Self-care

6 Easy Ways to Do Something Kind for Yourself Today

Kindness

1. Compliment a Friend

I really do believe that most of us suffer from some degree of impostor syndrome.

We all have skills, talents, and unique ways of contributing to the world, but acknowledging and valuing them can feel immodest — like there’s something inherently sinful about acknowledging your worth.

So cut through the self-depricating voices in your friends’ heads, if even just for a second. They’re your loved ones for a reason. It doesn’t hurt to remind them why.

I’m still riding the high of a compliment I received this afternoon at the exact moment I needed it. And knowing you have the power to give someone else that feeling of value and importance is something to cherish — and something to be proud of.

2. Drink Some Water

Trust me. As a person prone to migraines — and a person who constantly forgets to drink water unless there’s a bottle directly in front of me at all times — this is a little thing that can make all the difference.

Stay hydrated, y’all.

3. Get One Thing Done

Not everything on your to-do list, mind. It can be overwhelming, looking at the list of personal, professional, interpersonal, financial, and whatever-else-have-you responsibilities piling up. And you don’t need to tackle everything at once. In fact, I’d argue you probably shouldn’t.

But the satisfaction of knocking one thing off your list can create a strong sense of agency. No matter how overwhelmed or stressed I feel, at least I got that one thing done today.

It can be the laundry you’ve been putting off for weeks. Calling a friend or family member. Scheduling a doctor’s appointment. Confirming your next session with a therapist. Actually doing the damned dishes for once.

(Why can’t I do my dishes in a reasonable span of time? The world may never know. *sheepishly sneaks off to do the dishes*)

4. Take 30 Minutes to Be

In our hundred-mile-an-hour society, productivity is king. And while there’s something to be said for activity to break through depression, it’s also important to remember that you don’t always have to be doing.

You can just be. It’s all right.

Whenever I can — and I admit, I’m not great at this yet — I try to set myself a 30-minute span to just do whatever my heart and brain want.

Sometimes it’s taking a shower, even though I already took one that morning.

Sometimes it’s calling a friend just to check in.

Sometimes it’s reading Game of Thrones fanfiction. (I make no apologies for my life or my choices.)

None of this means that you’re wasting time. You’re taking a moment to care for yourself mentally. And what’s more valuable than that?

5. Turn Daily Moments into Escapes

I’ve mentioned it before, but I swear by podcasts. I have a 2-hour roundtrip commute (hey, worst city for traffic in the continental United States), so I use podcasts to transform my commute into an escape from the world.

I’m not worrying about work or anything that’s gone wrong in my life. I’m catching up on the news, listening to stories from people I’ve never met, enjoying improv comedy. It’s a built-in time every day for me to get in touch with things I enjoy.

(Is this an opportunity for me to shamelessly plug my favorite podcasts? Absolutely. Try Welcome to Night Vale, the Thrilling Adventure Hour, Another Round, Snap Judgment, Judge John Hodgman, or The Bugle.)

Even if you don’t have a similar situation in your life, there are ways to turn your routines into daily moments of escape. Turn on your favorite music while you do household chores. Walk your dog a different route every day and enjoy getting out in nature. If you work from home, convert your workspace into a calming area of your house with scented candles, pictures of places that inspire you, or whatever makes you happy.

(Also, I’m fighting really hard not to make “Scented Candles” item number six on this list. You might not understand my thing for scented candles, but Buzzfeed does.)

6. Sleep

If you haven’t noticed, here’s the theme I’m harping on here: Productivity is great, but it should never come at the expense of your own personal welfare.

There will always be one more thing you could get done tonight. You could write two more pages. You could study for 30 more minutes. You could research for tomorrow’s presentation at the office for another hour.

Or you could curl up in bed, close your eyes, and give your body the rest it desperately needs.

The rest of the world will be there in the morning. But your body can’t be running on 11 all the time. Dial it back. Turn off the lights.

And don’t forget to breathe.

What do you think? Did I miss your No. 1 self-kindness tip? Let me know in the comments — I’m always on the lookout for new tips!

