How does ‘self-care’ look to you?

Hello folks!

My name is Hannah (they/them) and I am an anthropology PhD student here at UVic. I am a neurodiverse person with mental health conditions. These disabilities affect how I am able to practice self-care, and I often have low spoon days. As well as having physical symptoms from my conditions, my disabilities affect my motivation, ability to successfully complete tasks, and even the amount of self-care my brain tells me I deserve. Developing healthier self-care habits has (and is) an ongoing journey for me, and something I have been practicing for over a decade. I want to take this opportunity to share my 5 tips on how I currently practice self-care, and what works well for me:

1) Setting boundaries –

Learning to set my boundaries and be strong about them was a difficult thing for me to achieve, but it is key to my health. I have always been a people pleaser, and while this is not inherently a bad thing, it has left me overloaded and overwhelmed in the past. As well as this I have struggled previously with being assertive, so standing up for myself has been hard. I have even attended workshops on assertiveness, since it’s not something inherent in my nature. However recently I have practiced and become better at saying “I don’t have the capacity for that”, so I am not taking on too much, and I am sticking to these boundaries. This means I am not depleting my spoons (when they may already be low) and have the time and energy for appropriate daily tasks that are key to taking care of myself.

2) Listening to my mind and body –

Your body (and mine) is probably really good at telling you when it is struggling, you just need to find your way to listen to it. It has taken me a long time to teach myself that when I am tired, taking a nap does not make me lazy, it means I am doing what my body needs. Self-care, at its core, is taking an active role in your own wellbeing. So listening to your body’s signals on what it needs for functioning and happiness is a good place to start. I have spent several years learning to not feel guilt around listening to my body, and some days it is still a struggle. If I am hungry, and I get a snack, this does not make me a glutton. It just makes me a person whose body needs some food to fuel them in that moment, which links to my next point.

3) Fueling my body –

As humans, we are biological organisms, which need energy to function, so fuelling ourselves is key. How exactly this looks is flexible for me, it works differently on different days depending on what exactly I need. I love cooking, but getting on the bus, going to the grocery store, shopping, carrying the ingredients back, preparing the food, cooking, and washing up, all take a lot of spoons. Splitting these tasks up, such as shopping one day then cooking the next, can make this more manageable, but then I need to make an estimate of my spoon levels on multiple days, and disabilities are not predictable. This means I can only cook on good days, but I take advantage of these good days by cooking big batches and freezing it in portions, meaning I have some home-made food as fuel on low spoon days.  But also, I try not to shame myself internally if on a bad day, self-care for me looks like ordering delivery in, because being fuelled is what my body needs, and that comes in many forms.

4) Setting aside time to organise –

Naturally I am not a very organised person, my brain is a series of trampolines with thoughts just bouncing between them. However, I also get quite bad anxiety based on my own disorganisation, so I can end up stuck in this loop unless I take actions. The way I combat this is to make organisation an active idea and process regularly in my life. As a student I live a busy life with classes, meetings, and deadlines throughout the semester. So I make sure to take control of these items, and always have an overview of what is on my plate. How this works for me is that I have a paper diary for all my classes and meetings, and set up an excel spreadsheet each semester (that is colour coded) to track my deadlines. I also keep a paper weekly tracker for my tasks each week, and a paper weekly planner/calendar. Having everything I need to do clear and laid out gives me a sense of control and organisation, which calms my mind and starts me on the right path.

5) Make regular time to do something I enjoy –

This is a broad tip, but it is really important in having a balanced life. As a graduate student my life can become overwhelmed by my research and topics in my subject area, but I am a rounded person who exists outside of my academics. Therefore it is important to me that I make regular time to do the things I enjoy as hobbies. This time can be devoted to whatever you like, or even be time to spend trying something new! In September last year I decided to try artistic (synchronised) swimming, and found that I loved the sport. Being on the university team means I set aside time to do the sport twice a week, and I have other folks there to help and motivate me. Some days this time doing something I enjoy takes the form of colouring, cross stitch, or playing a game I like. Just having that time to do something that gives you that dopamine hit, and suits your individual needs, is great self-care.

I hope everyone gets a chance to practice your own form of self-care today <3 [/av_textblock] [/av_one_full]