It’s time for our monthly discussion question! This month, with so many new reviewers, we have quite a conversation. I’ve linked to the new reviewer bios, so you can get to know us, and we can get to know you!
A head’s up: we talk about mental illness and coping mechanisms in this post. On to this month’s discussion.
In addition to reading (lots and lots of romance) what kind and caring things do you do for yourself?
Sarah: I have a list. I’m sure this surprises exactly zero people who know me, but as a self employed person who works from home, I have to actively monitor my tendency to think, “Well, you’re awake and caffeinated, so you might as well be working.” Not only does that increase my likelihood of burnout, but it makes me less effective and efficient in the long term.
So I have a list of things I do that is titled, “Not Working Fun Stuff.” As in, what do I do when I’m not working?
On the list:
Cross Stitching: I’ve written about this before, but as a hobby, it’s soothing, meditative, creative, oriented toward puzzle or problem solving, and – added bonus – allows me to stab something over and over. Plus there’s no shortage of smart-assed cross stitch patterns. I’ve also created my own a few times, and used my library access to digital copies of UK cross stitch magazines to find new patterns I love.
Gardening: I don’t have a lot of garden, but what little I do have, if I dip myself in bug spray, I really enjoy the work of it. Maybe this is true for you, but the idea of having to weed or garden or plant something seems so ominous, but once I’m doing it, I’m having a good time. Plus, I can listen to music, podcasts, whatever I want.
Sending a Card: One of my favorites! I send a greeting card or small drawing to a friend, saying hello and adding a friendly item to their mailbox. Like many people, I have nearby friends and far away friends, and sending greetings with silly cards and goofy lettering (especially on the envelopes) is a lot of fun. (And don’t get me started on wax seals.)
I even developed a short online course called Send Your Friendship to help other people become more attentive correspondents using Google Calendar and advanced reminders. I love getting personal notes in the mail, and I know other folks do, too.
Clearly I like activities and creativity as a form of being kind to myself.
Amanda: Okay, I think I’ve figured out three things I do for myself. One was obvious, but the other two were things I do that really have a positive impact but I never equated to self care.
Eyebrow waxes: I have an automatically scheduled appointment every 6-8 weeks for an eyebrow wax. I never learned how to shape my own eyebrows and since they’re rather thick, I’ve had quite a few Nair accidents.
Going to my waxing place though is so soothing. I get to lie down for ten minutes, have some idle chit chat, and get some bangin’ new eyebrows. I literally feel like a new woman afterward.
Candles: You can pry my candle collection from my cold, dead hands. There’s something about finding the perfect scent for how I’m feeling or that matches the mood of a room that I love. I also love discovering small candle business via Etsy. They’re so creative with how their candles are packaged and what scents they create. (Ed. note: and she has an entire column about pairing candles with books because obviously!)
There’s one I love that does amazing dupes for popular perfumes or Lush bath and body scents.
Bath time: The Bitchery may have discussed this before but I take my baths very seriously, though I think Sarah is NOT a bath person.
(Sarah: Correct – I’m not a bath person because I get cold too easily.)
I will soak for hours at a time. Sometimes with a bath bomb. Sometimes with wine. Sometimes with a book. There are times when I’ve fallen asleep. I find it incredibly soothing to be submerged in hot water.
Claudia: This is a hard one for me as I feel I have no time whatsoever to take care of…well, just me. Someone else always comes first, usually one of the kids, and it gets to a point that even gardening feels like yet another thing to tick off my list.
Lately, though, I’ve been proudly sticking with a skin-care routine and I love seeing the results and having at least a few minutes of Me Time at the end of the day. For years, somewhat blessed by genetics, I shrugged off any beauty products and basically just washed my face, but then I developed adult acne and rosacea and had to pay more attention to my skin.
I think it helped that I went to a low-key beauty shop (I feel the frenetic Sephora-like atmosphere of some of the other shops are not for me) and felt comfortable with the people there. I still don’t go too crazy — I don’t think 10-step routines will ever be my jam — but it’s progress. One day maybe I’ll graduate to facials!
Elyse: One thing I do for myself, and for my fibro, is get a weekly massage. When I first started it felt really self-indulgent and expensive, but I’ve found that getting an hour-long deep tissue massage at the end of the week helps me keep my pain level down tremendously. It also relaxes me going into the weekend and helps me get rid of the stress I’m carrying from the work week.
I also knit, although to be honest, at this point it’s more like I acquire yarn frequently and knit sometimes. Knitting helps me get into a relaxed mental state, so I like to build some time into the end of my day to work on a project. Sometimes even just scrolling through patterns on Ravelry is relaxing. (Ed. note: I love scrolling through finished cross stitch projects on Reddit, too.)
Naps are another big self-care item for me. I’ve learned that getting enough sleep is isn’t being lazy or self-indulgent, it’s pretty critical to remaining functional. If I feel like I need a nap, I take one, even if that means delaying plans. My body is weird so I can get a great night’s sleep and still feel like I need a thirty minute nap after work. For me, being rested is hugely important to my well being.
