Discovering Self-Care: which methods actually helped me de-stress

photos by Alex Warren

Behind the wheel, all I can think about is crashing. By facing my fear through practical self-care, I should be able to overcome my anxiety, but as I drive, I realize that this self-care method is not going to help me. Instead of feeling more confident, I feel scared and inadequate. While this didn’t work for me, there are many other types of self-care, such as spending time with friends and making art which proved beneficial.

Some of us have become so invested in “getting a 4.0” that we find it difficult to distinguish our true selves from the student. I had become one of those teens, and I believed that poor grades made me a bad person. In reality, a 3/6 on a reading comprehension quiz that moved my grade down from 94% to 93.95% is not a big deal. But, it sent me into a spiral of thinking poorly of myself. I knew that I needed to improve my self-confidence or else I would never be able to achieve my actual goals: writing a book, making lifelong friends, and being fearless in new situations.

So I determined that I would help myself. I had always heard that it is important to take part in “self-care”. If you look up the term and click on the “videos” tab, prepare to be pummeled with teen girls putting on face masks, sleeping in late, and doing yoga. And while all of those things brought temporary relief from mental and physical stress for these young women, they certainly were not going to help me. After scrolling past the superficial videos, I learned that there were many kinds of self-care, all promising to bring me relief from the problems in my life. As part of my research for this extensive review of self-care techniques, I experienced various forms of self-care, from playing chess to watching Cats. For each day I gave a score out of 5, with 5/5 being the most stress-relieving for me. Perhaps you’ll discover a strategy that will help you when everything seems out of control.

I started my journey with physical self-care. Physical self-care involves making changes in your life like increasing exercise or eating healthier to improve your physical health. With almost two weeks off from school and being free from any kind of social obligations, my sleep schedule went haywire. I spent my nights watching true-crime series and online shopping. Nothing that I tried was helping. When I finally did catch some sleep, I awoke unrested and fatigued. My doctor asked if I had tried melatonin. Yes. Yes, I had, and it did not work. During one of my late night Netflix binges, I decided that enough was enough. I got on the Peloton and cycled for 45 minutes then I crawled into bed. It was meditation time. The place, or rather mental state, that I entered next I can only describe as a hypnotic trance. Guided meditation is not a new invention. Insomniacs have been using it since around 5,000 BCE. I, however, had never heard of it before desperately googling, “how to fall asleep fast.” If you don’t care to indulge yourself with hypnosis, just imagine a dark screen coupled with a deep, soothing voice whispering “with every breath you are becoming more and more tired” until finally, you drift off into the dreamscape. And I did! It was honestly one of the best nights of sleep that I had ever experienced. From guided meditation, I gained a new coping mechanism for insomnia and woke up refreshed and ready for the day. Day one: ⅗ (would sleep again).

On day two, I found myself trying practical self-care. This meant implementing activities into my routine which I might not enjoy but will help me in the long run. Doing school work before the deadline or cleaning your house are examples. An activity I had dreaded ever since getting my learner’s permit was driving. My mom had been badgering me for weeks to get more driving hours, and I finally sucked it up and got behind the wheel. Our objective? Buying Christmas gifts. Our route led us down Telegraph for eight miles, followed by two roundabouts on Evergreen. My mom had warned me of the perilous journey before the drive, but when we reached the roundabouts all of my mental preparation went out of the window. None of the extensive safety features of my mom’s Ford Escape could save me. I yielded for oncoming cars, slowly making my way around the first circle, then the second.

“Oh no, we missed the exit!” my mom said. “Guess we’ll have to turn around.”

Uh oh. Round two here I come. As it was a Monday afternoon, the round-about wasn’t particularly busy but the few cars that were there halted immediately as I entered. It wasn’t until minutes later that I realized why: I was in the wrong lane. It was a two-lane roundabout, and I couldn’t even get it right. The expression on one man’s face stays with me to this day. It was of both extreme concern and sympathy. I can only guess what was running through his mind, but it was probably along the lines of who let this confused child behind the wheel? My mom and I made it home safe without getting in a car crash, but I walked away from that situation having no more confidence than I had before. Day two: ⅕ (almost died).

