Nowadays, it seems like self-care is everywhere, but it can be difficult to separate the genuinely calming from the consumerism. Everyone is different, but here’s my strategy for approaching self-care with intentionality, in order to aid both my mental wellness and productivity.
So I think we can all agree that the words “self-care” have been used so much that they’ve essentially lost all meaning. Once a way to slow down and channel negative feelings through simple and healthy avenues, it now seems like an excuse to clutter our lives further. Our mental health, and the way we choose to preserve it, now seems like just another thing to be bought and sold, with companies clamouring for our attention with everything from beginners witchcraft sets to £150 artisanal candles.
I don’t know about you, but I think somewhere down the road my self care just became more shopping.
In 2018 I realised how inundated I’d become with ideas about self-care that just weren’t my own. I found myself thinking about my little routines and rituals in terms of how well they would photograph for my insta story, or how impressive they would sound when I described them to a friend. I would buy Lush instead of cheaper products not because of their ethical practices or vegan ingredients, but because shopping somewhere with such brand recognition and prestige felt good.
I knew something had to change, so I pared down my approach. I stopped buying new things all together, and once Christmas rolled around and I was lucky enough to receive some pamper products from friends and family, I stepped back and took stock of what I had. From that, I built a new approach to my self-care that was still primarily “skin deep”, but used skincare and other products to trigger deeper changes in my mood and thought patterns.
Obviously this will look different for everybody, but here’s how I changed my approach to self-care in order to help me make lasting change.
Keeping It Scalable
I’m a person who deals with mental illness. I struggle with depressive episodes, and have pretty much constant low-level anxiety, which can spike into panic attacks at the slightest provocation. This makes me someone for whom self-care can be hugely beneficial, but also someone who can easily put way too much pressure on getting self-care “just right”.
To mitigate this, I made sure from the beginning that my routine could be scaled up and down, depending on the emotional and physical bandwidth I have each day. On my good days, self-care might look like a full skincare routine and a bubble bath: washing my hair, shaving, using moisturisers that I know make me feel good, ending the day in clean, matching pyjamas and fluffy socks. On my bad days, as much as a routine like that would help me feel better, the idea that I could do everything on that list is beyond aspirational.
Instead, I have a separate set of tasks for when I’m struggling, ones that combine practicality with self-soothing. I still include things that others might think are “extra” or shallow, but only because those things are a deliberate way to signal that I’m being kind to myself. Taking an extra step beyond just doing what I need to do to survive, if I have the energy, is an important way of telling myself that I am a creature worthy of gentleness and consideration.
Depending on whether I’m having a particularly anxious or depressive day the specifics would be different, but it could be as simple as managing to put dry shampoo in my hair, putting on different pjs, and burning a lavender or strawberry candle (I’ll explain these choices soon!) while I drag myself through whatever tasks I had to get done that day.
Routines & Rituals
When I was younger I considered myself Wiccan for a couple of years. I made alters and cast spells, left offerings out for the fairies, meditated every morning and night. As I grew older, I realised that I didn’t actually believe in magic the way other Wiccans did, I just took comfort and power from the rituals I was performing. Clearing space to state my intentions and symbolically action them gave me a clearer sense of who I was, where I was going, and what I wanted – and I’ve tried to transfer some of that into my self-care routine.
It sounds goofy, but around 7pm (or more realistically, whenever I’m done with my work obligations for the day) I’ll do a “turn down service” in my room. I turn off the big lights and use lamplight, I reorder my stuffed animals and smooth my blankets, and fold the covers back over my bed. That signals to my brain that it’s time to ease into a relaxed and sleepy mindset, and marks the transition into rest in a visual way. As someone who works from home, that helps to stop my workday from bleeding into my nights.
Also, something about soft lighting and a freshly made bed makes me want to spend my evenings doing /something,/ rather than just sitting on social media in the dark. This evening routine is what motivates me to journal and read, work on poetry or lyrics, and even write blog posts – just because it feels like the kind of thing I should be using the space for. The power of ritual is important, is all I’m saying.
Code For Calm
Now I’ve tried to reinforce the point so far that self-care is not about the products you use, since everyone’s resources will be affected by a thousand different factors. With that said, the one way I’ve found products to be important is for creating associations.
Scent and touch are powerful tools for affecting mood, and they’re things that have been monumental in helping me deal with the side-effects of anxiety and depression on a day to day basis. This is a gross simplification, but I have two categories of products: those I use when I’m too energised, and those I use when I’m paralysed.
This applies for both anxiety and depression. Sometimes I need to be productive, but anxiety has me overwhelmed and spiralling. Or I’m having a bad depression day, and even having the energy to work feels impossible. In short: I’m paralysed. On those days I use strawberry scented things, as strawberry is a scent that makes me feel safe, but also uplifted. Strawberry candle and strawberry hand cream if I need to get to work right away, or strawberry shower gel and scrub if I have the time for it.
After a few times of doing this, I found that the scent had a clear association in my mind: I was okay, I was going to do my best to turn my mood around, and I was going to be productive. It’s such a simple change, but it’s helped me get over that blank page dread of an important essay or business email more than I can tell you.
Sometimes though, I need to go to bed, but anxiety has me jittery and buzzing with nervous energy. Or it’s 2am and the depression’s kicked in, and I’m crying angry tears at the ceiling because my self-hate has decided to tell me all the ways I’m currently a total failure. On those days I use lavender things: lavender soap flakes in the bath, lavender solid shampoo, lavender bath bomb if I have the luxury of time. If not, then I burn a lavender candle, and use lavender lotion on my hands, lavender toner water on my face.
The message associated with that scent is clear for me now: I am safe, I am calm, what I am experiencing will pass. That scent, and the process of physically breaking the thought spirals by getting up to put on lotion and toner, helps me forgive myself and sleep.
Don’t Overcomplicate Things
I know this might seem elaborate, but my routine came about organically. I found a Bodyshop strawberry bundle on Depop at a price I felt like I could justify, and I’d bought lavender toner water a year earlier. At Christmas, my parents bought me some strawberry and lavender bath products, and a very kind friend bought me a lavender candle. As for the strawberry candle, I found it in a B&M – a far cry from the glamorous stores that I imagine most bloggers shop at.
All of it came together simply and almost incidentally, but it’s leant an order to my life that makes me feel more streamlined, calm and focussed. If this colour-coding, strict routine, scent-association approach makes you feel cluttered or like you’re doing maths, then don’t use it! Self-care, even when it’s work, should have an ease to it. It should make sense to you!
With that said, I hope this provided some useful insight for you, or at least scratched that itch that I know have that makes you want to delve into other people’s routines!
Please let me know in the comments what you do for self-care, and how you keep from being swept away down the consumerist rabbit hole!