Are you buckling under the strain of life challenges and want to know how to practice self-care? If so, you may want practical tips and best practices to find your groove again and fast.
Learning how to self-care can do just that and this post will show you the way forward. Read on to discover how to self-care in troubling times.
How to care for yourself in tough times
As a cancer survivor, I know how important self-care is in times of struggle. However, you don’t need to live through traumatic experiences to learn how to self-care. All you need are simple methods (like the ones I’ve tried below) and the willpower to try them out.
Here are the methods I have found the most effective when learning how to care for yourself during stressful times (but don’t take my word for it, take the researchers’ words as many are science-backed).
Even though I’ve ordered them in numbered steps, feel free to use them in the sequence that works best for you. You may not even need to try all of them—even a few can prove to be a boon to your mental and emotional health.
1. Say yes to your difficulties to start caring for yourself
Self-care is impossible if you don’t acknowledge and accept your troubles first.
Trying to pretend everything is ok when it’s not can do more harm than good. Forcing yourself to think constructive, happy thoughts when your heart is aching is like putting a band-aid on an open flesh wound that needs stitches. Too much positivity can be toxic.
Deal with the difficulties first before you start repeating positive affirmations or using positive thoughts or visualizations.
Acceptance is a fundamental first step to self-care because it can help you:
- Understand the crux of your problems. When you avoid admitting difficulties to yourself, you can’t really face them. Write your feelings down or start journaling to uncover what’s really creating strife in your life.
- Differentiate between your wants and needs. For instance, you may think you need a career change, but maybe what you really need is a vacation, a better method of setting work priorities, or more rejuvenating work breaks.
- Accept yourself. Seeing the negativity for what it’s worth helps you also see yourself—both the good and your areas of improvement. Once you embrace who you are, you can better understand how resourceful you can be. Acceptance will also help you see the positive aspects of your life that you may have been ignoring up until now.
2. Dare to ask to reap the well-being of self-care
When you’re going through tough times, relying on your community (whether it’s friends, family, colleagues, or a combination of all three) is key to dealing with tough times. Your connections can also be an essential part of your self-care routine.
But what if you’re the type of person who never asks anyone for anything?
Then it’s time to get vulnerable because asking for help is one of the best ways to put yourself first in a healthy, non-egotistical manner during tough times.
Don’t panic and start small. Ask a best friend, a partner, a family member, a close co-worker—choose anyone who you feel “gets you.”
State upfront that you’re not used to asking for things, but that you need help during these difficult times. Make sure they know how difficult it is just for you to ask, but that you wouldn’t do so unless it was important.
Then, simply ask for what you need. Maybe you ask your partner to start doing more household chores so you can have more time for yourself so you won’t burn out. Or you might ask a family member or close friend to babysit, so you can have some quality alone time or spend time with your significant other if you’re going through a rocky patch as a couple. You may just need a night out with friends who know how to listen.
Just knowing your community has your back can be a big emotional boon, so you can care for yourself, raise your energy levels, and get back to being in a good place during challenging times.
3. Let your thoughts guide you to self-care
Understanding your inner narrative is also an essential part of caring for yourself during difficult times.
Author and research professor, Brené Brown, has studied negative self-talk and discovered that a destructive inner narrative can sabotage how you deal with change and strife.
Instead, there are a few ways to understand (and change) that inner talk:
- Counseling or therapy. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) can help you understand yourself better and find a path to change destructive thought patterns into positive ones.
- Mindfulness and meditation. Focusing on the present moment can prevent your mind from catastrophizing and falling into a negative mental rut.
- Journaling. Sometimes writing is the best therapy of all. Check out Suleika Jaouad’s creative journaling community, The Isolation Journals, designed to help you thrive during challenging times.
4. Release the artist within to let go of the angst
Journaling may also be one way to connect with your inner creative spirit that’s waiting for you to release it. And nurturing your creativity can benefit your mental and emotional health, personal satisfaction, and professional goals. It’s also a great way to practice self-care.
But what if you believe you don’t have any artistic drive?
Adults may have convinced you that you lacked creative talent during your childhood. But you don’t need the artistry of Picasso to unleash your creative power. Sometimes you just need to get out of your own way to nurture the artist within…
“To be an artist you must learn to let yourself be. Stop getting better. Start appreciating what you are. Do something that simply delights you for no apparent reason. Give in to a little temptation, poke into a strange doorway, buy the weird scrap of silk in a color you never wear.” — Julia Cameron
Everyone can be creative, and starting to care for your creativity may be as simple as allowing yourself to daydream, picking up a paintbrush, or inventing a new dessert.
5. Say “thank you” for an instant mood booster
Practicing gratitude is a powerful self-care tool, especially when you’re struggling through hard times.
Research shows that a regular gratitude practice can help you reduce stress and enhance your mood.
While there is no best way to practice gratitude, here are three ways you can start:
- Write a gratitude letter. Write a letter to a friend to thank them for something they’ve done for you and why you’re thankful for it. (You don’t have to actually send it to them if it makes you uncomfortable.)
- Keep a gratitude journal. Write down at least 3 things you’re grateful for every day.
- Go on a gratitude walk. Whether you’re in the city or in a natural setting, going on a walk can already benefit your physical health and your mood. Now, add gratitude for the things you observe during your walk to enhance the benefits. For example, you can feel grateful for the corner grocery where you shop every day. If you’re in nature, you can feel grateful for the trees, the fresh air, and the wonders of the skies above.
Once you start, you’ll find that gratitude is a great way to practice self-care.
6. Draw the line to soothe your mind and care for yourself
Though it may seem counterproductive, discipline makes for a very healthy and happy lifestyle, especially in a society that always wants us tuned in and switched on.
