I’ve always found the idea of self-care daunting.
“Exercise for 30 minutes a day!” they say. “Eat healthy!” they say.
If adding something to my routine and changing my habits were that easy, I wouldn’t be struggling with PTSD, okay?
But I do have PTSD. I’m also a stay-at-home mom to an energetic, exceptionally social toddler and a wife to a mentally-ill husband. So I know I desperately need to take care of myself, if for no other reason than that I need to take care of everyone else, too.
What’s a girl to do?
Well, I prayed, researched PTSD, researched self-care, created several misfired plans, prayed some more, talked things over with my husband, and stopped trying for a while. I was too discouraged to bother trying.
Then, I stumbled across an idea while I was reading up on something else. That idea was to focus your efforts on creating a pleasant experience for (one or more of) your five senses — and that something that simple totally counts as self care.
I was so relieved. I can do something nice for my senses for five minutes. My toddler will play by himself for that long. Any household upkeep that is staring me in the face can wait that long. I can do that — even with PTSD.
The last time I went grocery shopping for the family (because taking a special trip to the store just for me is just too far outside of my comfort zone right now) I grabbed some yummy herbal tea. Adds hydration, not calories, and as a bonus it provides a pretty smell and comforting warmth. Tea not your thing? Try putting a little fruit in your water, and really savor the cold and freshness.
You could also try chewing you favorite sugar-free gum – it’s supposed to help keep your teeth cleaner, so that’s cool. My dietitian suggested air-popped popcorn as a high-volume, high-fiber snack with lots of hand-to-mouth movement. Sprinkle with a bit of cinnamon or Parmesan cheese! And if you tend to skip meals when you’re stressed, a healthy, easy, yummy snack might just be the way to go!
On the same shopping trip, I also bought some inexpensive scented candles. One smells a little like my husband’s aftershave and is perfect as a sweet little pick-me-up in the middle of the day, or evenings when he’s not at home. The other is just an autumnal spice blend, which helps me to feel more cheerful about how cold it’s getting outside.
I also have an aromatherapy roll-on that I really love. This is a great one to keep in my purse for when I might be getting overwhelmed in a public space, but I use it at home, too.
If you really want a treat, you could also buy yourself roses or some other fragrant flowers. Maybe it’s just the feminist in me, but I love the idea of being good to myself this way.
I’m pretty enamored with my rice bag, as evidenced by the wear-and-tear, and you don’t even have to go out and buy one. Just pour raw rice into a tube sock and put it in the microwave for a few minutes. If your PTSD causes painful muscle tension, like mine does, the moist heat is the perfect thing to help you relax.
We have a plethora of plush blankets at our house, so they’re easy to find no matter where I want to get comfortable. Socks, slippers, or even giving yourself a little massage or mani-pedi are also great options.
My husband loves tech gadgets, so naturally we have a few “smart home” items in our house. For instance, not only does my thermostat automatically adjust based on the time of day, but I can also tell it to set a timer or play music. The music feature is a winner when it comes to self care. “Play relaxing music” brings up a curated playlist of instrumental tracks that is just right for making my son’s nap time feel like even more of a luxury.
We also have a gas fireplace, so sometimes I’ll turn it on for the sake of the soft crackling. Some people love wood burning fireplaces, and I get that, but there’s just something wonderful about instant relaxing sounds.
For you more social creatures out there, try calling a friend. If talking to them makes you happy, then I think the sound of their voice totally counts as auditory self-care.
Confession: I’m kind of a closet artist. I’ll eschew false modesty and say I’m blessed with a measure of raw talent, but I have little-to-no training or practice. Maybe it’s the influence of some new friends who are educated in visual arts, or having to work on the branding for my site, or just God answering my prayers for guidance and inspiration, but I’ve been feeling pulled toward drawing lately. So I’ve started drawing Zentangle mandalas…they’re meant to be meditative anyway, and they’re something fun to look at.
Several of the things I’ve already mentioned could count as visual self-care, too. Maybe you put your drink in a pretty mug, or set your flowers on the table next to you. You might paint your nails in the happiest color you can find, or watch the flames flicker in your candle or fireplace.
It could even be as simple as scrolling through inspirational quotes on your phone.
All Five At Once
I didn’t realize I’d hit the jackpot until the day after I stumbled on this idea, after I put my son down for his nap. I couldn’t decide on just one sense to work on, so I did all of them at once. Lit a candle, put on music, made a cup of tea, sat under a blanket to drink it while I doodled.
And it was amazing.
I’m hooked. I may still have PTSD, but dang it, I can do self-care. The more I do it, the more I get the sense that it’s a gateway to much more powerful kinds of self-care. Maybe a cup of tea will become several glasses of water. Maybe a classical music station will become creating a playlist for when I go exercise. Who knows? The point is, I found a starting place that works for me right here, right now, and every day is becoming subsequently sweeter.