The Art of Self-Care
My self-user-research and experiment in determining what methods of self-care works for me best
Self care is a personal art. Depression has taught me that doing nothing will only bring one deeper into the depths that makes swimming to the top harder the longer you wait. But how do you soothe an avalanche of anxiety or a storm of sadness? How do you bring yourself above the depths of your despairs and slow the tide of the negative thoughts flowing through your brain? It will seem impossible at times, that you are not worth feeling happy; but doing nothing is not an option, so you might as well do something, anything, about it. Whether that’s meditation, yoga, running, baking, it distracts from the turmoil on the inside and allows one to take a breath before reflection on the trigger.
“Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.”
― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
But what works for you might not work for someone else. Identifying what works for you requires numerous rounds of trail and error — well at least that’s how it was for me. I remember reading so many self-help articles, so many books that promise a happier day and doing their little exercises. Nothing worked. How some people just knows what works for them sounds like such a miracle how me.
So I decided to conduct an experiment. A series of trials to determine which methods of self care worked the best for me. Much like normal user research, you start with a problem and try to find the solution. Again similar to user research, the solution you come up with will depend on the audience you are targeting the product to. Since the goal audience is myself, this was a rather simple task. I researched different methods of self care that people claimed to work wonders for them and tried them all. I would like reflect on the activity and determine if it worked or did not work for me and why. I then noted down some activities that I think I would like to do and tallied each time that I did it. Ultimately, the goal is to find the to-go activities I could do when I am feeling down. But along the way, I learned quite a bit about myself.
Trials of failed self-care activities
Oh god, what is this torture? The burning lungs. The cramping legs. The state of mind numbness I feel after a few laps around the track. Running is one of the most popular activity that people do to relax. And I totally understand why that is the case. However, it refused to stick for me. I never found the inner peace, or runner’s high, many people have told me that they experience. Oh, how I envied them so! I tried different running apps, joining races, running in groups, running to different places. Though the novelty of it will help the first couple of times, it never made running truly enjoyable for me. I never turned to it when I had nothing to do. Thus it taught me my first lesson.
1. The activity right for you will be one that you return too even when there is no outside rewards
Knitting and Coloring Books
I love creating things. I have always known that. But for the love of my bored mind, I just could not stand knitting or coloring. I think the main obstacle for me in these activities were the repetitive nature and the lack of original creation. Knitting just made me so bored because I felt like I was just doing the same thing over and over again for hours. As for coloring, I could understand why a lot of people like it because you don’t have to think the ending result because it’s already there. But thats just not my personality. I don’t like knowing what the end result is. I like to create new things and see there the progress will lend me too.
2. The activity right for you may not be in the original form and you will need to experiment of different variations of it until you find one that works.
Oh how I wish this would work. The interwebs basically regale mediation as a oneway ticket to inner peace and calm. But for the life of me, I can’t seem to focus long enough for any sort of soothing calm to emerge from my soul. The sound of people walking outside distract me. The changing temperature the wind brings distract me. Even my own imagination distracts me. However, I am determined to make it work, so I began to gave note of little alternations until I found ones that work. For example, guided mediation seems to work pretty well for me. The sound of someone else’s voice telling me what and when I should focus on things helped me to pinpoint tiny bits of calm in my mind. It’s no miracle. It takes a lot of work, but I’m glad that it seems to work even for a little bit. I highly recommend Headspace
3. Just because it works for someone else doesn’t mean that will work for you. If you want it to work, again refer to insight #2 and find the variation that will work for you
Taking a nap
In short, I could never fall asleep. I just felt like I always had too much energy and falling asleep during the day made me feel guilty about all the times I could be doing instead.
4. Don’t do things that make you feel guilty about doing
Things that did work
Letter Writing / Journaling
Snail mail. Journaling. Writing it out. Through my week of tallies, I realized that I am very drawn taking thoughts from my head and putting them onto paper. It was gratifying to see my rumination take shape onto paper. Sometimes it was even surprising to too what my thoughts form once all the pieces are in front of me.
Writing things down also gives me a time to reflect upon what is said about the paper. Taking thoughts to paper takes effort, and if it had bothered me enough that I felt that I needed to write it down then it deserved the time for me to think about it again. Perhaps this is my way to funnel out all the things that were annoying me and really give thing to the ones that created waves in my life the most.
Lastly, I have always loved writing letters. It seemed so personal to talk about your day in written form. A lost art of communication that lets the receiver have a physical piece of you in the end. But reciprocation is rather unfashionable in the current era and sometimes I am just writing letters to my future self to read. However, if you are someone like me and would love to write a letter to someone, the website below is always looking for more letters and I write to them a lot too.
Drawing / Embroidery / Painting
Drawing and journaling pretty much go hand in hand for me. Again there is the great joy in my heart that is obtained from taking something abstract and fuzzy in my mind and turn it into a tangible object. It feels like magic is flowing through my fingers and the deep state of focus that follows each session for me makes me want to do it more than I have time for.
I don’t make notes with words. I draw out concepts and create arrows to make the connections between them. Thus, it is easy for me to incorporate drawing into my daily journalling and note-taking. This is not a method that will probably work for everyone, but its the best suggestion I have if you want to encourage yourself to draw more every single day.
If I have more time, I also observe myself gravitating towards other forms of creative outlet that does not involve repetitive movement (knitting) or finished end product goals (coloring).
Baking and Cooking
There’s a real similar theme that is going on here. Creation. Things that have to do with my hands. I am drawn to taking a large amount of smaller bits and turning them into something new. But something that I find I can do with baking and cooking that is easier to do than with drawing/painting is that the end results are easier to share. Seeing the happiness that a chocolate chip cookie can bring to someone’s day is really incomparable to anything I can do for myself.
Yoga / Dancing / Walking
If I could give yoga and dance a nickname it would be “meditation for people you can’t keep still”. Yoga and dance keeps me grounded in the present. Yoga for the balance and stillness that is required to practice the poses. Dance for the fleeting euphoria a performance gives you.
Yoga gives me the kind of stillness in me that I would expect from meditation. It forces me to concentrate in the feelings in my feet, the pressure points on my arms, and to assess the aches and pains in my body. It calms my mind to focus on the spot on the wall as I stand on one leg with my hands reaching up to the sky. What I find most interesting is that when I am doing yoga, it is much easier for me to notice thoughts and feelings. I do not force myself to not think or not feel. Its natural to feel distracted and for your mind to wander. But what I notice that I naturally do in yoga is that I will acknowledge that it is there and let it pass without resistance.
No other art form is quite as similar to dance. You train for months and months for a 2 minute performance for one night. It really forces you to live in the moment and relish the high of the movements. You get to do it once, so you absorb as much of it as possible and try to relive it again and again in your head.
No data points on this. But it always makes me feel better. The safe feeling you get in your chest when someone wraps their arms around you. You can hear their heartbeat as you press your ear over their heart. The warmth that flows through you from their body to yours. Somedays I do one of the activity above and it will soothe myself. But some times, nothing will do, no words will calm the dark storm in your mind, and all you can do it ask for someone you love to wrap their arms around you and wait as the storm passes through you.
You are not going to feel okay everyday and that’s okay. But always remember to take care of yourself. Someone out there loves you.