"Crying Girl" by Roy Lichtenstein, 1963
If you can manage it, go to sleep.
Self-care isn’t always as simple as a bubble bath, and that’s OK. For many of the people who need it most, self-care can create a lot of stress simply by being yet another thing to do. As someone with chronic mental illnesses, I know that crises can really throw a wrench in your general self-care routine, leaving you feeling isolated and somehow a “failure” at managing your illness (spoiler alert: you’re not).
In the event of an emergency — be it a panic attack, an intense mood swing, or just a generally bad brain day — here are some acts of self-care you can do right exactly now to ground yourself and treat your brain with the love and care it deserves:
If you can manage it, go to sleep. This is a lot easier said than done, especially if your brain is in crisis mode. Breathing is the most common and obvious tip in steadying yourself for sleep — my favorite breathing technique is the 4-2-6. It’s the easiest to remember (4 + 2 = 6! Yay math!) and the perfect blend of simple and effective. Breathe in for four seconds, hold for two, and exhale for six. Do this until you feel calm. What you do while you practice this exercise is entirely up to you. Some people focus on counting, some assess their thoughts and feelings while they have their breathing under control, and some use the counts to tense and relax certain areas of the body as they wind down. If you are in an obsessive spiral and worry that counting out your breath will get you “stuck,” just follow the general pattern. Inhale. Hold. Exhale. Inhale. Hold. Exhale.
If breathing won’t do it, don’t worry! Do not pressure yourself to fall asleep. Avoid checking the time and try to maintain a restful position. The next best thing to sleeping is lying still with closed eyes, which is so close to the real deal that sometimes your brain can’t tell the difference.
It is hardly ever recognized that freaking out is a lot of hard work...
Not everyone has ready access to water, but for the many of us lucky folks who are just a faucet away from a steady stream, water is a miracle worker. Drink a full cup, even if you aren’t thirsty. In a mental health crisis, reality can be hard to come by, even when that reality is your own body. You probably need water. It is hardly ever recognized that freaking out is a lot of hard work, all with the added bonus of not being in a great position to replenish the resources you use up.
Water also includes showers and baths (for my OCD pals with hygiene compulsions, try a cold compress or heating pad, depending on what you think will help most), which can be Actual Lifesavers in the event of a mental health emergency. Keep the lights low — or off entirely — to limit stimuli, and enjoy a nice warm soak. Sometimes self-care is as simple as a bubble bath. Humans have a thing for water, having spent nine months in it and all. If there’s anything you take away from this list at all, let it be this: When in doubt, replicate a womb. For real. Y’all miss the uterus A LOT.
Family, friends, a crisis hotline. Even if you are not suicidal, you can call a crisis hotline. A lot of people, myself included, seem to worry about reaching out for help in the event of anything short of a life threatening emergency. It is important to remember that non-threatening emergencies can eventually escalate, especially if several of them pass unresolved. You can always reach out to someone for help. My twitter handle is @jenni__bee — DM me and I will call you/text you/send you a GIF of a baby sloth taking a bath. I’m here for you, and so are other people. It may not feel like it, but it is the truest thing ever. I promise.
The Internet is magical, and if you know how to use it, it can be an instant source of self-care. That baby sloth GIF I mentioned? It’s from a YouTube video (CLICK FOR A MILLION BABY SQUEEPS). I have a playlist on YouTube for just this sort of situation, and compiling it is an act of self-care in and of itself.
Ravishly's tumblr has a curated virtual "Self Care Package" filled with nice things from the Internet to cheer you up if you're feeling blue. If you're looking for a positive digital space and are unsure of where to go on this World Wide Web, we always have that cozy corner prepped just for you.
Which leads me to my final point: self-care is a process, something that takes care and time and a bit of preparation. Ideally, you treat yourself with kindness daily, engaging in acts of self-care that function as either a reminder to relax in the midst of everyday stresses, part of a life-saving regimen to sustain your mental well-being, or a little bit of both. I know that’s not always possible, and hope that in those moments, you can turn to this list for a little guidance. Self-care can seem daunting, especially if you have a mental illness and feel the pressure of such a long-term undertaking. But small steps, especially those you take while experiencing a crisis, are more than OK — they are absolutely incredible. Just like you.