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A totally doable, not so intimidating self-care survival guide to 2018
Self-help or self-improvement
When Is It Time to Stop Trying to Fix Ourselves

A totally doable, not so intimidating self-care survival guide to 2018

After an October week from hell — when allegations against Harvey Weinstein first began to unravel, Donald Trump threatened to take aid away from Puerto Rico, women boycotted Twitter, and historic wildfires destroyed California — I splurged on a large Blue Raspberry Icee and sat alone in a 12:15 p.m. Saturday showing of Marshall. I turned my phone all the way off, and over the course of the next two hours I ugly cried in the dark.

Afterwards, I drove to a bookstore and spent $82.47. I went home, applied a face mask and collapsed onto my bed, escaping into the pages of one of my new books for hours. I met my friend for dinner, cherished every single bite of a cheeseburger, rushed back to my pillow, and fell asleep watching re-runs of The Mindy Project.

This was my own personal form of self-care.

SEE ALSO: Meditation app aims to help veterans tackle anxiety, loneliness

For so many, self-care has been the unsung savior of 2017. You've probably heard the term thrown around daily, but learning exactly what it means and why it's so essential will help to better practice it in the new year.

Am I doing this thing right?

Self-care methods — personalized rituals that allow people to take a step back from this messy world to prioritize their well-being and preserve their mental health — differ for each individual and in each scenario, so there's really no right or wrong.

For Hillary Clinton self-care could mean anything from frantic closet cleaning, long walks in the woods, and playing with her dogs, to yoga or sitting down to enjoy a glass of wine. For Michael Phelps, who's conquered the pressures of Olympic competition but has struggled with depression and anxiety over the years, it's working out or heading to the golf course. The only constant is that methods of self-care must benefit and focus on you.

"A lot of times people will say 'I spend time with my kids,' which is great and meaningful but that’s still taking care of somebody else," said Monnica Williams, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and associate professor at University of Connecticut's Department of Psychological Sciences. "When you self-care it’s really about you recharging."

Self-care isn't selfish

Some people abstain from self-care for fear that their behavior would come across as selfish. They simply can't resist the urge to put other people first.

According to a 2017 "Women's Wellness Report" from Everyday Health, which studied 3,000 women from ages 25 to 65 in the U.S., 76 percent of women said they were were more likely to put their own personal needs after someone else's. However, more than half of the participants said that taking time for themselves was the greatest factor in achieving wellness. (Disclosure: Mashable and Everyday Health are owned by the same company, Ziff Davis.)

"You can’t be the best you in any other
contexts if you’re not taking care of yourself."

"It’s essential for your mental health and your physical health," Williams said, noting that self-care is anything but selfish. "You can’t be the best you in any other contexts if you’re not taking care of yourself."

"I heard someone say that it's like putting on your own oxygen mask in an airplane emergency before putting one on a child," added Crystal Park, another professor at the University of Connecticut's Department of Psychological Sciences.

"The healthier and more resilient we are, the more effective we can be in our lives."

Heading into 2018 with some solid self-care guidelines will help you better manage your stress and survive whatever challenges are in store, so here are a few to keep in mind.

Don't be afraid to take a mental health day

Your mental health is important, but it's also extremely easy to ignore. When your job gets too overwhelming or events in your personal life prevent or distract you from doing your best work in the office it's time to take a step back.

For inspiration, look no further than one of 2017's viral personal tales: the story of Olark CEO Ben Congleton advocating for his employee after learning she'd taken time off for mental health reasons.

After Congleton's understanding email sparked discussion about mental health in the workplace, he wrote a post on Medium further emphasizing the need to normalize it.

When you are at work, take additional steps to make your environment a place of comfort. Personalize your desk with a plant, a framed photo of something that makes you smile, or set the mood with a tiny lamp.

And every so often, book a conference room for lunch with your coworkers to share pizza and a cake you buy for the sole reason of craving cake. Work will still be there when your lunch break ends, but taking time to clear your head is crucial.

Give social media and screens a rest

Social media usage often starts with the intention of getting caught up on current events and quickly spirals into a black hole of negativity.

