The Art of Self-Care: the Importance of Making Good Choices.
– Guest feature by Ted Stansfield.
If you watch RuPaul’s Drag Race, you’ll be familiar with Tatianna. Tatianna is young, fishy (feminine-looking) drag queen who has a catchphrase. That catchphrase is “Choices” and she’ll employ it when one of her contestants makes a questionable decision – like choosing a dodgy outfit. It’s a phrase that I’ve begun to employ myself – when proffering advice to my friends (I’m a Virgo so like telling people how to live their lives), or when looking myself in the mirror when it’s me that’s made a questionable decision. It’s choices that I want to talk about today; the importance of making good choices that better ourselves, our lives and our mental health.
In the UK, dialogue surrounding mental health issues has never been more open. We formerly stiff-upper-lipped Brits are talking about it more than ever; magazines, movie stars and even members of the monarchy are discussing the subject, breaking down the stigma and making it OK for us – particularly us guys – to admit that we’re not OK. We’re being open, we’re being honest and we’re getting help. All of which is overwhelmingly positive.
However there’s one part of the dialogue that is often neglected in my opinion, and that’s our own choices. We’re happy to look at the things beyond our control (the government, the crumbling NHS and its stretched-to-capacity mental health services, our employers, our landlords, our shitty friends, Trump, Brexit and our impending environmental crisis). But sometimes we’re not so happy to look at the things that are very much within our control: our own lifestyle choices. We’re not very good at looking after ourselves.
As we know, mental health issues are caused by a number of things: chemical imbalances, emotional trauma – I’ll leave that to the experts. But there are a number of other things that affect it too: diet, exercise (walking to the Tube counts, right?), sleep (or lack thereof), the hours we’re working, the hours we’re spending on our phones, the time we’re spending (or not spending) with our loved ones, the amount we’re drinking and the drugs we’re taking, and so on.
If I’m having anxious or depressive thoughts, I’ll do a mental checklist and go through each of these, ticking them off. When did I last eat a good meal, do some exercise, get a good night’s sleep, et cetera. And then I’ll try and make some good choices: whether that means cooking something hearty or getting an early night – it’s a good exercise, I’d encourage you to try it. Of course, sometimes making a good choice might mean going to the GP or getting some therapy – both of which you should absolutely do.
Having a stressful job and dealing with the same crap everyone else does in their twenties, has meant that I’ve needed to learn the art of self-soothing; I’ve had to figure out how to calm myself down. For me this means having some me-time, which my boyfriend refers to as my “Michelle time” (going-in-my-shell time): I’ll have a night in on my own, watch some TV, read a book. Going for a swim also helps (you can’t check your emails in the pool). As, for some reason, does wandering aimlessly around John Lewis (different strokes for different folks, I guess).
If you haven’t already, I’d really encourage you to think about tactics you can employ when you’re feeling down or stressed. Think about things you like doing, things that distract you, things that make you feel good, things that centre you. I’d also encourage you to think about the choices you’re making: if Instagram makes you feel depressed (which it’s scientifically proven to do so), then delete the app or if that’s too drastic, limit your time on it.
Life can be hard sometimes and that’s OK. It’s not your fault and it will get better. But in the meantime, make sure you look after yourself, learn how to self-soothe and remember, as Tatianna would say, “Choices.”