The last twelve months have been challenging. Yes, they’ve brought some unexpected benefits too, but for the most part, I don’t think anyone can honestly say that the past year is something they’d like to replicate – what with the death and disease and all.
As I said, I don’t intend to make a whole pile of pledges for the coming year, but I do want to focus on looking after myself. Beyond day-to-day actions, I tend not to share much of myself on here, so let me summarise the years since 2016 as having been ‘tumultuous’. The Brexit vote, the death of both in-laws, some interpersonal strife, various medical conditions, the loss of our only income (which has thankfully been resolved), and the minutiae of ‘snags’ which give any life pause, have all been packed into an eventful 48 months. And given that it appears life will continue at this slow, half-pace for some time yet, now seems like the perfect opportunity for some introversion.
Self-care is a term that I have a duplicitous relationship with. On the one hand, I understand the literal need to care for myself, but increasingly, I find that the term has become tied up in consumption. The idea that we should ‘treat ourselves’ by opening our wallets has become synonymous with the phrase.
I’m trying to look at long-term ways in which I can look after myself, alongside the ‘quick-fix’ options that a moment of particular stress sometimes merit. So, I thought I’d share some of the ideas I had here in the hopes that perhaps you could benefit from them too.
- Exercise – Everyone knows we need to move in order to keep our bodies healthy, but exercise doesn’t need to feel onerous and it absolutely doesn’t need to be expensive. If you’re somewhere with a good pedestrian infrastructure, an easy way to begin is by walking as a mode of transport where you can. If you’re in the middle of nowhere and don’t want to just ‘go for a wander’, try to work a few extra steps into your day by parking in the space furthest from the supermarket when you do your shopping (for example). It doesn’t seem like much, but it all helps. If you’re feeling more active, there are various ‘Couch to 5k’ running apps out there which are often free, but if you’re not confident enough, staying home and doing ten minutes of yoga before bed is good too. Honestly – whatever you can manage.
- Good food – on bad days, cooking can seem like too much effort, but it’s absolutely possible to enjoy good, healthy food without trying too hard. I know they’re wrapped in plastic, but buying in some bags of frozen, roasted vegetables can be an amazing way to speed up making dinner/avoid the temptation of a take-away. I like to fry some off in a little olive oil, stir through couscous with some lemon juice and some herbs, and then have this for lunch. Or I sometimes dump the whole bag in a pan with a can of tomatoes and a can of kidney beans, some spices and some herbs for a vegetable stew. Or stir the vegetables through pasta with pesto, or heat them into a bastardised ratatouille to dip some crusty bread in. As I said, these come in plastic, but one small bag is so much better than the bevy of take-away containers which they replace. And it is possible to buy fresh, plastic free versions and then roast them and freeze them yourself for use on days when it all feels a bit much.
Another favourite meal which is quick and easy to prepare is a root vegetable curry soup – I like to use pumpkin when I can get it but frozen carrots/parsnips/butternut squash all work well too. All you need to do is put your chosen root-veg in a pan, add a can of coconut milk, a can full of water, some vegetable stock and a tspn of Thai red curry paste. Simmer until your vegetables are soft and then blend. You can also go for the ultimate cheat’s ‘cream of tomato soup’ – a can of chopped tomatoes, a can of coconut milk, a tspn of sugar and half a tspn of salt. Heat it and blend it together. Jack Monroe’s cookbook ‘Good Food for Bad Days’ and Ella Risbridger’s ‘Midnight Chicken’* both cover this section beautifully.
- Adulting This is the one I’m most guilty of putting off – all the admin-y bits which life in the modern world necessitates. I’m trying to keep things in order with a bullet journal this year because ticking things off really helps me. It’s working so far, and the simple act of just paying this bill, or that invoice, straight away frees up so much head-space compared to thinking ‘I must remember to do X later’, about ten times a day.
- Learning I’m very much a believer in the old adage ‘we are never too old to learn new things’. I have had so much slow joy from learning to play my violin, and so much deep satisfaction from learning new languages that just writing about them here makes my soul feel good. Reading, studying, watching plants grow… all of these things enrich my own life so much. Even if I only play a single line of music a night, or repeat a single German or Danish phrase, it is deeply fulfilling.