"So many people are plugged in and instantly alerted to everything that is happening in the news in ways that weren’t possible 10 years ago," said Dr. Carolyn Mazure, director of Women’s Health Research at Yale.

While platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have been proven to take a toll on self-esteem and mental health, social media isn't all bad.

Here are a few ways to make online communities safer spaces for you:

While it's healthy to disconnect from technology every so often, when you do have your phone by your side these tips can help make the experience more enjoyable.

Treat yourself, but treat others, too

No matter how small, make a daily attempt to treat yourself to an experience or a purchase that'll brighten your mood.

Get a pedicure or massage, take a hot bath, go for a walk around the block, go out with friends, or cancel plans to stay in on a Friday night to recharge and binge-watch mindless television, if that's what you need.

And while being good to oneself is key, Park noted "balance is important" in self-care, and making an effort to give back to others often helps people feel better. Consider volunteering, or clean out your closets and drawers to donate unwanted items to charity.

Put positivity on display

One form of self-care can be as simple as not being so hard on yourself all the time. It sounds simple, but it can be a serious challenge at times. Visual reminders can help.

When in doubt, turn to this handy self-care printable, titled "Everything is Awful and I'm Not Okay." The checklist presents 16 questions for you to answer and serves as a helpful reminder to stay hydrated, shower, participate in physical activity, and be kind to yourself.

Keep a copy of the printout in your bag for comfort or hang it somewhere you know you'll see it. (Mashable HQ has one on the wall of the women's restroom.)

Affirmations are another great way to be kind to yourself and can serve as help. Glancing at inspirational quotes, uplifting doodles, or a few words of positivity can lift your spirits. The Mashable women's restroom also has a few on display. (Very good restroom.)

Don't be afraid to ask for help

Though the term self-care sounds like an isolated practice, it doesn't have to be.

If you're someone who struggles to commit to individual self-care routines, or simply takes enjoyment from the company of others, spending time with and opening up to a friend, loved one, therapist, or even reaching out to the 741741 Crisis Text Line could be extremely beneficial.

Just know that you're not alone in your stress and professionals are out there to help.

"Certainly, if possible, try to see a stressful situation as an opportunity to grow, and consider the power of reorienting how you confront a stressful situation when it arrives," Mazure said.

"Instead of thinking, 'Oh no, not again,' perhaps a good self-care perspective might be, 'I’ve seen stress before. I've got this.'"

If you want to talk to someone or are experiencing suicidal thoughts, text SOS to the Crisis Text Line at 741741 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Here is a list of international resources.

Self-help or self-improvement

Self-help or self-improvement refers to self-guided improvement—economically, intellectually, or emotionally—most frequently with a substantial psychological or spiritual basis.

The basis for self-help is often self-reliance, publicly available information, or support groups where people with similar problems join together. From early exemplars in self-driven legal practice and home-spun advice, the connotations of the phrase have spread and often apply particularly to education, business, psychological or psychotherapeutic nostrums, purveyed through the popular genre of self-help books and through self-help personal-development movements. According to the APA Dictionary of Psychology, potential benefits of self help groups that professionals may not be able to provide include friendship, emotional support, experiential knowledge, identity, meaningful roles, and a sense of belonging. Any health condition can find a self help method or group such as parents of the mentally ill. But there are limits and these methods do not work for everyone. As well as experienced long time members sharing experiences with a similar practical problem such as finances of a health problem, these health groups can become lobby groups and educational material clearing houses. Those who help themselves by learning about health problems are helping themselves through self help. But self help in this context is often really peer-to-peer support.

When Is It Time to Stop Trying to Fix Ourselves

Taking the leap that is self-acceptance.

Are you a self-help junkie?

Even if you don’t have a stack of books on your bedside table detailing the newest ways to fix yourself, you still might be. And it wouldn’t be your fault if you were. Our conditioning from a very young age is to believe that we need to become better, new and improved versions of ourselves, even if at first we don’t know exactly how or why. But soon enough we have filled in the why's with our shortcomings and failures, and self-help provides the how-to's with unending methods for self-correction. Armed with our story of deficiencies firmly in place and a surplus of paths toward improvement, we set off on our life mission—namely, becoming someone else. And we are proud of, and celebrated for, this mission. Growing and evolving, becoming a better person—it all sounds so virtuous. Who would turn down such an opportunity?

