Why Productive Self Care Matters

The beginning of school can be a tough time. Not only is your daily routine dramatically upended from the lazy hazy days of summer, but your living situation, job, and friends can go through changes all within a month or two. Though these are meant to be good things, the busiest times can also signal when we need a break the most. We might eat healthier, walk more and get extra sleep just to help our bodies function better. So why is mental health different?

Things that make you feel good (wearing your favorite pants, blaring your music, watching YouTube videos of kittens etc.) are wonderful but sometimes we overwork ourselves to the point of exhaustion, and that’s when some mental health reflection needs to come in. If you can afford to miss class or get someone to cover for you at work to avoid a breakdown, there’s absolutely no reason you should feel guilty. Even parties and social commitments can contribute to the deterioration of a healthy mindset. Sometimes when we’re with other people all the time we don’t even notice we aren’t feeling good ourselves. If you do notice, take a few hours or take a whole day if you can and focus on you.

One of the best ways to transform how you feel is to take a shower. I’ve had days where a shower even seems like too much effort, but getting out of bed and cleaning your body can help your mind find some peace. If you’re feeling extra fancy draw a bath and throw in a bath bomb or bubbles. Focus on the sweet smell of soap, the prickly sensation of hot water, and how the steam opens your airways. Simple moments of meditation in the shower give a refreshing newness to everything around you. When you’re clean on the outside it’s easier to focus on the inside.

Dedicating time to your mental health doesn’t just mean sleep. Though I’m sure all of us could use some extra hours in our beds, sleeping through the day is a quick way to feeling worse when you wake up. Doing something productive does wonders for how you view yourself and your situation. Organizing your living space is another method of feeling better on the outside to focus on the inside. A study from 2010 actually shows that women with clean living spaces had healthier fluctuations of cortisol and generally experienced fewer depressive moods than those who described their home as “unfinished” or “cluttered”.  Of course, cleaning your room won’t cure mental illness, but fresh sheets are one of the best simple pleasures out there. If you don’t have the energy to clean your room, you can pick up the clothes and clutter around your floor and furniture and condense them down to a single pile. Chip away at the pile throughout the day if you can. If you aren’t able to, the plain act of consolidating clutter makes a space feel open and breathable.

Adding extra steps to your routine like exfoliating, painting your nails, or applying a face mask can also make you feel happier and refreshed. Self-care comes in many different forms, and there’s no right way to make yourself feel better -- it’s all up to your preferences and supplies at hand. Personally, I have a tradition with myself on Sunday nights painting my nails and watching a movie. It’s a couple hours where I don’t check my phone and watch whatever film I feel like all by myself. I don’t have to worry about anything for that time and to be honest, it’s more about mental restoration than about nails (don’t get it twisted though I still care about my nails a lot). Genuine intent behind actions is actually more important than the acts themselves. Deliberately taking time to do something nice for yourself because you know it’ll make you happy is the cornerstone of productive self-care. Why go through the effort to use a bath bomb if you’re just going to scroll through Instagram the whole time? Unplug and use these moments for a mental break.

It’s unrealistic to regularly take days off from school, work, or social functions but hopefully, small acts of self-care a couple times a week helps with stress. Whether you decide to get your favorite food for lunch, take the night off from your phone, or use new bath products, treating yourself goes a long way. Deciding to be kind to myself was hands down one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Instead of just going through the motions, try writing down why you’re taking time for yourself, and what you hope to get out of it. No act is too small, no reason is too big. You deserve to take care of yourself.