We all have to start somewhere, right? I’ve had a lot of ups and downs, but that’s part of the process. Today I’d like to share my self-care journey from the beginning to where I am now. A whole lot happier and more balanced than when I started!
We’ll talk about my whole 6+ year experience with self-care, how my favorite practices have changed over time, and lessons that I wish I had known earlier.
The Start of Practical Self-Care
Welcome to Practical Self-Care! This is a year-long, 12-post series on Plants and Pondering dedicated to exploring all aspects of self-care. Understanding and practicing self-care has changed my life. It’s so important that it’s worth talking about throughout the whole year.
If you’re brand new to self-care or you’re looking to deepen your practice and hone in on the best ways to care for yourself, this journey is perfect for you!
I started this series because I’m so passionate about self-care and the impact it has had on my life. I want to encourage you to find that magic for yourself.
When you’re taking care of yourself, it makes everything in life more manageable. You can be more productive, creative, emotionally balanced, and have the energy to work toward your goals with your best effort.
Also, be sure to subscribe to my email list to be notified as the rest of the series is released!
With that being said, let’s get started on Practical Self-Care together!
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A Bit About Me
I’m pretty darn introverted and a highly sensitive person (HSP). I also tend to get anxious, a lot. And all of those qualities influence the types of self-care activities that benefit me the most. To me, going to a loud, crowded party sounds completely overwhelming. But it probably sounds like a fun night to a more extroverted person.
I’ve been practicing self-care for over six years, which has given me plenty of time to learn about what works best for me. The articles, the lists, the books about self-care. I’ve read them and tried many of their suggestions. Trial and error are part of the process, but I’m happy to say that I have my own self-care routine now that’s calming and grounding.
If you want to focus on your own journey right now, no worries! Check out my guide for getting started with self-care.
A Chronological Self-Care Journey
I thought it would be best to start by explaining my self-care journey. You’ll understand where I’m coming from and how self-care has helped me become the person I am today.
High School (ish)
It was probably around my junior year of high school when I first became aware of self-care as a ‘thing’. This was at the height of my Tumblr days, so I learned whatever was being discussed about self-care there. It wasn’t anything groundbreaking, but I had some basic knowledge of what it meant.
By this point, anxiety was becoming a bigger problem in my life. I recognized what it was, but man, I was not good at coping! At all!
My first step was probably a common one: I got some self-help books. I wanted to learn more about how we think and get a healthier and more positive mindset. You Are A Badass by Jen Sincero is always an excellent place to start. It’s a mix of humorous and inspiring. Jen helps you identify your limiting beliefs and create a life you love.
In high school, we had the option to take a yoga class instead of the average P.E. class, and I definitely took advantage of that. It introduced me to some basic yoga flows and some breathing and mindfulness techniques. I also ‘meditated,’ but I don’t really count that because I didn’t fully understand what I was doing. Despite that, it was a step in the right direction, and it introduced me to some of the self-care activities that I’m still using years later.
As embarrassing as it may be, a description of my high school time would not be complete without mentioning One Direction. They were my favorite band and the main reason that I was on Tumblr in the first place. All of my time that wasn’t spent doing homework was spent looking at pictures, watching videos, and anything else One Direction-related that I could find. That was probably the thing that made me happiest, so it’s no surprise that it was what I focused on the most.
The First Half of College
This is a part of my journey that makes me so proud. I made a considerable effort to prioritize my own happiness after being miserable at the end of high school.
I read stacks of self-help and psychology books, and I developed and deepened my own spiritual practices. Indulged in spa nights and self-care routines. And I made journaling a daily habit.
All of these components combined to help me become the happiest and most peaceful I had ever been. All while adjusting to living away from home and attending college classes for the first time.
This was also when I met my boyfriend, at a college orientation event of all places. (We’ll be celebrating five years together soon!) I don’t think this had much of an impact on my self-care, but it was a learning experience. I discovered how to balance spending time with him and spending time by myself. We learned how to grow together while still growing as individuals. And of course, we had lots of fun going on dates, doing homework, and just getting to know each other.
I genuinely believe that everything happens for a reason. I wouldn’t have been in the right frame of mind to pursue a relationship had I not made an effort to work on myself.
The Second Half of College
All things are cyclical, so the bad times will come with the good.
My classes got more challenging and much more demanding, as you’d expect. With that came a whole lot more stress and anxiety. I won’t go into the details, but let’s just say that my mental health for most of my senior year was bad.
My self-care routine morphed into what I call ‘tactical self-care.’ I was doing the bare minimum to help myself, and I stuck to the quickest and most beneficial activities.
There were no long, luxurious spa nights or dedicated self-care days, but I did make an effort to do some form of self-care every day.
Most of the time, my activity of choice was journaling. I wrote about whatever was on my mind (good or bad), and it worked to get the overactive thoughts to stop bouncing around in my head. I mainly did this at night, and it definitely helped me sleep better when I did.
Meditation was the biggest game-changer for me my senior year. I knew I had to do something quick, easy, and effective. I tried out the Headspace app, paid for a subscription, and made it part of my daily routine by doing wind-down meditations before bed. Sometimes I’d practice in the morning as well if I woke up feeling particularly anxious.
The meditations’ voices were so calming, and they taught me helpful techniques to slow down and be more mindful. The app also has sleepcasts (basically soothing bedtime stories with ambient sounds), which are my favorite. They’re great for falling asleep to, or I’d put one on if I woke up in the middle of the night.
The Past Year and a Half
Since graduating college (with a big sigh of relief to be away from that stress), my self-care journey focused on returning to my previous levels of self-care. This means more reading, chill nights, and just more time to relax.