Sneezy: It can be hard not to fall into the rut of feeling like the things that are supposed to be self care are either another mound of chores that I’ll never accomplish, or proof that I’m terribly selfish. It’s a work in progress, but when I stop judging myself, I like to work out, dance, and sing.
For workouts, I always do bodyweight exercises and whatever cardio can fit in the space I’m in. It’s much cheaper, and it becomes more about focusing on myself than trying to make an overpriced gym membership ‘worth it’. If I was a better person, maybe it’d be motivating.
I am not.
As for dance, I’m really into bachata and salsa.
I find salsa MUCH harder than bachata, but in both cases, I love the social aspect of it. If there’s enough Latin communities in a city, there’ll more than likely be really good dance spots. In Toronto, the places I went to offered free lessons before the night kicks off.
Pro tip – if you want to attend the lessons, but are worried about getting stuck with a creepy dude, the instructor usually makes everyone switch partners every so often. You can also just pair up with your friend, and trade off on being the lead and follow. Both roles are fun, and pro dancers need to learn both anyway. Which is why if someone tries to peddle some gender role bullshit at you, roll your eyes and scoot off to dance with someone else. If you can’t see the instructor, don’t be shy, come forward instead of letting yourself be squished into corners. Everyone behind you know just as much as you, and we’re all too busy remembering left from right to judge anyone!!!!!
Singing’s a great method for vocal healing. There are all kinds, and the one my tai chi teacher taught me was literally screaming and jumping and flailing around. That’s… not always an option, so instead I sing along to songs on youtube and imagine I’m Amy Lee.
If there’s a piano and enough privacy, I tinker around a bit, too.
Meditation and journaling are also big ones. They’re super effective…
…as long as I don’t start the rumination and guilt spiral for not doing them the ‘right’ way or as much as I think I ‘should.’ Journaling is additionally tricky, because I’m trying to kick the habit of rumination, and I need some rules, prompts, or an extra helping of mindfulness to stay out of the rabbit hole.
Does anyone else struggle with this?
Susan: In the last year I have been diagnosed with (and started treating) a Generalised Anxiety Disorder and ADHD, so I’ve spent the last month or so learning that this whole “relaxing” thing is actually real and not something my friends made up!
Like Sarah, I have to keep lists of my hobbies – which works out fairly well for me, because one of them is stationery. When I’ve done something difficult or stressful, my reward is usually a new notebook!
Don’t ask me how many unused notebooks I have in my house; I’m trying not to think about the answer.
I also knit, crochet and bake! If you ever need someone to crochet wonky sharks, narwhals, and Totoros as an excuse to watch trashy action movies, I’m your girl! Yes, the trashy movies are an essential part of this process; I love them, I find them incredibly soothing, but I still can’t watch them without having something to do with my hands!
Aarya: This answer sounds incredibly basic, but sleep. I recently graduated from college, and it wasn’t until after graduation that I realized just how terrible and damaging my irregular sleep schedule was. I’d go to class/work, come home and nap for a few hours, wake up and hang out with friends while reading, and finally work until 5 am to finish assignments. I’d be so tired some mornings that I’d doze off in class, thus completely defeating the purpose of why I was even there! In retrospect, I overloaded my schedule and took on too many things at once. I completed all my tasks, but I was deeply miserable because I was never awake enough to enjoy life.
Now that my schedule isn’t as hectic, the greatest gift I can give myself is to sleep nine hours every night. The temptation to read until 2 am is there, but I’m becoming better about giving my body rest. It’s changed my life dramatically: by allowing my body to relax consistently every night, I’m happier in the hours that I’m awake. A small thing, but I think it’s something that many of us don’t pay attention to. Never compromise on sleep.
Some less important things, but ones that make me happy nonetheless:
Ice cream: Strawberry Häagen-Dazs, to be more precise. My favorite ice cream flavor and brand. Not every day, but indulging a couple times a week is so worth it.
The mini-crosswords in the NYT crossword app. I have a subscription just so I can do the minis (often 5×5 squares and larger on Saturdays). To be honest, I’m not smart enough to do a full crossword by myself (I’ve tried and failed miserably). But I’d like to successfully finish a Monday crossword one day, and practice makes perfect. The minis are a terrific way to 1) improve my crossword skills and 2) make me feel smart. LOL. It gets discouraging when I can’t finish a full Monday crossword without using the check feature. The minis are short, fun, and a great ego boost.
Bath bombs and long tub baths. I don’t read in tubs, but I will listen to podcasts and soak for hours. I currently have a bath bomb named “romance” and it’s a “combination of sweet strawberries, ripe raspberries, citrus peel and sparkling pink moscato.” I love browsing bath bomb flavors and selecting unique combinations.
Walking around the city and peering at cats in windows. Okay, this is a strange one. But I live in a neighborhood where there are a LOT of cats staring at you through the window. I love saying hi to all the cats on my daily walks, mostly because I don’t have a pet and this is my attempt to experience pet ownership vicariously. I may or may not have an entire album saved on my phone.
Here’s a kitty from a recent walk. I remember because this baby didn’t scare easy. Normally cats take one look at me and scamper back to safety. This one refused to look away and won our staring contest.