- Knowing when to say ‘no’ Whether you’re trying to cut back on alcohol, or smoking, or unnecessary spending, saying ‘no’ can take courage, especially if you’re used to trying to keep everyone happy. To make it easier for myself to say ‘no’ to spending money, I’ve installed an ad-blocker on my internet browser and I’ve unsubscribed from all sales emails. I’ve also starting turning my computer’s internet connection off at 9pm each night, so that I can say ‘no’ to unwanted interruptions in my private time. You’re absolutely allowed to do this.
- Just because you can chose, doesn’t mean you have to We’re overwhelmed with options for entertainment these days – so many streaming services available, conventional television, YouTube, DVDs, video games, books, music… it can feel like an obligation to consume all the media that’s being recommended to us. But we don’t have to. It’s perfectly fine to watch those two seasons of Galavant every night for a month, over and over again if that’s what makes you happy. And it’s just as fine to sit and play Solitaire on the PC instead of whatever’s just come out on the shiny new PS5. In fact, it’s perfectly fine to just grab a pack of cards and play Solitaire on a table. Familiarity is allowed. We are not obligated to seek novelty.
- Bring a plant into a space Greenery immediately brightens up a room. I promise that someone you know, or someone on freecycle, will have a spider plant that they would love to give to you. Or grow something yourself, like an avocado pip. It’s totally free and incredibly satisfying.
- Have a hot bath or shower This can be revitalising, especially if you’ve just…
- Change your bedsheets for clean ones I honestly think that one of life’s greatest pleasures is getting into clean sheets straight after a hot bath or shower.
- Give your feet a rub This doesn’t need to be anything more elaborate than rubbing some oil/moisturiser into the soles of your feet. It doesn’t even need to be a fancy oil – olive oil from the kitchen will absolutely do. Showing your own body physical affection can be a really powerful thing.
- Get outside Even if you just stand in your open door/by the open window with a cup of tea for five minutes, this counts, and it’s amazing how restorative this can be. We’re so busy trying to ‘do’ things all the time, that we sometimes forget the peace there can be in just ‘being’. This is a great way to remind ourselves.
- Listen to a song you love and if you feel like it, sing or dance or weep.
- Bring art into the world This might mean hanging a poster, or even just a picture printed from the internet, or it could involve checking out some of the amazing protests undertaken by the Craftist Collective. It could just be mending your socks. Personally, I love drawing on envelopes. I like to imagine that it’ll make the post deliverers smile, as well as the recipient, and I get a real thrill out of drawing the things. They’re no great works of art, but art they are – honest and humble and real. And the world needs more art.
- Choose comfort If you want to spend a night watching films from your childhood, do it. If you want to read a book but can’t be bothered with your ‘to be read’ pile, dip into something you’ve read before. I found myself reading my collection of vintage Ladybird books the other day. I spent four hours doing it and I regret nothing.
As you can see, none of the above cost money, or if they do, it’s very little. They all aim to address quality of life without introducing more ‘stuff’. We don’t need to consume to be happy, we simply need to focus on the things in our hearts and on being kind to our bodies. In times like these, we need to nourish ourselves so that we can weather the storm. Because as much as I would like to believe that 2021 will bring beautiful, hopeful change, I can’t see that happening – at least not in the UK. As I write, towns just north of here are already feeling the crippling effects of Brexit on their ancient fishing industries. It’s two weeks into the new year, and no one can tell me yet if it’s legal for EU citizens to continue to drive on their current licences in this country… And that’s just the stress on top of the deadly, deadly plague.
We have so far to go – we need to build our strength for things to come.
What are your favourite forms of self care – either for the long or short term? I would love to add some more to my repertoire. I’m not really using Twitter that much right now, but you can very much still get in touch with me via the comments below.
With much love.
*Don’t let the title put you off if you’re not a meat eater – I’m not, and there’s still plenty in there for me.