How to get zen and chill at home (even when you may not be feelin’ so calm)

by Maddie

Are you ready for a big dash of irony? I’m not really a fan of self-care. This, coming at the start of a post for getting in the chill zone at home and taking care of yourself. How delightfully ironic. But hear me out, because I’ve got some method behind the madness.

For what has felt like forever, I haven’t been able to get on board with the self-care philosophy, because I honestly felt like it was a whole load of baloney. Feeling consumed by anxiety? Take a bubble bath, filled with Lush products – that’ll sort you right out. Feeling really low and just numb to the world? Try a 5-minute breathing technique – that’ll zen you to happiness again. Sense the sarcasm? That’s because I felt like the wonderful world of social media was trying to prescribe remedies for real mental health illnesses that in no way could be solved through a simple bubble bath. Whenever I tried self-care in the means of Instagrammable bathtubs and trendy meditation apps, it never seemed to work for me. I felt like the world of self-care boils down complex mental illnesses into neatly packaged, aesthetically-pleasing, Insta-worthy boxes, and I felt like none of it would help me get through anxious episodes.

However, since we have all been forced into a slower way of living due to the coronavirus outbreak, I’ve finally felt like I have space to trial different ways to, yes, zen and chill myself out – and strangely enough, the things I have found help me are turning out to often fit under the neat little thing that is self-care. I understand what works for me might not work for you, and we all have different ways of trying to chill the f*** out, but I thought I’d spend today’s post spelling out the things that have helped me recently, and debunk some of those self-care myths I’ve seen floating around like magical cures on Instagram, from a personal perspective.

Apparently I was doing ‘big fish, little fish, cardboard box’ for an unbeknown reason x

What works: reading

I ADORE reading at the moment. It’s all I seem to do in my spare time. When I’m reading, whether it be fiction or non-fiction, my brain instantly escapes to the world of the book. I find my breathing slows, I can lose myself in the act of reading and I often get so chilled out, I end up getting very sleepy. It’s so nice to rediscover this joy, because reading and writing have always been things I turn to to relax and de-stress, but I lost my love of reading at university when I had to constantly critique and unpack every sentence of literature I read. But now, I can read again – just for the fun of it. My latest reads are featured on my Instagram highlights, so just hit me up @maddiemae_xo for some inspo!

What works: yoga

I can’t believe I am typing these very words but: I love yoga. I started a few weeks ago once lockdown began, purely, I think, as a practical joke on myself, because I’ve always been curious about yoga but A) didn’t think I could do it to save my life, not having one ounce of flexibility in my body and B) I was sure it was another self-care myth, something that couldn’t zen you out if your life depended on it. You see, doing the rounds on Instagram, zen gym bunnies proclaiming yoga changed their life, but I was sure that was performative and not possible for the average Joe. However, I currently begin every morning yoga-ing, and even though I huff and puff my way through the routine and don’t feel zen whilst partaking in it, the feeling of stretched out muscles you didn’t even know you owned and the feeling of calm that washes over you at the end of the practice (look at me getting zen on you) has personally really helped me, recently. Starting my day this way has meant I sit down to work and instantly have a calmer mindset.

What works: quick strolls outside, paying attention to nature

I know we need to be mindful about where we’re walking and how often at the moment, but getting outside once a day has been everything I need right now. We don’t have a garden, so unfortunately I can’t get my slice of nature there, so we have to get outside once a day. I think it’s because the before unacknowledged privilege of going outside wherever and whenever we wanted has been taken away from us, but I am feeling so much more appreciative of the sky, the clouds, the trees, nature blossoming and even just the sound of birdsong. I feel like taking those precious moments outside really does centre me and calm me, and this is something that’s been a lifeline for me over the last few weeks.

What works: sitting with uncomfortable feelings

I don’t know if this is altogether healthy, and this is something I’ve only been able to do recently as I’ve been furloughed from my job, but having the extra time has meant that if I am struggling, I can sit with my feelings. Acknowledge they’re happening and wait patiently for them to pass. Before, when the busy 9-5 life was weighing me down, I had to often push away difficult emotions if they surfaced, focusing instead on work. This, however, meant that later on, maybe in the evening or the next day, these feelings came back with an extra vengeance, knocking me for six. I’ve realised that, unfortunately, sometimes the only way to ‘self-care’ yourself into recovery is just by sitting with difficult emotions, realising they’re happening and letting them happen. Cry, panic, lie on your bed feeling numb. All of these things release the waves of emotions and let them pass.

Self-care myth: bubble baths

Personally – and, again, I understand that these are myths for myself and myself alone; some of these things may work for you and if they do, that’s brill – but I find that the self-care method of bubbling up a cosy bubble bath, lighting some candles and throwing in a store-full of Lush products does not work in any stretch for me. Sometimes, yes, I enjoy a bath, but it’s never part of a self-care routine. When I’m feeling overwhelmed or anxious, the last thing I want to do is go to the great lengths of swooshing a million products in a bathtub, getting the temperature right, faffing around with skincare and other malarkey. Sometimes, I just want to lie on my bed and have a good cry. Minimal effort, thank you.

Self-care myth: (most) exercise

So I did just mention yoga, and surprisingly enough, this one has worked for me. But any other form of exercise? Running, the gym life, squats, complex exercise routines… no thank you, sir. I am still convinced that endorphins do not exist in my body, because I never feel good after any form of strenuous exercise. I’m sweating; I’m close to having an asthma attack; I’m in pain. None of those feel like good feelings, right?! It’s just a no-go for me – I still make myself exercise, but it’s not an addition to any self-care routine.

Self-care myth: breathing exercises

I have tried *so* hard to make breathing exercises, meditation and other larks my thing. I want them to work. I do. But I feel like anything that draws attention to my breath when I’m anxious just makes me more aware of how I’m not breathing correctly, that I feel panicked and BOOM – you’ve got a recipe for anxiety disaster on your hands. Again, I’m sure breathing techniques work for lots of people, but you ain’t seeing me throwing them in for a relaxing afternoon, that’s for sure.

Self-care myth: taking time away from work the second you feel overwhelmed

Sometimes, the reason you’re overwhelmed is because of that mounting to-do list. Instead of avoiding the problem and taking time out, sometimes I believe the key to making yourself feel better is to just plough on through and tackle that to-do list head-on. Once you start ticking off items, you feel the panic in your chest easing. It’s better than ignoring the problemo and having to still deal with it later on. Again, time out is important and again, it may work for you, but I often find tackling the problem straight away is what often starts to calm me down.

So, there ya have it. Some things I’ve been doing to zen me the f*** out, and some things I believe personally are myths for me when it comes to self-care. Hopefully it’s given you some ideas of what you can do to keep yourself calm when you might not be feelin’ it, and offers you some comfort from the Insta-worthy self-care routines of influencers far and wide. It’s totally fine if some things don’t work for you – even if it seems like on those polished feeds they’re curing others. 🙂 Sending you lots of love at this tricky time – and I’ll be back on Friday with a new podcast episode for y’all.

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