Tara: Mine change periodically, but the one consistent one for the last 5 years or so is that I take a shower as soon as I get home from work. It’s like a signal to my brain that I’m stepping away from my day job and back into the rest of my life. It also ensures I take my makeup off every day, which always feels amazing, especially since I recently found the “Like a Virgin” naked cold cream from Lush. It makes my face feel and smell amazing, while stripping off every bit of the toughest liquid eyeliners.
Frequent haircuts is another big one for me. Until a couple of years ago, I had long hair that I didn’t hate, but didn’t love either. I’d cut it once every six or nine months, and otherwise it was mostly thrown up into a ponytail or the very laziest of buns. As soon as I cut it, I started to love the way I looked WAY more than before. Now I keep it in a pretty distinctive style that means I have to get it cut every four weeks, and that hour is a glorious one where I sit back, chat with my stylist, and don’t have to be a mom, wife, or employee.
Although it’s more of a temporary one, this year I started a big tattoo project, so that I’m getting sleeves on both of my arms. I’m nearly done my left arm and going every month or two, spending four to five hours at a time with the raddest artist ever has been so good. Again, it’s a step away from my life, a chance for conversation and getting to know someone else, and it’s the biggest birthday gift I’ve ever done for myself. I can’t wait to see what my tattooer does with the other arm.
The other nice thing that I rediscovered this year was a home yoga practice. I was tired of getting sore from desk work and my therapist suggested taking up exercise to help with my anxiety. I got started with videos from the Yoga with Adriene YouTube channel and fell totally in love. My anxiety got WAY more manageable, my muscle tone came back, and my posture got a lot better. I’m currently taking a break thanks to an unrelated injury, but as soon as I’m done with physio, I’m super excited to get back into it.
Shana: It’s telling that I found this question so challenging, since reading is definitely my go-to for self care.
Playing music: I do love playing piano. I’m not particularly good, but I have a collection of classical pieces that I’ve been playing since I was an emo teenager working out my feelings by pounding the score to the movie The Piano. I find it super-duper relaxing to roll around in music that I know so well. I also like to have a pile of new-to-me music that I can repetitively practice if I need a distraction from a stressful news day.
Restorative Yoga and Yoga Nidra: Basically these are like the yoga-version of taking a warm bath and then a nap. It forces me to do nothing for an hour but be extremely comfortable, usually under a cozy blanket. You only do a handful of supported positions at most—all laying down—and the goal is to put in the least amount of effort possible. No stretching, no strengthening, just blissful chilling.
Lara Diane: I’m in a less than awesome space at the moment (a swing towards depression on my bipolar roundabout) and finding it hard to be kind to myself. Mostly because being kind takes energy. My spoon count is real low. One way that I can escape from the general noise of life is sewing. I dream up patterns, work on projects or stitch hexies. This gets my mind in neutral and my thoughts/feelings going in a whole new direction.
And if I need an instant boost of You’ve Got This then I get a gel manicure. My nail tech is basically a psychic: she chooses the colours, shape, etc., performs her magic and manages to make me feel like Beyonce when I walk out of the salon. During my latest manicure, she prescribed the “new attorney” colour – a colour she chooses for her newly-admitted-to-the-bar clients so when they’re in court, they have a reminder that they’ve got this. Each time I catch sight of my nails, I have that very happy thought.
Ellen: I actually have too many hobbies so sometimes when I have a window of time to relax at home I get choice paralysis and get stressed about using my time for MAXIMUM RELAXATION and PERSONAL FULFILLMENT, which is, uh, a lot of pressure and does not help me relax!! SILLY BRAIN. So I try to have at least some forms of relaxation that are just built into my day and/or scheduled in advance. Here are a few relaxing things I’ve been leaning into lately.
Skincare: While I have a few old standbys that I use all the time, I also really love to try new skincare products. I love K-beauty and indie skincare, especially masks, serums, and ampoules. I find the more attention I give my skin beyond just face wash + moisturizer, the better my skin looks and feels. It’s a nice ritual to do a couple extra steps on my face as I’m getting ready for bed and it makes me feel pampered.
Dance class: I recently joined ClassPass, mostly because my local yoga studio is on it and it’s actually cheaper per-class via credits than it is to get a punch card. This means I can also try a bunch of other group fitness options, including dance classes! I recently discovered a K-pop dance class where they teach the choreography from K-pop music videos and I’m PUMPED to keep going. Plus when I schedule a class I always go because I am not about to pay a late cancellation fee.
Video games: When I want to disengage from the world but want to engage in more thinking than I do while reading, I play video games. I love visual novels and puzzle games, but my absolute favorite game franchises are Fire Emblem and Animal Crossing.
Fire Emblem is a tactical role-playing game where you command a fantasy army that also involves romance and matchmaking. Which is truly an ideal combination for me because I want to make war AND love. Animal Crossing is hard to describe but basically you are a person in a town full of animal people and you can do various things to make money and upgrade your house and make your town have more amenities.
What about you? What’s on your list? What do you do to look after yourself with kindness?