Tea is a soothing Winter drink, and it can have pretty miraculous healing properties. Did you know the teabag you choose can give you a unique result? Whether your goal is calming down, perking up, or recovering, there’s a tea for that.
We asked tea expert Kristina Richens — a director at The Republic of Tea, certified tea specialist from Front Range Herbal Institute, and speaker from the SF International Tea Festival — to share what she’s learned from her travels to China, India, Japan, and South Africa. She spoke about which teas you should brew up for each time of the day, as well as which ones help with certain physical goals (even if your goal is just to fall asleep!).
Supercharge Your Morning: Black or Green Tea. The caffeine content with L-theanine (present in these teas) will give you a calm state of alertness.
Get Through an Afternoon Slump: Green Tea With Ginkgo Biloba. Kristina told us that green tea can enhance performance, while ginkgo biloba can keep your memory sharp.
Reduce Stress and Anxiety: Green Tea, Lavender, or Chamomile. Time to unwind. “Chamomile and lavender are known as nerve-soothers and calming herbs,” she said. Lavender and lavender oil are great ingredients to look for when relieving anxiety, and green tea and matcha also promote relaxation.
Snooze Soundly: Chamomile or Valerian. Soothing and mellowing chamomile and valerian root will help you slip into a peaceful slumber. Valerian root, referred to as nature’s Valium, is a common ingredient in sleep supplements thanks to its relaxing properties. “Valerian is also great for drinking before bed as it won’t interfere with REM sleep,” Kristina said.
Slim Down: Dandelion or Peppermint. Dandelion has been said to help eliminate excess water weight, as well as aid in digestion — a key component in weight loss. “Dandelion’s use traces back to the 10th century when Arabian physicians revered the root for its cleansing properties and as a natural aid for digestion,” she said. Peppermint tea can help curb your appetite and support digestion as well. In herbal blends, Kristina says to look for ingredients like “gymnema leaves, which are known as the ‘destroyer of sugar’ in Ayurvedic medicine,” and “cordyceps, a Chinese medicinal herb, [which] may boost energy and endurance, and can help rev up your internal engine and increase metabolism.”
Clear Skin: Rooibos or Green Tea. Antioxidant-packed rooibos and green tea can both help alleviate acne, pimples, sunburns, and uneven skin.
Soothe an Upset Stomach: Dandelion or Ginger. The dandelion root is a natural aid for digestion and has cleansing properties, while ginger root is known to settle a stomach in all its forms.
Has something been bothering you lately? This might be why you’re having dreams about bugs. Insect-related dreams are very common, and they are definitely symbolic of events happening in your life. If you’re having these sorts of visions when you fall asleep, you should know what they mean.
If you are having dreams with ants, bees, beetles, cockroaches, or spiders in them, it means that something in your life is really bothering you. Whether you’re trying to kill a bug or get away from one or they are crawling all over you, this all has a similar meaning. You have been annoyed by something in your personal or professional life and you can’t seem to make it go away. You really want the irritation to stop, but it feels like it’s no longer in your control.
Alternatively, if you are dreaming about caterpillars or butterflies, it could mean that there is something you’re dying to say or do, and it’s building up inside of you. You want the relief of being free to say and do as you please but right now isn’t a good time to do so. You have to wait until it’s appropriate to take action, and all this waiting is on your mind.
No matter what kind of bug dreams you’re having, just know that it’s very normal. Don’t let it worry you. People have these sorts of visions at night all the time.
You’ve seen these people. You’ve been around them. You may have even encountered them directly. They stand inside elevators, staring at you as you race toward the doors closing in your face. They don’t talk; they dictate. They don’t conversate; they interrogate. Dread is their wardrobe. Agitation, their favorite color. Goodwill flees when they enter a room. Although talking to them for 30 seconds is like taking a 10-mile hike on a rocky road in wet stilettos, you can neutralize toxic people. You just have to identify which type of pestilent personality you’re dealing with—and then follow these steps to inoculate yourself from their effects.