The Myth of the “Perfect Recovery”

Want to know a secret?

I run a recovery blog. I bring conversations about sexism and gender equity to places they aren’t wanted, from my fiction writing workshops (“Are you really sure ‘attractive’ is the only adjective you need?”) to the movie theater (“Seriously, why is Kiera Knightley’s role always to stand around in a corset and look confused?”). The constant fat-shaming in Game of Thrones is about to give me a tiny heart attack.

Basically, what I’m driving at is that body positivity isn’t a throwaway for me. It’s a big deal.

And this evening, I’m sitting on my couch, looking at the wall of my apartment and wondering Why the hell can’t I just lose XXX pounds? I’d be happy then. And tonight isn’t the only night recently this has happened.

Some days I’m desperate to change my body. My wonderful, badass body. The one I put through so much in college when recovery was a project for after finals, or after I passed physics, or after I got just thismuch skinnier. The body that got me through a half marathon in September, and a full marathon of all four seasons of Blackadder two weeks ago.

That body. Sometimes I still hate that body.

Part of me thinks this makes me a fraud. A failure. The voice in the back of my mind, the one that sounds eerily like Lord Tywin Lannister (in the film version of my life, my eating disorder will be played by Charles Dance), that voice always has something to say.

Aren’t you the one supporting others?

Aren’t you supposed to know better?

Fraud.

Stop pretending you know what you’re talking about.

If you read that to yourself in Charles Dance’s voice and aren’t at least a bit intimidated, you’re braver than I am.

Am I allowed to call myself within spitting distance of recovered and still occasionally wonder if I shouldn’t go on a three-day cleanse to make my old pants fit like new pants?

Of course. Of course. It’s okay.

The whole point of body positivity is taking outside standards about how you should present yourself for a nice long walk off a short pier. That includes any bullshit notions of perfectionism or infallibility. That means being okay with yourself, just as you are, right this minute. Triggers and doubts and days almost-seriously-considering diets and emotional experiences with your jeans and all.

Recovery and life after would fail any “walk this straight line” DUI test. It’s a nonlinear cycle that doubles back on yourself when you least expect it. There’s no such thing as a “perfect recovery,” and mine is no exception. Progress isn’t when bad days stop happening  — as far as I’m concerned, they might not ever stop completely. But when the good days start outweighing the bad, and when life begins to revolve around something other than what / when / how to eat …

That’s still something to celebrate.

But coming to terms with a perfectly imperfect body-positive life — without the guilt of “failure” — is easier said than done. Here are three things I’m trying to make it through the rough patches, and back into the light.

1. Check Out Those Dark Shadowy Places

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(You knew this was coming. If a day ever comes for an obvious opportunity to quote The Lion King and I don’t take it, send help. I’ve probably fallen and I can’t get up.)

There are certain situations I know will still spark my inner negative monologue. Pants shopping, for instance. Or eating a meal at a different time than usual. Although I know, logically, that there’s nothing at all wrong with eating a bigger lunch one day, that doesn’t always make the residual discomfort go away. But leaning on logic gives a reliable handhold to turn back to.

Figuring out the root cause of an ED-related reaction — and eight times out of ten, that cause has nothing to do with food — is a crucial step for regaining a sense of understanding and power.

There’s a world of difference between “I hate my body because it’s ugly / gross / terrible” and “I’m feeling uncomfortable about how I look because the people in the cubicle next to me are talking about their 30-day cleanse / I have a big presentation tomorrow I’m nervous about / final exams are coming up and I don’t feel adequate / I didn’t sleep enough last night.” One places the blame on your body; the other shifts focus back to where it belongs. One feels dispiriting and impossible; the other makes sense. And recovery is making sense out of the chaos, and putting anxiety and discomfort in their place.

That place, by the way, is way the hell off on the sidelines.

So get up there on Pride Rock the next time the voices start. Everything the light touches is your recovery journey. Once you figure out what’s really going on in those dark shadowy places, it might not be as overwhelming and confusing as it seemed.

