Monday, 29 February 2016

Why I Thought Self Care was Selfish | A Conclusion

“It can be easier to break a habit than it is to establish one. We may sometimes feel lazy and reluctant to bother with a daily walk, especially if the weather is uninviting, wet, windy or cold; but it always turns out to be worth the effort.” – Adam Ford, ‘The Art of Mindful Walking’
As February comes to an end, I'm starting to wish I didn't pick the shortest month of the year for my Self Care is Not Selfish resolution.

It’s safe to say that I am not used to putting myself and my own needs first. I am a people pleaser. I find it hard to say no; that’s how I end up taking on so much. And other people’s needs always seem more worthy.

Not too long ago, but in what I thought of as a distant past, I thought I was worthless. And so I didn’t value my own health, happiness, safety or values.
I've learned this month that I often still live with that same mindset. I still question how deserving of happiness I really am.

And that's not okay.

I have to admit, I also used to believe that putting yourself first was selfish.
The reality is that it's not. Taking a break preserves your own sanity.

And this month was my chance to be selfish.

And while I did try, my mental health took a battering this month. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. The past week has been tough, and while there were better days in earlier February, they are not easy to see right now.
I struggled to feel happy. I felt overwhelmed and under extreme pressure; not just in work, but to feel this supposed happiness I was lacking.

My mission was to make self care a habit rather than a task.
And self care has slowly started to seep itself into my every day life. I don't restrict my wants (new stationary, new earphones, coffee). But I do sometimes still restrict my needs - like not taking a sick day when I can't speak or use my left hand.

My four weeks dedicated to self care hasn't seen my mental health improve. If anything, it's gone the other way. But that's not down to the resolution. It's because of life events and circumstances outside of The Romeo Project's control. I just need to get better at coping with these uncontrollable events. The month has not been wasted however, and it is important to acknowledge that. I have established safety mechanisms (my Self Care Box) and I am more comfortable speaking about my mental health in the real world (i.e. off the blog and to an actual person). And those, while small victories, are victories nonetheless.

Favourite Book of the month:
‘Self Care For Life’ by Alexander Skye and Leester Meera.
This book is full of self care suggestions and weekly inspiration. It’s one of my favourite books of The Romeo Project so far.

This takes me into March, and a month of embracing my past. Wish me luck. Things are about to get personal. 

Friday, 26 February 2016

Self Care Journal

I'm still raving about self care! You know me, I love saying I'll commit to something but then failing to do so for any considerable period of time. Thankfully, Zoe does commit well to nice notebooks and list-making. And this is where a Self Care Journal comes in.
If, like me, you've felt that you were failing to really practice self care during Self Care is Not Selfish month, there are still little things we can do that can make a big, positive impact on our mental health.

Alas, all of your self care needs have been met with Rachelle Abellar's Self Care Journal. It's a great little illustrated journal filled with 100 pages of prompts all about looking after your mental health. Whether you have found making lists or journaling helpful before, or whether you haven't given it a shot yet, the book is designed to be interactive and engaging.
Rachelle also runs a Self Care Zine on Tumblr, filled with motivation to get your self care on.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

The Happiest City in the World

In mid-February I managed to take self care to a whole new level and traveled to Copenhagen, Denmark.
Christiansborg palace
Scientifically, Denmark is the happiest country in the world and, by default, Copenhagen has been named the happiest city.

Immersing myself in a world of  happiness seemed perfect for my Romeo Project. When Sarah suggested the trip, I immediately saw the link between a relaxing holiday and my self-improvement programme. Why not just say 'yes'?
Joined by three lovely ladies, I headed out on an adventure with very little knowledge of what to expect when it came to currency, weather, or sightseeing.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Finding My Happy Place

The Romeo Project quest for happiness has so far led me to explore my authentic self and turn self care into a daily habit.

But I also want to find my Happy Place, and what better time to discover where that is than in a month dedicated to treating myself?

But what on earth is a Happy Place?