Type I: The Toxically Infused
People like this likely spent much of their formative years in environments (households, schools, neighborhoods) where social interactions were often abrasive and contentious. The volume knob for conversations turned from loud to yelling. Patience had a brief life expectancy, and courtesy was virtually extinct. For the Toxically Infused, corrosive communication has become habitual and ingrained. Convulsive exchanges are their normal engagement. They simply don’t interpret their conduct as being flagrant and unseemly.
Behaviors: talking loudly in public spaces, imposing on and interrupting conversations, unmannerly speech, inappropriate comments, gratuitous profanity.
The Inoculation: Firm guidance. To defuse the infused, you’ll need to think like an uncompromising mentor. The Toxically Infused have not been taught or exposed to the ways of civil etiquette. They have no concept of an “inside speaking voice” and are bluntly unskilled in tact and diplomacy. If you demonstrate you are well intentioned rather than demeaning, they will often act upon the opportunity for self-improvement.
Inform with insight. Metaphors and analogies are great for giving someone a reference model for conduct. For example, if someone nearby is talking loudly and refuses a request to tone it down because they don’t think it’s a big deal, try this comparison: “I get that, but let me ask you something: Does it bother you when someone blows cigarette smoke in your face? Talking loudly around others can have a similar effect on them.”
Type II: The Toxically Complicit
People like this know acceptable standards of conduct. They realize mocking and bullying are bad behaviors but participate in them, cashing in their principles for advancement. The Toxically Complicit view themselves as doing what’s needed to survive (and sometimes thrive), and they rarely reflect on or are censured for their insensitivity.
Behaviors: gossiping, status-seeking opportunism, double-dealing hypocrisy, shunning and excluding individuals, condoning by silent consent.
The Inoculation: Demonstrate character. The Toxically Complicit have a moral compass; they just stick it in their pockets and follow the crowd. Be the North Star. Redirect them. Challenge them on being enablers and practitioners of mistreatment, and make their doing so a deal breaker for your respect, rapport and reciprocation.
Give them a moment, and then make your position clear: “You can be someone who steps on people or someone who stands up for them. I’ll walk away from you on one, but with you on the other.”
Type III: The Toxically Insurgent
People like this need to be equipped with warning signs blinking from their foreheads. Sirens should sound when they are within range. They are belligerent by choice, staunchly believing the Machiavellian adage “It is better to be feared than to be loved.” Disparaging others is like breathing to them—they need to do it to feel alive. No one feels good around them. Everyone wants to avoid them. The Toxically Insurgent keep the threat of a blindside attack at DEFCON level. And like a lead-encased room designed to be impervious to nuclear radiation, their “logic” is equally impenetrable to kindness and sensibility.
Behaviors: soapboxing, condescension, being judgmental, abusive and inappropriate comments, undermining and embarrassing others, hijacking credit for other people’s ideas and work, spitefully withholding information to sabotage.
The Inoculation: Sin aire, no existe—without air, it doesn’t exist. The Toxically Insurgent act with a scorched-earth policy, so learn to snuff out or douse.
Fire cannot burn without oxygen, so don’t give them any. Your reactions and rebuttals are the air this type needs to sustain their flames. Completely refuse to respond to or accommodate them in any way, including isolating them from others whenever possible, unless and until they can conduct themselves with civil consideration. This is like putting a jar over a candle. Poof. Second, be direct, be decisive and then dismiss. Frankly state, with flame-retardant austerity, your objections to their conduct, and document every exchange. Clearly list what your next steps (consult HR protocol) will be to critically curtail their interaction with you.
Do not let toxic people infect your demeanor, morale or self-esteem. With a little know-how, you can boost your psychic immunity against them.
The stem cells in our teeth can be energized to fill in chips, cracks, and cavities, researchers say, and the findings could one day make dental cement obsolete.
The work has been conducted just in mice so far, but the research, published Monday in the journal Scientific Reports, highlights a way to motivate stem cells to repair tooth defects at a scale they normally can’t, with a drug that already has some safety testing behind it.
It also demonstrates the potential of a type of stem cell therapy in which the cells are stimulated in place, rather than taken out, manipulated, and put back in.
“We’re mobilizing stem cells in the body and it works,” said Paul Sharpe, a researcher at King’s College London and an author of the new paper. “If it works for teeth, chances are it could work for other organs.”