2. Catastrophize for a Reason

You’ve probably heard the phrase “Fat is not a feeling” as a rallying cry before. And while it can be tough to take that statement at face value when you’re absolutely sure you’re feeling fat right then and there, grammatically it’s just fact. “Fat” is a noun, describing the necessary collection of cells and tissue that protect our organs and let our bodies move through the world.

Would you argue that on a bad day you feel “muscle” or “cartilage”? Because that’s what I’m hearing when you say you feel fat.

But “fat” is also an adjective describing a certain body type. The fat acceptance movement is rightfully returning this word to its original meaning, removing the moral and value judgments society put on it and calling it for what it is. For the record, even though fat is a body type, that still doesn’t make it a viable feeling. You can’t feel “blonde” or “high cheekbones” emotionally. That’s not how emotions work.

I keep this as a kind of mantra for when weight panic sets in. It cuts the anxiety out of ruminating on weight, little by little, step by step.

I feel fat I’m so fat I’m gaining so much weight I’m so fat —

Okay. So. Maybe. What’s the worst that could happen if I was fat?

Am I going to hate or love my job any more? Are my friends going to care about me any less, and will I care about them differently? Is the sunrise on my commute down 55 going to look any less beautiful? Are nachos going to be any less delicious? Is the sexism on Netflix’s Marco Polo going to make me want to punch a hole through my wall any less?

Nope. Literally the only thing that changes is that I would be fat.

Any other negative consequences that might arise are a direct result of society’s fatphobic underpinnings, which my panic about weight gain is (albeit unwillingly and painfully) perpetuating.

Will this knock off the thoughts once and for all? Almost certainly not. But it helps stop you in your tracks for at least a moment to see the larger picture.

And the big picture is almost never as scary as the close-up, particularly when the close-up is that distorted.

3. Lower Your Expectations

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Ah, Amy Poehler. Speaking the truth my soul needs.

I’m not saying “don’t expect recovery.” I’m not saying “don’t expect you’ll ever feel completely happy and in control of your life ever again.” Of course I’m not saying that. I believe it’s possible. I’ve seen people do it. It’s what’s keeping me going. Recovery is possible, and we can do it.

But no one expects you to have it all together all at once. And telling yourself any differently reveals a whole different problem that has nothing at all to do with your weight.

If you haven’t read this article by the amazing s.e. smith about impostor syndrome yet, go read it. It’s cool. I’ll wait.

For the click-averse, impostor syndrome is the feeling that, despite all evidence to the contrary, you are inherently less-than. You’re not living up to others’ expectations of you. You don’t deserve to be where you are. You aren’t qualified. You’re just faking it, and everyone around you already knows it. Even when you know, objectively. 0% of this is true, that doesn’t help.

This summed up so much about my life, both personally and professionally, when I read it that I needed to take a step back and reframe. No one expects me to have it all together. No one is scandalized and horrified when I make a mistake at work, or when I have a lousy body image day and call my support system to vent and yell a little. No one, that is, but me. I’m holding myself to standards that I’d never impose on anyone else.

It’s not fair. It’s doing me way more harm than good. And it’s not easy to stop.

But I’m working on it. I’m cutting myself some slack. Lowering my expectations, so to speak. I’m trying not to feel totally deflated when something goes badly, because things go badly for everyone all the time, every day. Even the most active body image activists need support, help, self-care, and a little slack now and then.

That Amy. So wise. One more piece of wisdom for the road:

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And so we keep on. I’ll keep trying. And on the bad days, I’ll take a shower at a weird time, curl up in bed with a book, and wake up in the morning to try again.

And again.

And again.

Until, maybe next week, maybe in fifteen years, one day I wake up and never need to think about trying again.

But today is not that day.

Today, I’ll keep working.

Implementing Self-Care Without Guilt

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Well, I’m sure you’ve all been wondering how I’ve been passing my time for the past week and a half or so. And if you haven’t, that’s fine; all I’m asking is for you to humor me. The answer, in any case: not so badly as you might have thought.