And yet, growing and evolving are too often code words for what is really "fixing" or correcting our basic unworthiness. From the time we are young, we are infiltrated with the belief that the basic problem underlying all other problems is, put simply, us. We are what’s wrong. As adults, we search the globe for the right teacher; we attend seminars, buy books, hire coaches, consult shamans, and everything else under the sun—all in an effort to make ourselves into something good enough or maybe just enough.

But are we good enough for what or whom? Did you ever wonder?

If we boil it down, we keep fixing ourselves in the hopes that we can, finally, just be as we actually are. Once we're fixed, enough, worthy—whether that means more compassionate, more disciplined, or whatever shape our more's have formed into—then we'll be entitled to feel what we feel. We can think what we think, experience what we experience—in essence, be who we are.

The fear that fuels our self-betterment mission is the belief that we are, at our core, not what we should be: We're faulty, broken, unlovable, or some other version of not okay. To give ourselves permission to be who we are, to give up the mission for a better version of ourselves, would be tantamount to accepting our defectiveness and giving up all hope of fruition. And that, of course, would be unwise, naive, lazy, and a cop out. To suggest that we stop striving to be better than who we are is not just counterintuitive, but frightening and dangerous. Such a suggestion incites fear, scorn, anger, confusion, amusement, and an assumption of ignorance.

Self-help, while useful in certain ways, strengthens our core belief that we are inherently defective. Self-help starts with our defectiveness as its basic assumption, and then graciously offers to provide us with an unending stream of strategies by which to fix our defective core—which, once fixed, will award us the right to be who we are.

The problem is that the strategies keep us stuck in the cycle of fixing—and more important, in the belief that we are broken. If you notice, we never do become that person who is allowed to feel what we feel, and experience what we experience. We never do get permission to just be who and as we are.

This is where spirituality enters, and offers something radically different than self-help.

Most people think that spirituality and self-help are the same thing. They’re not. In fact, they are fundamentally different. We have tried to turn spirituality into self-help, another method for correcting ourselves, but to do so is to misunderstand and eradicate the most profound (and beneficial) teaching spirituality offers.

True spirituality is not about fixing ourselves spiritually or becoming spiritually better. Rather, it is about freedom from the belief of our unworthiness, and ultimately, about acceptance. Spirituality, practiced in its truest form, is about meeting who we really are, and allowing ourselves to experience life as we actually experience it.

In this way, it is more of an undoing than a doing.

In truth, we need to take the risk that it is to lean back into who we actually are. We need to do that before we even know that who we are will be enough, or even that there will be anything there to catch us. We need to relinquish our self-improvement plans before we believe that we have the right to stop improving. The whole thing—true spirituality—requires a kind of faith. It's not faith in a system, story, or methodology, but a faith that trusts that we can’t think our way into what we truly want. No matter what path we practice, there comes a point where we have to let go of the reins; when we have to give up the quest to be good enough.

What happens when we stop trying to change ourselves into something better is nothing like what we imagine: We envision stepping off the self-help train and landing smack inside someone incomplete and unsatisfactory. And yet in truth, the simple (but not easy) act of inviting ourselves into our own life has the effect of placing us at the center of something beautiful and extraordinary. Giving ourselves permission to be as we are miraculously creates a kind of love for ourselves—not so much for our individual characteristics, but for our being. It's not just for our being, but for the truth, whatever that is. It is as if whatever we find inside ourselves, whether we wish it were here or not, is okay and we are okay. Ultimately, we shift from trying to become lovable to being love itself. And amazingly, from this place, the not-enough person we thought we were has simply vanished, or more likely, never was.

Try it out for a moment—this moment. Just let yourself be. Give yourself permission to have the experience you are having, whatever it is, with no story about whether it is right or wrong, good or bad. Feel how you actually are. It’s that direct and that simple. No judgments allowed. It won’t make takes a leap.

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