Experts not involved with the work noted that while it is in early stages, the simplicity of the approach should ease its path into the next phases of research that show whether it might produce the same results in people.
“These important steps close down the translational gap and bring this discovery a step closer to future clinical applications,” Dr. Vanessa Chrepa, a researcher at the University of Washington, wrote in an email. “This work will hopefully set the stage for clinical studies in the near future.”
When teeth lose some of their dentin — the bony tissue beneath the enamel that makes up the bulk of the tooth — the stem cells tucked deep inside mount a recovery effort and manufacture new dentin (which is also spelled dentine). The problem, Sharpe said, is that the natural repair mechanism can only regrow small amounts of dentin and can’t make up all that is lost when a tooth suffers a serious injury, contracts a major infection, or takes on the sharp end of a dentist’s drill.
“We’re mobilizing stem cells in the body and it works.”
Because of the limits of the teeth’s ability to repair themselves, dentists have to fill or seal teeth to prevent further infection and degradation. But dental cement also prevents the tooth from ever returning to its natural, pearly white self.
Sharpe and his team have been trying to understand how the natural repair mechanism works in hopes of converting that understanding into a way to super-power it. As part of their research, they discovered that a group of molecules called glycogen synthase kinase inhibitors (or GSK-3 inhibitors) boosts the stem cells’ ability to stimulate production of dentin beyond what normally occurs.
For the new study, the researchers drilled tiny holes into mice’s molars to expose the tooth’s pulp, where the stem cells live. They then inserted collagen sponges that had been soaked in one of three types of GSK-3 inhibitors and covered the tooth.
After six weeks, the researchers removed the teeth and found that the sponges had dissolved and the lost dentin had mostly been regenerated.
“They’ve harnessed the signaling pathway that promotes natural repair,” said Megan Pugach, a researcher at the Forsyth Institute in Cambridge, Mass., and at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, who was not involved with the research.
Sharpe and his team are now conducting similar studies in rats to make sure the approach can generate enough dentin to fill in larger holes in larger teeth before trying to study the method in people. But two aspects of the approach could help ease its path into clinical trials.
First, the researchers used collagen sponges that are already commercially available and are shown to be safe. Secondly, one of the GSK-3 inhibitors they used, called Tideglusib, has been tested in people as a possible therapy for Alzheimer’s disease, meaning it is already shown to be safe in higher doses than what the researchers would incorporate into the sponge.
“In terms of getting that into the clinic, we can make a huge leap,” Sharpe said.
Sharpe and other researchers around the world have been studying if and how teeth stem cells could be used to regenerate a whole tooth, possibly one day replacing dentures or implants. But teeth are complex organs, with both hard and soft tissue, so that goal remains further away.
Because this approach is just focused on dentin, “it’s a bit more low-hanging fruit,” Sharpe said. But this study also adds to the possibility of stem cell therapies, which are much hyped, but for the most part have yet to be developed into validated treatments.
“This is a very clear, simple demonstration that with basic knowledge of what happens normally in the body, you can design something that can enhance that,” he said.
Since there’s no such thing as spot reduction, simply planking like your life depends on it won’t help you lose belly fat. Combining cardio and strength work in the form of high-intensity interval training, however, will, says Elyse Miller, the certified personal trainer who created these routines. (Miller is all about quick, no-equipment fitness—aka our kind of trainer.) Research shows that when your exercise sessions include bursts of all-out work, you lose more belly fat (in addition to all-over body fat) than if you’d worked at a lower but steadier intensity. And did we mention that these workouts take about 10 minutes each? You’re welcome, time-crunched women of the world!
Doing HIIT every single day isn’t recommended (your muscles need some R&R so they can properly rebuild, and doing intense exercise every day can increase your risk of overuse injuries), so Miller suggests capping your HIIT sessions at four per week, plus two steady-state cardio sessions and a rest day.
Here’s your schedule:
Monday/Day 1: Workout 1 Tuesday/Day 2: Workout 2 Wednesday/Day 3: 20- to 30-minute jog, or speed-walk Thursday/Day 4: Workout 3 Friday/Day 5: Workout 5 Saturday/Day 6: 20- to 30-minute jog, or speed-walk Sunday/Day 7: Rest!