Our natural state is to be happy” –says Michael James in ‘Happiness and the Art of Being’. But I disagree. For me, being happy is something I've had to work on. Would I have to dedicate a whole 10 month self-improvement programme to happiness if it came to me naturally?

As anyone with a mental illness knows, your illness means that you often aren’t close to being in your natural state, yet alone happy. I found it hard to experience any feelings whatsoever in the grips of depression, succumbing to emptiness and numbness.

Instead, I believe that our natural state is neutral; somewhere in between happiness and sadness. Life events and our own mindset determine whether we verge up the scale towards happiness or down to sadness.
I have to take steps, conscious efforts, to help me move up the scale to happiness. Whether it's my anti-depressants that lift me back into a neutral state, or my blog that helps me work through the hard times by writing about them, happiness is an endeavor for me. But if I find my Happy Place, I wonder if maybe finding happiness will be easier for me?

Friday, 19 February 2016

Stress Free

As part of my month of self care, I want to reduce my stress levels and how prone I am to stress. (See my Pinpointing your Stress post.)

Discovering how high my stress levels were, in terms of causing anxiety and depression, has really shown me that I need to take action to fight against stress. It has shown me that there are certain things I should be doing more of, and less of.

Working out what causes stress is key for establishing how you can go about reducing it. I suffer with anxiety, and as a result I often find myself stressed out and flustered in everyday situations. 

Over the last week, here are some of the things that have given me major anxiety...

  • Travelling to Sweden.
  • When the security guard spoke to me at the airport.
  • My ears hurting on my flight.
  • Realizing I should have bought the family better presents on holiday.
  • Waiting for my report to come back from the designers in work.
  • Going to the cinema only to realise I forgot the card I'd prebooked my tickets with.
  • When the film was longer than I'd expected and I worried about being home late.
  • Having to call in sick to work.
  • Panicking I'll miss the bus.
  • Getting the bill in a restaurant.
  • Having to get up extra early because of the Luas strike.
  • Fearing I'll be late to work because of said strike.
  • When my compressed powder broke and spilled all over me on the bus.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Pinpointing your Stress

Stress is a key component of our everyday, modern lives. We expect to be stressed; it's a sign of success. It's an indicator that we are busy, in-demand people. But it's not healthy.

A huge part of self care is about recognising when we’re stressed, under pressure or generally suffering with a lot of anxiety and taking measures to alleviate it. For me, stress leads to me being run down. And along with experiencing a lot of worry mentally, my body reacts physically as well.

Here are the physical symptoms of stress that I exhibit:
- mouth ulcers
- psoriasis
- migraines
- swollen glands - inflamed throat
- difficulty sleeping
- irritability

Practicing self care methods can help us to feel calmer, healthier and reduce the physical symptoms of stress.

This month I’ve been keeping an eye on my own stress levels with regular stress tests.
When you’re working a full time job, working a part-time evening and weekend job, plus teaching a class, volunteering, and running a blog, you can struggle to find time to breathe. At least I do.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Even Superheroes Have Sidekicks

“Showing emotional vulnerability may make us fear rejection. But once you become accustomed to doing it, it will become a way of life and will build self-confidence.”
– Maria Arpa, ‘The Heart of Mindful Relationships’

I’m not good at sharing my feelings.

I am one of the most stubborn and guarded people you are ever likely to meet, if we ever have the pleasure of meeting of course. I have gotten through years of friendships without the other person ever knowing anything about my family, how many siblings I have, how many relationships I've had, whether I have a pet or not.

I don’t do it on purpose, I have just never been someone who intentionally shares details of my their life with others. I am more of a listener than a talker. And over the years a lot of my friendships have reflected that.

My month of authenticity in January taught me that I needed to be me more. And I am pleased to say I got better at it.

But I still find it hard to discuss when things aren’t good.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Food for Thoughts | Guest Post

Self Care practices differ for everyone. While I need to unwind and force myself to relax, others look to bigger lifestyle changes to care for their body and mind.
Today I'm delighted to host a guest blog from Oisín who has found that looking after your diet can have a huge impact on your mental health. Oisín is a journalism student and a frequent contributor to The Outspoken Post.