Mental self-care aims to help strengthen your intelligence and problem solving abilities. Going to museums and reading are popular ways to experience this kind of self-care, but I decided to play chess instead. I had never played before that day, but I’d seen many movies where characters engaged in chess and looked like geniuses, and I wanted to be like that. It was soon that I realized I had made a mistake. Since I had such little experience, I didn’t know what any of the pieces did. When my sister’s friend, Mo, explained how to play, I found myself questioning every life choice I had ever made. Why am I doing this? I have an APUSH test tomorrow. Nevertheless, the game commenced, and it was the longest half hour of my life. We didn’t use any sort of timer, so every time I stared at the pawns for upwards of three minutes before deciding where to go. Often, those moves earned an audible disagreement from Mo, who urged me to reconsider my move. The game ended in a checkmate (as it almost always does in movies at least), but instead of feeling smarter or accomplished as I hoped to, I was defeated and exhausted. Maybe I should’ve visited the DIA instead. Day three: ⅖ it didn’t live up to the hype.

While some self-care websites claim that chess is relaxing, I find it brings me more worry than relief. I feel trapped in the game as my pawn faces a row of enemies, and my king cannot escape capture. As “checkmate” is announced by my opponent, my anxiety reaches its peak. It seems that chess is not for everyone.

As Christmas break drew to a close, I entered the realm of social self-care. I’m not one to spend a copious amount of time outside of school with friends, so I felt that this step especially pertained to me. I wasn’t lonely, but I certainly wasn’t a social butterfly. Then, Cats 2019 happened. I can’t say that I’ve heard mixed reviews about this movie, in fact they were overwhelmingly bad, but I gathered a few friends and we geared up to watch this dumpster fire of a movie. All the while I was experiencing social self-care, spending time with people you care about in order to improve your overall health. I have much to say about this feature film, much to the chagrin of my friends, but for your sake I’ll keep it short. The theater was almost vacant, with only eleven seats being filled, four of those being occupied by my friends and I. By the end of the movie, only seven viewers survived: my group, an older woman at the end of our row, and two middle aged women who walked in thirty minutes late. While the rest of the audience was dead silent most of the time, the theater was filled with laughter and comments from my party. I’m sure everyone else wanted to kick us out. My friends walked out of the theater having felt as though they just wasted two hours of their lives. However, I didn’t mind seeing the monstrosity of a movie since I experienced it with some of the funniest people I know. Day 4: ⅘ friends make everything better.

I ended my self-care journey with what some therapists call the most important category: emotional self-care. Talking to a counselor or writing in a journal are two practices that aim to create a better connection between you and your emotions. Honoring how you feel in the moment instead of letting those emotions build up improves your overall mood in the future. Since school had started after winter break, I was extremely agitated with the resumed lessons and upcoming tests. I found my solution to this anger through my second hour class: Art Foundations. The open tables combined with soothing background music was the perfect environment to relieve stress. Even when I made art that belonged in the trash more than a gallery, the hour, free from high expectations and rigorous exams, was a lifesaver. Taking this class made me aware of how important low pressure classes and extracurriculars are to mental health. My art teacher, Anthony Fink, often praised me for my work and encouraged me to continue creating. His comments inspired me to replace one of my science based classes with a ceramics class to ensure I would have a period that brings only happiness and relief, rather than worry and stress. Although my art class was over many weeks, one could easily practice emotional self care in just one day. Day 5: 5/5 thanks Mr. Fink.

One of my favorite pieces that I’ve made in art foundations is a reproduction of Luca Guadanino’s Call Me By Your Name soundtrack cover. The painting has themes of tranquility and freedom which helps to relieve the stress I feel from more traditional school classes. Emotional self-care was a method that was extremely beneficial to me, and I will continue to use it in the future when I feel anxious.

Self-care is a topic that is often misunderstood. It is not just superficial acts that bring short term results. With the right practice, self-care can drastically change your life for the better. When I look back on those five days, I realize that even the activities which I didn’t enjoy are reflected as good memories. Even though I was terrified to drive at the moment, the story became one that I can laugh about when I retell it to family and friends. While chess was boring, I learned more about my opponent, Mo, who otherwise I wouldn’t have talked to. Even “Cats” was enjoyable with the presence of friends. There is something that is so magical about self-care. By taking care of myself in simple ways, such as getting quality sleep or creating art, I became more confident and optimistic. I could not recommend these practices more. When going about your day, pay closer attention to how you feel mentally, physically, and emotionally. If you find that there are areas in which you could improve, try one of these methods.

You wouldn’t believe just how much a simple movie, night of sleep, or game of chess could change your life.

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