For the Workouts Do each exercise for 20 to 30 seconds, rest for 10 seconds then move on to the next exercise. (When you’re doing a single-leg, or single-side, move, do 20 to 30 seconds on each side before moving on to the next exercise.) Repeat the entire circuit two times. You can bump up the intensity by moving faster, while still maintaining good form, of course.
Run in place, bringing your knees up high and pumping your arms.
Get in a plank position, with your feet hip-distance apart. Pull one knee in toward your chest and continue to quickly alternate knees while keeping your upper body in a steady plank position—don’t let your lower back sag toward the ground.
Make it harder: Do a cross-body mountain climber, bringing your knees across your body as though you’re trying to touch your opposite elbow.
Lunge with a Twist
Lunge forward, bending your front leg to 45 degrees and keeping your back leg straight and your back flat. Your hands should be in front of your chest in prayer position. Twist from your core and reach your hands toward the outside of your front foot. Rise back to starting position and repeat.
Front/Back Frog Hops
Stand with legs slightly wider than shoulder-width apart; squat down, pushing your butt out behind you, and touch the ground between your legs. Then hop up and forward, repeat the squat-floor touch, hop up and back and repeat. As you’re going through the move, don’t let your back arch or round when you try to touch the floor in the squat. Hinge forward from your hips instead.
Make it easier: If this is too hard on your knees, take the hop out and simply squat, touch the floor and repeat.
Lay on your back with your legs straight and your hands behind your head. Raise your legs so your feet hover just above the floor. Bring one knee up and in toward your chest, lifting your shoulders off the floor and twisting your torso so your opposite elbow and knee meet. Alternate side-to-side. Your lower back should feel glued to the floor. If you feel it starting to arch, lift your legs higher off the floor.
Stand with your feet together and your hands on your hips. Jump your feet out wide and squat down, pressing your butt and hips back out behind you. Jump your feet back together and straighten your legs, then repeat.
Lay on your back with your arms over your head. Engage your core to raise your legs and upper body simultaneously, reaching your hands toward your toes so your body forms a “V”. Lower your legs and upper body back to the floor and repeat. You want to keep your lower back in contact with the floor throughout the move—keep your legs raised a little higher off the floor if you need to.
Make it easier: Keep your feet on the floor with your knees bent and perform a standard crunch while reaching your hands toward your heels. Make sure your abs are doing the work (not your neck) by lifting your chest up to the ceiling as you crunch.
Stand with your feet together. Hop straight up into the air while swinging your arms up to add momentum. Tuck your knees into your body in the air (let them naturally separate to hip-width-distance apart as you jump), then land back on the ground with knees slightly bent and feet together. Repeat. Make it easier: If the tuck is too much, just do the jump, as if you’re jumping rope.
Stand with your feet together, hands on your hips. Take one large step forward so your legs are crossed as though you’re about to do a curtsy. Lunge down in that position, rise back up to starting position and repeat.
Side-to-Side Wood Choppers
Stand with your feet together and hands directly overhead, palms together. Hop to the right with feet together, lowering your hands and reaching to touch the outside of your right foot. Hop to the left, reaching your hands overhead, then lowering your hands to touch the outside of your left foot.
ABCs (Abs, Buns, Chest)
Lay on your back and do two crunches, lifting your chest to the ceiling to avoid straining your neck. Roll forward and up a to standing position with your feet wide and do two squats. Place your hands on the ground and pop your feet back into a plank. Do two pushups (lower to your knees if you need to). Hop back to standing and do two squats before lowering your back to a flat position, where you’ll start the sequence over again. Don’t rush this move—go slowly until you get the hang of it, then gradually speed up once you’ve got your form down.
Make it harder: Instead of a regular squat, do jump squats, where you hop up into the air between reps.
Marching Farmer Squats
Stand with your feet together and your arms hanging at your sides. Press your hips back and squat down, trying to touch your fingertips to the floor. Rise up, by pressing through your heels and squeezing your glutes. Lift one knee to hip height, return your foot back to the floor and drop back down into the squat. Rise up and lift the opposite knee to hip height and continue alternating knees as you squat.