My routines had to be adjusted when I started working. And then modified again when the pandemic started, and I had to learn how to work from home. My anxiety would sometimes make it feel like I was trapped at the office during the day, that I would be worried and want to go home but not be able to. It was kind of isolating, and it definitely took some work to learn how to handle those feelings.
After coming home for the day, it’s usually a gamble as to how I’m feeling. As an introvert and a highly sensitive person, I’m easily drained by busy days, talking to lots of people, and feeling the frazzled energy of those around me. If the day wasn’t too bad, I’d be more productive and able to get some blogging work done. If not, I learned I needed to be in full self-care-mode. Of course, I’d love to be more indifferent to my workday, but it’s important to honor my emotional state.
I would probably be doing better if the pandemic hadn’t happened, but wouldn’t we all be doing better? It forced me to pay more attention to self-care and be more intentional about taking care of myself. When working from home, I had to structure my downtime and not spend the whole night working.
Nevertheless, we can’t change the past, and I’m incredibly grateful for the lessons I learned in 2020. I hope that moving forward, we can all treat each other with more kindness because you never know what someone else is going through.
Changes Throughout My Self-Care Journey
Along my self-care path, I’ve mostly the same handful of activities that I’ve always done. But I’d also say that my preferences vary slightly as I sometimes lean toward doing one thing over another. Overall, the general vibe that I prefer is calming, grounding, and centered in gratitude.
The Old Classics
Journaling and gratitude lists! This is the single most consistent and helpful self-care activity for me. If I had to recommend one thing, it would be to make a list of things you’re grateful for every day. It doesn’t have to be a long list; just do it. Gratitude is so powerful.
Watercolor painting! I am not a creative person or someone who has ever been good at art. I usually find a reference picture or video and follow along. It’s great for getting out of my head and being present. Doing a whole painting does require a few hours, so it’s not the easiest to work into my schedule. I also have to consciously not judge my paintings. It’s about enjoying the process, not critiquing the results.
Reading! I used to mainly read self-help and psychology books as part of my self-care. Now, it’s expanded to pretty much all of the reading that I do. Books are lovely for immersing yourself in new worlds and learning new things, which are really helpful during stressful times.
The New Favorites
Cross-stitching! Everyone seems to have a quarantine hobby, and cross-stitch embroidery is mine. It was pretty easy to learn, and the materials are inexpensive. There were nights where I would be so wound up and anxious, and the only thing that would help was laying on the couch and working on my cross-stitching. Having something to do with my hands is so calming.
Chill YouTube videos! The more it puts me to sleep, the better. This year I found a few new channels that I love. I’ve enjoyed watching candy making, dog grooming, and playing the video game Cities Skylines.
The One That Didn’t Work For Me
Spa nights! This doesn’t mean that I never have nights where I treat myself, but it’s no longer my preferred form of self-care. I think I might have had more spa nights a few years ago because it was what I thought a self-care night should look like. It’s still a valid and fun thing to do. It’s just not what helps me the most personally.
Self-Care Lessons Learned
I’ve certainly learned some lessons along my self-care journey. Trial and error are part of the process, but some things would’ve helped me if I had known them earlier.
Your best self-care activities are highly dependent on your personality and needs, and they most likely will change throughout your life.
If you’re an introvert, going to a crowded place or large party is probably not a form of self-care for you. But for extroverts, that may sound like a fun way to spend an evening. Neither is right or wrong; it just depends on what makes you feel happy and recharged.
My self-care routine now is not the same as it was a few years ago, and that’s okay. I’m sure it will continue to evolve, and I know it will look much different when I become a mom, for example. The important thing is to keep prioritizing it and reevaluate periodically to make sure you’re still doing the activities that will benefit you the most.
It’s unfortunate to say, but I’ve noticed that the idea of self-care has become somewhat materialistic over the past few years. Calling something a “self-care essential” is now a marketing strategy for selling products.
I remember I was on Pinterest a while back (way before starting Plants and Pondering), and I saw a pin with a title along the lines of “Best Self-Care Activities.” It caught my attention because I was at a point in my life when I really needed some help in the self-care department.
I clicked on the pin, only to see that the article it led to was actually called “Best Products for Self-Care,” and it was just a list of things to buy. It was so disappointing!
It’s totally fine to enjoy bath bombs, face masks, candles, fuzzy robes, and all those other products. But don’t feel like you need to spend money or have specific products to practice self-care “the right way.” Because you don’t need to buy anything, and there is no single right way!
Not a Waste of Time!
Don’t feel guilty about the time that you spend on self-care. I’m going to repeat that. Do not feel guilty about self-care. It’s not a waste of time!
Taking care of yourself is incredibly valuable and worth prioritizing. You deserve it.
It may take some trial and error to determine which self-care activities are most enjoyable and work best for you. That’s not a waste of time, either. Like anything else, self-care is a skill, and it’s something that takes practice to reap the full benefits.
My self-care time is often my favorite part of my day. When I’m having a rough day at work, it’s easier to get through it when I know that I can go home and do something for myself. It’s not selfish; it’s part of taking care of your mental health.
And with that, we’ve started our Practical Self-Care journey! Thank you so much for being here.
Over time, I’ve been able to cue in on when I need to take better care of myself. When I start getting irritable with people for no reason, I know I need to take a step back and have some alone time.
What does your self-care journey look like? What is something that you want to improve in your self-care practice? Let me know by leaving a comment!
If you want to keep the self-care train rolling, check out the next post and learn about how to get started with self-care.