I’ve learned that though medication and therapy can be cornerstones for treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder, other anxiety disorders and depression, what we do to take care of ourselves can make a difference, too.
When we’re feeling anxious or depressed, it can be difficult to take good care of ourselves. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the obsessive thoughts, racing heart, sweating palms or down feelings.
But just as we do things to feel better when we’ve got a cold—drink hot liquids, suck on cough drops, have a box of tissues handy, take a nap—we can apply the same principle to our mental illnesses.
I do have to make a concerted effort to remember to take good care of myself when I’m when I’m not feeling so good.
Here are some of my self-care techniques.
Meditation: You may be tired of reading my exultations about meditation, but it’s hard not to write about how much it has helped me. I don’t know if my body literally slows down inside, but I feel quieter and calmer after just a 10-minute session.
I am by no means an expert at meditation. I approach it without trying to be perfect at it—unusual for me.
Sitting in silence for a specified period of time, focusing on the current moment, also makes me feel like any decisions I make afterwards are made with a clearer mind.
Music: Music affects my mood, as it does most people. I have music that quiets me enough to put me to sleep.
Lately, I’ve been listening to Adele to pick me up, and Van Morrison to make me feel more mellow but not sleepy.
Note: After reading Oxford Messed Up, by Andrea Kayne Kaufman, a book I reviewed on this blog, I was inspired to listen to Morrison again after many years. I’m glad I did.
Reading: Reading a good book or article can make me feel like I’m in a different world. It takes my mind off my problems and worries.
Reading is also a great way for me to learn more ways to deal with my OCD and depression.
Poetry is one of my favorite ways to find inspiration.
Exercise: I went on a walk/jog with my husband today, and I felt great afterwards, even though I’m battling a cold. I felt more energetic, yet calmer, and my mood was lifted.
I find that the hardest thing about exercise for me is to be consistent, but consistency helps. The more I exercise, the more I reap the benefits.
Nutrition: My husband and I ate out tonight at our favorite Mexican restaurant. I had the black bean soup, which not only soothed my sore throat, but also fed my body protein.
I followed that up with a flan, a custard dessert. It was smooth and cool and felt good on my throat, too, but it also had sugar in it, which I didn’t really need.
Too many simple carbohydrates give me a short-term lift, and then I feel tired. That’s not good for my anxiety or depression.
Eating whole grain products and plenty of vegetables always makes me feel better.
Writing: Whether I’m writing for public consumption or in a journal meant for my eyes only, I learn about myself when I write. I can vent, especially in my journal, and make better sense of what’s happening or has happened in my life.
I’m also working on a memoir, and the act of writing down memories is helping me find meaning in a seemingly unconnected array of events.
Other creative activities: Drawing, coloring, doing cross-stitch and crocheting are some of my other creative outlets. All of them calm me. All of them give me a sense of accomplishment.
Talking: I don’t have a lot of people I feel comfortable talking to about my worries. My husband is my number one sounding board. He’s quiet and wise and doesn’t jump to conclusions. He listens to what I have to say and tends to cut right to the heart of the matter. That helps me a lot.
Rest: I don’t always sleep well during the night. If I have the chance to take a nap during the day, I take it.
The biggest thing I need to work on with my rest is to be consistent: go to bed and get up at about the same time every day. That’s a tough one for me, but I feel better when I do it.
Spending time with my loved ones: Being with my husband and cats restores me. I feel more relaxed and more hopeful when I’m with them. I’ve taken a few days off from work this week, and it has been heaven being home with them.
Spending time in nature: Walking and sometimes taking photographs or simply bearing witness to what’s going on in my yard are soothing activities, and they remind me of the interconnectedness of all life.
What are some of your self-care tools?