Get into a plank position. Hop both feet forward toward your hands, so you’re in a crouching position, with hands still on the ground. Immediately spring back into a plank position and repeat. Make it easier: Hold a strong, stationary plank instead.
Stand with your feet together and arms at your sides. Drop into a slight squat and spring up into the air while extending your arms and legs outward into a star shape. Land softly, knees slightly bent, with legs back together and arms at your sides. Repeat.
Get into a side-plank position, with your elbow directly below your shoulder. Try to maintain a straight line from your shoulders to your feet, so that your hips don’t drop.
Make it harder: Add outer thigh lifts by raising your top leg up and down while holding the plank.
Get into a standard lunge position, with both knees bent at 90 degrees and your back knee an inch, or two, off the floor. As you rise out of the lunge, jump up and switch legs in the air then land with the opposite leg in front. Lunge again and repeat. Don’t let your front knee go past your toes in the lunge position.
Make it easier: You can take the hop out and simply do continuous lunges on one leg before switching to the other side.
Stand in an athletic position with your knees slightly bent. Jump to the right, landing on your right foot, and cross your left leg behind your right ankle, softly tapping the ground with your left foot. Repeat the movement to the left, naturally pumping your arms for momentum as you jump back and forth.
Squat with Thigh Kick
Stand with legs slightly more than shoulder-width apart. Squat down, pushing your butt and hips back, so your knees are bent to 90 degrees. Rise up, pushing through your heels and squeezing your glutes. Lift one leg up and out to the side. Bring your leg down and squat again. Repeat, alternating legs for the side lift.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Lower down into a squat, place your hands on the floor in front of your feet and kick your legs back into a plank position. Do one pushup (go to your knees if you need to). Hop your feet forward, stand up and jump straight up into the air. Repeat.
Make it easier: Take out the pushup or the jump.
Make it harder: Jump into a star position (arms and legs extended out to your sides) instead of a straight jump.
Seated Leg Lifts
Sit on the floor with your legs extended straight out in front of you and your back completely straight. Hug one knee into your chest and lift the other leg about 12 inches off the ground. Slowly lower the leg, lightly tapping your foot to the ground, and repeat. Try not to let your upper back hunch forward.
Dr. Travis BradberryAuthor of #1 bestselling book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, and president of TalentSmart, world’s leading provider of emotional intelligence.
Happiness comes in so many different forms that it can be hard to grasp. Unhappiness, on the other hand, is easy to identify; you know it when you see it, and you definitely know when it’s taken ahold of you.
And let’s face it, happiness and work do not always go hand in hand. A 2013 Gallup study, which reported data from more than 180 million people, found that just 13% of us consider ourselves to be “happily engaged at work.”
Those who do rate themselves as happy are 36% more motivated, six times more energized, and twice as productive as their unhappy counterparts.
Happiness actually has less to do with your circumstances than you might think. A University of Illinois study found that people who earn the most (more than $10 million annually) are only a smidge happier than the average Joes and Janes who work for them, and psychologists from the University of California found that genetics and life circumstances only account for about 50% of a person’s happiness. The rest is up to you.
Life circumstances have little to do with happiness because much happiness is under your control—the product of your habits and your outlook on life. Happiness is synthetic—you either create it, or you don’t.
When it comes to making yourself happy, you need to learn what works for you. Once you discover this, everything else tends to fall into place. And making yourself happy doesn’t just improve your performance; it’s also good for your health.
A critical skill set that happy people tend to have in common is emotional intelligence (EQ). At TalentSmart, we’ve tested the EQs of more than a million people and know what makes high EQ people tick. So, we went digging until we found some great ways that emotionally intelligent people create their own happiness.
