A while back, I made a post that did nothing but detail the things I do to self soothe when I’m having a difficult time. They were generally minute and almost exclusively strange, at least compared to the common self-care suggestions of yoga, scented candles, bath bombs, and guided meditation. All of these things are just delightful, obviously, but they didn’t help me get a good idea of what might help me. It’s a personal process (fuck, ‘self’ is right there in the name) but the most available information is pretty well genericized.
I guess that’s what made me want to make that list: Finding value not in prescriptive “Here is what to do,” listicles, but in varied reports on “This is what I do.” It’s always worked with writing, and it eventually worked with the idea of treating myself like someone who matters. It can really help to have a wider, weirder view of how others solve a problem you’re facing.
So, here it is, an updated take on what I originally called The Anxiety List. The little things I do to make myself feel less bad when my brain wiring starts spitting and smoking.
-I soak or stand in a bath or shower so hot it’s just barely comfortable and therefore the most comfortable of all. It’s a distracting, absorbing exercise and a good excuse to lotion the bejeesus out of myself afterward.
-Speaking more generally, cleaning and caring for my body makes me feel better. I grew up in houses that got fumigated 2-3 times per year, so feeling clean does a lot for me.
-I eat cup ramen. Specifically, I will eat roast chicken flavored Maruchan Instant Lunch if it’s available.
-I listen to anime and tokusatsu soundtracks on infinite loop/rotation. Yes, I will just listen to one song for hours on end. No, ‘normal’ songs don’t work. When my therapist pops her head out of her office and finds me with my earphones on, I’ve always been listening to anime OSTs for the past 40 minutes or so.
-I walk or jog, often in alternation, until I’m too tired to be anxious anymore. This can take anywhere from ten minutes to three hours.
-I pack myself into warm clothes and socks and make myself into a blanket burrito at my desk because sometimes panic means vasoconstriction which means being very cold. Bonus: You are now a blanket burrito.
-I get myself out of the house for a couple hours and allow myself to ‘re-calibrate’ in a coffee shop or something. The nature of my trauma means I sometimes find it very hard to just. Stay in a residential building with people in it, so public actually feels safer and lets me sort of climb out of my guard tower.
-I listen to scary stories. Full disclosure: I can’t pin down whether this works because I gorged on ghost stories in the time of my life before things got Worst or because being vicariously scared starts and stops my adrenaline response instead of just letting it run forever. Anyway, Spotify gives you free access to The No Sleep Podcast if you can handle way too many sexual assault/woman murder as plot device stories, and a plenty classic stories if you can’t. I can’t. Screw that podcast. Sorry, tangent.
-I eat tiramisu. I eat tiramisu specifically because my friend bought it for me after they managed to tear half my toenail off while we were train watching. No, I don’t want to elaborate. Anyway, tiramisu tastes like knowing people care about me.
-I lie around saying ‘blood blood blood blood,’ in what I believe Alan Rickman’s voice sounds like. No, this isn’t a gag item to offset the gnarly toe story. I do this. I do this weird thing to help myself feel better. I can’t explain why, even to myself.
-I draw little faces on scrap paper in simple lines, starting with one random shape and constructing a face and expression from there. Before I got muscled out of visual arts by my mother’s vicarious obsession with my output, I used to doodle for hours. Now I do it because without any talent there’s no real expectation to meet beyond creating something broadly recognizable.
-Before you decide I’m better than you, consider this: I do indeed, with some frequency, just self-isolate and have a drink on my couch in the half-light. It’s just nice to sit and be comfy and read or listen to music while enjoying an indulgence for which you’ve adopted this little ritual. Maybe you want to eat chocolate in the dark instead. That’s also fine. Maybe you want to spark up a J on the roof. That’s also fine, but don’t tell anyone I told you that.
-I assign myself Missions to complete, which amounts to deciding that I must leave the house to accomplish some moderately specific, pointless task before the day is out. For example: Go to the Walgreens uptown and buy a candy bar and come back. It gets me dressed, it gets me moving around, and it lets me feel like I did something. That the missions are pointless, for whatever reason, does nothing to dull the exercise’s effectiveness. I always feel better.
-There’s abundant thinkpieces on how social media as a whole destroys your mental health and self esteem, but Instagram has been a go-to grounding and soothing device for me since 2012. This entire post (my little scrap paper friend aside) is illustrated in photographs from that same year taken during the week I last struggled with suicidal ambitions. It was an exquisitely rough time, and I found myself readily tumbling face first into taking photos in between the long bouts of writing work that would eventually support me for four years. Bear in mind, I was dead broke at the time and didn’t own a smartphone. I took photos on my aging LG Lollipop flip phone, emailed them to myself, and edited/posted them from the first generation Kindle tablet I’d gotten for Christmas. The process was a real help. I could settle in a coffee shop with my $2 ticket to loiter and go through my daily photos reminded that I was anchored in a present time outside my head. The unfeeling lens and software captured and preserved reality so that I could remind myself of it. And that reality, though frequently ramshackle, had a certain beauty to it.
As an aside: That LG Lollipop was my favorite phone I’ve ever, ever owned and my heart cracked in half when it died. Bring out cute, compact flip phones with physical keyboards that can run net and take photos like a new Samsung and I will throw my Android in the gar-BIHDGE.
-I drink coffee. You’d think it would make me more anxious, what with the brain-spinning effect of stimulants, but it doesn’t. If I wind my brain up enough, it becomes impossible for my hypervigilance to focus on things long enough for me to worry about them. Even if I can’t get my brain’s wheel reeling so fast no anxious thoughts can hold on, I have the ritual of making myself something tasty and warm to hold.
So there’s my list as it stands today. Will I update it later? Perhaps. If I do, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, be good to yourselves even if spa days don’t appeal to you.