Feeling slightly out of control? You’re not alone. Life has been full of disturbances, and some of the self-care habits we’ve developed could actually be doing more harm than good. A clinical psychologist explains how to get back to a sense of equilibrium.
Recent research by Noble Oak has found that more people now fear getting depressed only marginally less than they fear getting cancer.
Health anxiety, fatigue, anger, frustration and loneliness are just some of the common emotional states many of us are experiencing, following years of a pandemic, uncertainty and adapting to a new way of life.
Is it self-care or self-sabotage?
There’s no doubt that during tough times, it’s important to look after ourselves. But when we’re under pressure, the ways we comfort ourselves can sometimes compound the problem. Over-eating, excessive drinking, gambling, TV bingeing, sleeping in and working late, and withdrawal from friends and family can be tempting in the short term.
Over time however, these behaviours can fuel the experience of feeling out of control. We can lose all sense of routine or structure in our lives, and bad habits can become so entrenched they’re hard to break.
The risks of being online all the time
A recent article by researchers Robin Abrahams and Boris Groysberg in the Harvard Business Review noted many of our modern self-care strategies tend to be singular, involving retreating from others.
Grabbing time to reflect, mediate, journal, go to the gym, or even counselling, can involve us trying to sort ourselves out as single entities. This is hugely valuable if it means you bring your best self back to your relationships.
But the authors argue that by focusing too much on the self in self-care, we can underestimate more relational ways to feel better. This is especially true when many of us are experiencing the ongoing effects of long-term online fatigue. Exhausted after being on virtual meetings all day, we can give ourselves a pass on the need to contact others for check-ins – which means our relationships can fall into disrepair.
Getting everything delivered also means that even incidental interactions with others can be removed. We engage less with our local others, which can be critical for community and our own mental health. Being cut off from others can also mean greater reliance on those in our households, putting pressure on a smaller and smaller circle of people to satisfy our emotional needs.
8 self-care strategies that actually work
It’s important to prioritise our mental health, but how can we start to truly build our resilience and find self-care strategies that are beneficial, rather than harmful, in the long run?
Here are a few basics to get you started.
1. Do an emotional stocktake regularly
How are you really going? Beyond the quick “fine thanks”, is it hard to get through each day? Name the hard or negative feelings rather than burying them.
2. Determine what drains your energy
What energy does it take to manage your negative feelings? What effective strategies do you have on days where you feel low but have to act upbeat? Ascertain what it is in your life that is draining you of your energy and contributing to your low mood.
3. Remind yourself of your values
What are your core values, and are they guiding you to be your best self? We can get caught reacting to the actions of others, rather than holding ourselves to account for our own actions.
4. Re-examine your self-care strategies
Do you have any? Your self-care strategies should be used to come back to your tasks stronger and more energised, rather than to withdraw, ruminate and nurse your hurts and annoyance with others.
5. Don’t neglect your relationships
Who are your wise guides and cheer squads? Are you touching base with them regularly and feeding relationships where mutual support is strengthened? When you do spend time with others, try to focus on talking about things that matter.
6. Recognise negative patterns
Whether it’s a bad habit, a toxic relationship, or a negative routine, let yourself intervene and set a new path. Even doing one thing differently or setting one new habit that you know is better for you (and in line with your values) will immediately bring you back a sense of positive control and optimism.
7. Invest in joy
What’s on the horizon to look forward to? Don’t let yourself dismiss the value of small, heartfelt interactions as a bright spot in your day, whether it’s walking to get a coffee or playing with your dog in the park. At the same time, if you do want something bigger or more ambitious to look forward to, start to plan for this and determine how you can make it possible. Setting realistic and achievable goals can give us a huge sense of hope and forward momentum.
8. Acknowledge if you need some extra help
These strategies in themselves take discipline and work. It’s hard to turn things around alone, and it’s hard to maintain momentum with so many volatile variables being thrown our way each day.