1. They don’t obsess over things they can’t control. It’s good to know how the Brexit might affect your country’s markets or that your company could merge with its largest competitor, but there’s a big difference between understanding these larger forces and worrying about them. Happy people are ready and informed, but they don’t allow themselves to fret over things that are beyond their control. 2. They choose their battles wisely. Emotionally intelligent people know how important it is to live to fight another day. In conflict, unchecked emotion makes you dig your heels in and fight the kind of battle that can leave you severely damaged and unhappy for some time to come. When you read and respond to your emotions, you’re able to choose your battles wisely and only stand your ground when the time is right.
3. They get enough sleep. I’ve beaten this one to death over the years and can’t say enough about the importance of sleep to improving your mood, focus, and self-control. When you sleep, your brain literally recharges, removing toxic proteins that accumulate during the day as byproducts of normal neuronal activity. This ensures that you wake up alert and clear-headed. Your energy, attention, and memory are all reduced when you don’t get enough quality sleep. Sleep deprivation also raises stress hormone levels on its own, even without a stressor present. Happy people make sleep a priority, because it makes them feel great and they know how lousy they feel when they’re sleep deprived.
4. They heed their moral compass. Crossing moral boundaries in the name of success is a sure-fire path to unhappiness. Violating your personal standards creates feelings of regret, dissatisfaction, and demotivation. Know when to stand your ground and express dissent when someone wants you to do something that you know you shouldn’t. When you’re feeling confused, take some time to review your values and write them down. This will help you to locate your moral compass. 5. They exercise during the week. Getting your body moving for as little as 10 minutes releases GABA, a soothing neurotransmitter that also limits impulsivity. A University of Bristol study showed that people who exercised on workdays reported improvements in time management, mood, and performance. The benefits of exercise always outweigh the time lost in its pursuit. 6. They have a growth mindset. People’s core attitudes fall into one of two categories: a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. With a fixed mindset, you believe you are who you are and you cannot change. This creates problems when you’re challenged, because anything that appears to be more than you can handle is bound to make you feel hopeless and overwhelmed. People with a growth mindset believe that they can improve with effort. This makes them happier because they are better at handling difficulties. They also outperform those with a fixed mindset because they embrace challenges, treating them as opportunities to learn something new. 7. They clear the clutter. I don’t need to remind you of how much time you spend at work. Take a good look at your workspace. You should create a space that’s soothing and uplifting. Whether it’s a picture of your family, a plant, or an award that you’re proud of, display them prominently to keep them on your mind. Get rid of the junk and clutter that hold no significance and do nothing positive for your mental state. 8. They lend a hand. Taking the time to help your colleagues not only makes them happy, but it also makes you happy. Helping other people gives you a surge of oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine, all of which create good feelings. In a Harvard study, employees who helped others were 10 times more likely to be focused at work and 40% more likely to get a promotion. The same study showed that people who consistently provided social support were the most likely to be happy during times of high stress. As long as you make certain that you aren’t overcommitting yourself, helping others is sure to have a positive influence on your happiness. 9. They let their strengths flow. A University of Chicago study of peak performance found that people who were able to reach an intense state of focus, called flow, reaped massive benefits. Flow is the state of mind in which you find yourself completely engrossed in a project or task, and you lose awareness of the passage of time and other external distractions. Flow is often described as an exhilarating state in which you feel euphoria and mastery simultaneously. The result is not just happiness and productivity but also the development of new skills through a heightened state of learning. The key to reaching flow lies in organizing your tasks such that you have immediate and clear goals to pursue that play to your strengths. As you begin working on these tasks, your focus increases along with your feelings of adequacy. In time, you reach a flow state, in which productivity and happiness flourish. Set clear goals each day and experiment with task order until you find the secret formula that gets you flowing. 10. They believe the best is yet to come. Don’t just tell yourself that the best is yet to come—believe it. Having a positive, optimistic outlook on the future doesn’t just make you happier; it also improves your performance by increasing your sense of self-efficacy. The mind has a tendency to magnify past pleasure to such a great degree that the present pales in comparison. This phenomenon can make you lose faith in the power of the future to outdo what you’ve already experienced. Don’t be fooled. Believe in the great things the future has in store. Bringing It All Together
Applying these strategies won’t just improve your happiness at work; most of them will also improve your emotional intelligence. Pick those that resonate with you and have fun with them.
What makes you happy? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below, as I learn just as much from you as you do from me.