After a whirlwind trip through the city of London, I’ve settled down in my little Northern Irish town for the next month, to meet with professional poets and playwrights and pound out a novella of my own in time to present to an international conference of writers at the end of July. Talk about pressure. My jet-lagged brain isn’t even quite awake enough to process all of this.

Traveling abroad has been a wonderful experience. Should I just list for you the famous graves I’ve seen since last Friday? Henry V. Richard II. Elizabeth I. Charles Dickens. Mary, Queen of Scots. Sir Isaac Newton. Edward the Confessor. Brian Borù, allegedly. Tons of ancient Irish chieftains from the 1st century BC. HENRY THE FIFTH.

So yeah. This has been happening to me IN REAL LIFE.

So yeah. This has been happening to me IN REAL LIFE.

But traveling is by no means an easy deal. I’ve learned a lot about myself over the past few years, and that means that I’m starting to learn what exactly I need to do to take care of myself when the going gets stressful. And living in one room with four other girls for the next month, and having a deadline to write a whole novella in essentially three and a half weeks, and being social and friendly and cheerful with a group of fifteen other people that I’d never even heard of before June 28…

Well, the going’s gotten a bit stressful.

I’ve written about coping mechanisms before, but this is one of those days that I’m really beginning to put them in practice. Now that we’re staying at a hostel, I’m able to cook dinners for myself, which is incredibly refreshing. No more shelling out fifteen pounds for deep-fried fish and chips (which, I’ll admit, were glorious and salty and delicious) when I can stay in and make a bowl of whatever sounds good to me at the time.

I also know how much sometimes I need to pull away and take a few quiet hours when constantly making small-talk and being “on point” starts to get to me; in fact, I’m doing that now. Sometimes taking a mental health break and lying down on your bed with your laptop blogging about something extremely personal can be just the refreshing moment that you need.

Now, don’t get me wrong, the guilt of living does not entirely go away. I made a point, as I said earlier, of only packing my “travel-sized eating disorder,” and so far it’s only been big enough to pack into a carry-on. There was a brief hiccup when I had a late-night gelato run and then found myself in the ancient “voices in my head” runaround. There have been times when I’m absolutely convinced that my stomach has grown to twice its normal size, and then there have been days when I’m sure my brand-new pants fit looser than they used to.

But the point is, I have these moments, and then they’re gone.

Case in point: we had our welcome dinner for the writers’ program this evening at a pub downtown. The menu included an alcoholic beverage of our choosing, an entree, and a dessert. Now, dessert is ordinarily simultaneously the meaning and the bane of my existence. I could live solely off of frozen yogurt, chocolate bars, and scones, if it weren’t for the crippling guilt that yanks the rug out from under me whenever I indulge.

OHMYGOD SCONES

OHMYGOD SCONES

But I had dessert this evening. And an entree that involved fries (well, chips, if we’re being technical). And a small Guinness, because this is Northern Ireland, after all.

And you know what?

I’m a little uncomfortable about it.

Not everything is perfect. I didn’t expect everything to be perfect.

But I can deal with it. I can reassure myself that I get to cook whatever I want for dinner tomorrow, and that this is a special occasion. People are not frequently buying me cheesecake free of charge and paying for my beer, so I may as well enjoy this while I can.

Plus, I’m living on top of a giant steep hill for the next month. If hiking that multiple times a day isn’t exercise, then I don’t know what is.

I might wish I’d made “safer” choices for dinner this evening, but what would have been the fun in that? I wanted the garlic chips and the cheesecake, and I’ll put up with the feelings of guilt and the slight confused rumbling in my stomach for the evening.

And I might wish that I’d gone out this evening with the other members of my program and been happy and social and put on a false front of excessive cheerfulness. But I know that sometimes I just need to be alone and in bed, and I’ll be much better for it in the morning.

And knowing what I need and having the strength to act on it?

That sounds pretty perfect to me.