At the start of the year I decided to try eating a plant based diet for at least 6 months. My reasons for attempting a vegan diet was not due to some moral dilemma I had about eating meat or dairy products, but self care reasons, as I wanted to try and reduce anxiety and stress levels.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Creating a Self Care Box

What better way to get my month of self care underway than be creating my own self care box?

But what is a self care box I hear you ask? Well I came up with the idea when reading '21 Days to Master Extreme Self Care' by Cheryl Richardson. In the book she talks about the importance of having a first aid kit – a well prepared plan of action in place before you need it.

So much of self care for me is about fending off the bad days. But with mental illness, that doesn't mean that there won't still be days when you feel like you've had enough and want to give up. Having a first aid kit prepared in advance means that you have somewhere and something to turn to for help.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Daily Self Care Moments

When trying to improve your mental health, sometimes having one big overarching resolution isn't enough.

To be honest, my first week of self care didn't get off to the best of starts. Sure I was feeling positive and happy on the 1st of February, but on Tuesday 2nd I was a bit of a mess.

I felt tired and grumpy, despite a good night's sleep and a cup of coffee. I just didn't feel like me.
Lethargic. That's the word that feels most suited to my feelings.
This lasted until Thursday, when I finally felt my moods somewhat lift.

How could all my positive work of authenticity fall apart as soon I started a new challenge?
How could it all go so wrong so fast?

Well the truth is that mental illness doesn't care how determined you are to be happier or how much you want to practice self care every day. Mental illness will prey on your insecurities and vulnerabilities. It'll demotivate you and attempt to block any efforts of productivity or self preservation. And that's exactly what it did to me on Tuesday. Writing about why I had been feeling crap helped; but talking about it made my fears and insecurities fall away.

Developing the habit of self care can't be achieved overnight. So I have decided to break it down, and I am making a number of small commitments to follow every day.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Do we have time for happiness?

Since I started exploring happiness with The Romeo Project, something that has consistently come up in the self-help literature is how time consuming the pursuit of happiness is.

As part of my month of Self Care,  I want to improve my happiness through the little things. 

It's about finding the time, and making the time, to bring in a little bit of happiness into our daily lives.
Currently, my answer to that question is no. Right now I feel overwhelmed by all I am trying to juggle; two jobs, volunteer work, teaching evening classes, blogging... How am I even meant to have a social life, yet alone a relationship, when I have so many other commitments? I spend so much time rushing from one place to the next, catching up on what I did miss from one evening to the next. I definitely do not feel like I have time happiness.

But often the little things that make us happy don't take up a lot of time. 
This Huffington Post article from 2014 looks at the little things that require minimal time and effort to make you happy. They argue that according to Science, you do have time for happiness. No excuses.
Happiness can be found in the little things we do every day. And right now, I am grasping for it.

Here are the Huffington Post suggestions I want to incorporate into my day to day life this month.

Smile - I could definitely smile more. I do love that feeling when a stranger smiles at you, or when you greet a work colleague with a big smile in the morning. It releases endorphin's in both the smiler, and the other person on the receiving end.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Intro. to Self Care is Not Selfish

Happy February everyone!
And welcome to month two of my Romeo Project.

My second resolution of the year is ‘Self Care is Not Selfish’. It might seem pretty obvious to some of you that looking after ourselves is important, but over the years it has been something that has been difficult for me.

When I was 18 I was in the grips of severe depression.

I didn’t care for myself, my own safety, or my own health.

I didn’t eat. For a week I survived off of toast or threw up with anxiety.

I didn’t go to class.

I didn’t want to look after myself.

For me, self care is all about preserving good mental health. It’s the little things we do for ourselves; whether treating yourself to a hot chocolate, or getting an early night ahead of a big day in work, or just going for a walk in the good weather.