In social work, “self-care” is one of those terms that is so overused, it has ceased to mean anything. Typically when self-care is referenced, the speaker is referring to activities and experiences that bring you pleasure. “The work in this field is really tough. You have to practice self-care. Go to a yoga class. Take a walk on a sunny day. Protect your leisure time. Get a mani-pedi. Soak in a bubble bath. Treat yo’self.”
Pleasure is great, and it is important. During seasons when I am depressed, I force myself to indulge in pleasure as though it were a lifeline, because it is. Most likely, there is actual theory and clinical principles behind this, but I’m no clinician, so I can’t speak to that. Here’s my interpretation: feeling bad all day, every day, is exhausting. It’s not good for your body, or your heart, or your psyche. So when I reach day 3 of feeling sad and terrible, I force-feed myself pleasure, even though depression sucks all desire for fun and pleasure out of you. For me it feels similar to the way you might force yourself to eat a salad because you know it’s good for you, even though you may fucking hate eating salads. (I am doing that right now, by the way – eating a fucking salad. It is picture perfect, with local lettuce and beets, tomatoes, dried cranberries, with a lemon-balsamic vinaigrette. I hate it. I’m eating it anyway.
I thought I was doing this self-care thing the right way until November when it became obvious I was not. Yes, sometimes self-care looks like pleasurable activities, and in such cases, it is not so hard for me to get myself to do it. But if that were all that self-care entailed, I would not have found myself in the place I am in. I’ve been doing that kind of self-care for years with insufficient gains, so this leads me to believe my self-care regimen was incomplete.
What social workers and other people don’t often tell you is that self-care can be completely terrible. Self-care includes a lot of adult-ing, and activities you want to put off indefinitely. Self-care sometimes means making tough decisions which you fear others will judge. Self-care involves asking for help; it involves vulnerability; it involves being painfully honest with yourself and your loved ones about what you need.
I am reconstructing my ideas about what it means to take radically good care of myself. I am making it a priority, to the detriment of other priorities, because I have to come the realization that my life depends on it. I will tell the truth about my present self-care, even though I have zero assurances I am getting it right. Because a) getting it right is not the point (but God, do I love to get things right), and b) the other thing nobody tells you about self-care is that it’s nearly impossible to know if you’re doing it right, until months later when you either find yourself feeling better or shittier. Check in with me in June for an addendum.
TAKE CARE OF YOUR BODY.
Medical self-care is completely unglamorous. Is there anyone on the planet who enjoys going to the dentist? If I go to the dentist once every three years, I’m doing really well. Self-care is paper-gowned, bare-assed vulnerability, as you do the un-fun work of showing up for your Pap smear, mammogram, or enema. Medical self-care is particularly difficult for me when I am depressed and anxious. The depressive part of my brain doesn’t care if I’m sick because it can’t care about anything. The anxious part of my brain doesn’t want to make the doctor’s appointment because what if something is wrong, and what if the nurse is mean, and what if the doctor commits a microaggression, and what if I have to go to doctor’s appointments by myself for the rest of my life because I never find a partner? I’m almost 30, and I can no longer indulge the myth that I am invincible and I will never have physical health issues. Right now, self-care means getting the medical care I need, even if it is difficult and scary for me to accept I am a person who sometimes needs medical care.
In the past year, I have just been quitting shit left and right. Marathons. Jobs. Pet ownership. I hate quitting so much, I can’t even tell you. For a Type-A perfectionist who has always based my self-worth in my accomplishments and being perceived as a capable, self-reliant person, admitting I’m not well enough to do something, like work a full time job, is one of the most painful realities I can imagine. People talk about setting boundaries and avoiding over commitment as though it’s fun. That shit ain’t fun. It is not fun to sit in the office of your work supervisor and explain why you keep calling out sick. It is even less fun to finally suck it up and leave a job because you’re not well enough to work full time, even if you think you ought to be. Even if I have been before, I am not now, and self-care means being honest with myself and other people about that.