Here are a few ways to set some needed boundaries in our busy world:
- Consume less social media. Social media companies design feeds to be addictive, which is why it’s easy to get caught in these attention-sucking, emotionally draining tools. However, various apps can help reduce your social media browsings by setting automatic limits. Try website blocker apps, like Cold Turkey, Forest, and Freedom.
- Reduce your screen time. Computers, Netflix, Apps. A never-ending access to screens calls for our continuous attention. We binge-watch the trendiest series and soak up the lives of the rich, famous, and not-so-famous people. But how much joy does any of this actually bring you? Put a limit on how much you watch each day.
- Mind your own business more. The more you concentrate on other people’s lives, the less attention you’re giving to yourself. Focus less on how others live their lives and focus more on how to improve your own life.
- Say no. If you’re a people pleaser, now is the time to stop. Though difficult to start saying no (especially when everyone expects you to say yes), declining invitations and politely refusing interruptions can help you free up time you can use toward your self-care.
7. Be conscious of your health for greater emotional wealth
As a person who has dealt with burnout AND a life-threatening disease, I cannot stress this next method enough. Caring for your health is probably one of the most important ways to care for yourself in body, mind, and soul.
Here are some ways to keep your mental and physical energy high to deal with challenging times and ward off burnout, anxiety, and depression:
- Eat well. Keeping a balanced diet can help you remain lucid and energized during hard times. While this is easy to say, it may be hard to do depending on your situation. For example, if you’re dealing with grief, you may be craving unhealthy comfort food. Know that it’s ok, but do your best to keep it to a limit. For example, drink a full glass of water before eating anything, go for a walk to distract your cravings, or prepare healthy meals ahead of time so you can avoid excuses.
- Exercise regularly. Studies reveal that regular exercise has many benefits. It can reduce anxiety, improve sleep quality, improve your mood and even boost your self-esteem.
- Get enough sleep. Your sleeping can suffer if you’re dealing with hard times, so it’s important to care for your rest times as well so you can remain lucid and alert during the day. Ensure you’re getting 7-8 hours of slumber each night. If you’re finding it difficult to sleep, try eliminating all screen time at least one hour before bedtime, dimming the lights a few hours before you hit the sack, and avoiding heavy foods at night (as well as leaving at least 2 hours between your last meal and your bedtime).
8. Take action (instead of reaction)
If you’re reflecting upon your difficulties repeatedly, you may be stuck in an overly active and destructive mental loop that prevents you from finding constructive actions. You may also be prone to catastrophizing, focusing on the worst-possible outcomes of your current life challenges.
One way to care for your mental well-being is to focus on the aspects of your life that you can control instead of dwelling on what you can’t influence.
For example, if you’re dealing with a stressful project at work that you have no possibility of changing, try shifting your focus to what you can do to care for yourself better, starting with using some of the methods outlined above. You can:
- Start a meditation practice, which helps you to stop reflecting on the things you can’t control and reduce your anxiety.
- Ask for advice from a trusted peer or coworker. You may not be the only person in the workplace to be struggling right now. As an alternative, you can reach out to an expert in the field or even find a mentor who can guide you through tough times and share best practices of when they’ve faced similar challenges.
- Find actions that help you reduce stress both in and out of work. You may need to take more work breaks during the day, or you may find a daily yoga practice helps soothe your nerves after work.
9. Explore your bliss as a way to self-care
Now that you’ve learned about 8 ways to self-care during hard times, experiment to find what feels good and do it often.
You could start a hobby, take up a new sport or exercise practice, do something creative or volunteer at a charity (or start your own).
Make sure any of the actions you choose are unrelated to your difficulties or your goals because you want this act to be completely separate from your work or life challenges. This will be the go-to feel-good action you do in your free time.
Let’s say you’re feeling particularly stifled at home or at your job. You could take an improvisation class from a local theater community and give way to the creative freedom of impromptu acting.
10. Find your own flexible self-care formula
Whether you have an hour or day, a couple of hours during the weekends, or just one hour out of the entire week, create a personal self-care routine.
Even if you have very little time, you can still dedicate a few minutes every day to nurturing yourself.
For example, this has been my morning routine for years:
- Feeling thankful for each new day as I awake.
- 10-20 minutes of meditation every morning as soon as I get up.
- 10-30 minutes of gentle exercise before breakfast.
My well-being routine during the day:
- 30 minutes of fast walking 3-4 times per week (weather permitting).
- Or 10-30 minutes of yoga 2-4 times per week (in addition to or substituting for the 30-minute fast walk).
- One 45-minute guided pilates session per week.
- 5-10 minute meditation sessions when needed for improved focus.
My night-time well-being routine:
- No screen time at least one hour before bedtime.
- Lights dimmed after dinner and up until bedtime to prepare me for sleep.
- 10-30 minutes of reading (fiction) before bedtime.
I keep all my times flexible. As a person with health issues, I may do 10 minutes of yoga instead of a 30-minute fast walk (depending on how I feel that day). I always try to listen to my body to avoid stressing myself out physically or mentally. I do what I can without the guilt trip.
When you’re stressed, it’s important not to overdo anything. This is an essential part of treating yourself to loving kindness during hard times.
Give yourself the grace of self-care and find your joy again in tough times
Now you know how to self-care during tough times and find your smile again.
While the task of self-care may seem daunting, you can start reaping the benefits immediately by simply acknowledging your difficulties and using a bit of willpower to try a couple more self-care hacks.
Imagine how sweet life can be even during hard times when you know how to take time out for yourself to rest and recuperate.
Imagine how much easier facing your challenges can become when you focus on the possibilities ahead.
Imagine finding your bliss again amidst the chaos of life because you took the time to care for yourself and treat yourself with kindness.
So, what are you waiting for? Use this post to guide you on your journey to self-care. Soon you’ll be smiling and appreciating life even in challenging times.