self-care is. What works for me may not work for you. It may be that the idea of yoga, scented candles and meditation is just not your thing. You find it easier to unwind by singing loudly, baking, or going for a run.
What you do to care for your mental health is not as important as how you feel during and after the activity. Having an idea of how you’d like to feel may lead you to try new things, or encourage you to return to tried and tested techniques.
Self-care should be a purposeful activity that you engage in because you know it will enhance your emotional, physical or spiritual well-being. However, what exactly that activity is will be different for everyone. The key is to both pick the activity that suits you best and to be alive to the possibility of trying something new if it’s just not working anymore.
Being aware of how you want to feel makes it easier to choose the appropriate activity for you. Do you want to feel calm or energised? Have a think back to when you have experienced those emotions and to what you were doing at the time. Maybe make a list of the activities that helped and gather together the items you need to do it again, e.g. a box of ingredients that mean you can make an aromatic meal if that has felt good before, or a waterproof coat if it was being outside that helped.
Make it truly personal and create your own top 10 self-care tips which you can update as you get to know yourself better.
If you are struggling to develop a meaningful self-care routine then it can help to talk it through with a counsellor: they will support you to start with where you are, rather than give you a list of what has worked for others. There may also be deeper reasons why setting time aside to care for yourself is hard. Meeting with a counsellor can help you explore this, and for some counselling sessions become an important part of their self-care routine.