The painful self-care I am doing now is coming to terms with the fact that I have built my life around performing only the best parts of myself for other people, or performing for myself to project an image of who I would like to be. And it’s time to quit that shit. I hate it. I feel weak and lazy and dramatic and irresponsible. But I know deep down I am not any of those things, and regardless, it is the self-care I need to do. I can hate it and do it anyway. And maybe tomorrow, I’ll hate it a little bit less. And next week, I’ll hate it less still.
ASK FOR HELP.
In my experience, people talk about reaching out for help as though it is cathartic and will always be well received. The truth is it is scary and uncomfortable, and until you’ve done it, you have no assurance about how people will react. You would think it would be easier if you have strong loving relationships with your friends and family, but I am lucky enough to have all of that, and I still find asking for help completely terrifying and painful and shameful, even though it ought not be any of those things. Having loving parents means I worry about causing alarm. And if the people who love you are empathic people who pour intention into your relationship, it can feel really scary to let them into the dark places of your life, and own up to feelings of deep sadness or suicidal thoughts. For me, a person who is driven to please and to perform, and who has immensely loving friends and family, being honest about my depression causes a unique anxiety – fear that I will say, “I don’t want to live,” and people will hear, “your love is insufficient, and so insignificant to me that I’m willing to leave you.” This line of thinking binds me into a false choice between my pain and someone else’s: if I am honest about my pain, I will cause pain for the people I love; therefore asking for help is a bad choice. No. Reaching out has been necessary, and now that I’m on the other side of it, I’m glad I did, but it took a lot to overcome that line of thinking, and it certainly was not the pleasurable type of self-care.
Also, maybe there are some people in this world who have the ability to ask for help in a graceful and appropriate way. However, I do not possess that trait. My efforts at reaching out and asking for help have fallen in the center of an unattractive Venn diagram, the circles of which include a) clumsiness, b) histrionics, and c) mild disregard for other people’s needs and perspective. Asking for help is difficult on a good day, so when you’ve waited until you are the worst version of yourself before you try to do it, it’s not a pretty picture. You’ve gotta do it anyway, because self-care; it’s totally shitty.
TAKE CARE OF YOUR RELATIONSHIPS.
I believe there’s usually a lot of ugly shit at the root of our depression. Yes, it is a medical and physiological disorder, and I’m trying to unpack the stigma I didn’t know I had toward depression. But mental disorders and illness are never as simple as, “here, you need more of this chemical between your neurons.” Underneath the physiological processes, there is usually a ton of FOO (Family Of Origin) issues, some maladaptive coping, and some cognitive distortions surrounding your identity and your relationship to other people. Recovering from depression means confronting some of that shit and working through some it. (I say some, because baby steps.) Recovery means hard, honest conversations with your loved ones about what you need, and what you don’t need. It also means doing your best to love and support the people who are loving and supporting you, at the very least on your good days. Unfortunately, experiencing a major depressive episode does not suddenly make you the center of everyone’s universe or give you permission to be an asshole. Taking care of your relationships when you’re depressed or anxious can be hard. Not always, but sometimes. I am finding the only way to do this is through open, honest, direct communication. I am stumbling through it, and I am lucky enough to have people who are willing to stumble inelegantly along with me.
TAKE CARE OF YOUR BASIC NEEDS.
Pay your bills. Plain and simple. It’s necessary if one wants to continue living indoors. I can only speak for myself, so I’ll say that financial responsibility is really hard for me when I’m anxious or depressed. I don’t want to log in to my bank account because I’m afraid of judging myself for seeing how much money I’ve spent on eating out because cooking meals at home is too overwhelming a task. I’m forgetful and have trouble focusing, which means utility bills get paid at the last minute, and vehicle oil changes get done 1000 miles too late. Even though these things are hard to do when I’m depressed, I have to find ways to make them happen, even if it means asking for help or reminders.
If you’re doing these un-fun aspects of self-care, I’m proud of you. If you’re doing them, and you are sick, mentally or physically, or if you in a tough spot in whatever way in your life, I’m really, really proud of you because it’s not easy to do. If you’re not doing all of them, or you’re struggling in asking for help, or you’re struggling in quitting something you need to leave behind, I believe in you. It’s not fun or easy, and you can do it anyway