Do you ever have those days when you feel worthless? When you feel repulsed by yourself and everything you do? Don’t worry: you’re not alone. From Winston Churchill to Abraham Lincoln, even the greats of history have had to face depression. Clinical depression may affect a small portion of the population, but for a lot of us depression in a colloquial sense (feelings of self-loathing, despair, hopelessness) is a worryingly familiar experience.
Young people are particularly affected, and there are all sorts of reasons for this. As a teenager, you’re vulnerable to black moods because your body is going haywire; hormones are zooming all over the place preparing you for adulthood, which can make you look a little awkward and feel deeply uncomfortable. Socially, your teen years are fraught with all sorts of peer-related woes, with the importance of fitting in peaking at a time when everyone feels aloof. With so much going on it’s no wonder teenagers are so at risk for developing mental health problems.
But all this fun isn’t limited to adolescence. We continue to be affected by self-doubts right into old age, when self-esteem seems to take a nose-dive – and the infamous “mid-life crisis” may be well-humoured by society, but for many adults it can be far more sinister. All this negativity really makes you wonder: why are we so hard on ourselves? Now, this is a bit of a philosophical question. There are many possible answers. The Buddhists would tell you we suffer because we have all these unruly desires that we cannot possibly satisfy; the Freudians might say it’s because the ego is constantly at war with the id and superego. And if you’re Nietzche, struggling against oneself is an inherent part of being human, a necessary process that gives life meaning. Take your pick of explanations. Because I’m lazy and lack a psychology degree, I’m going to take self-loathing as a given and answer a slightly different question: what might help us like ourselves?
Self-help advice can get really damn patronising. Don’t worry – I’m not going to tell you to “look on the brightside” or “keep your chin up”. Everyone knows that the old positive-psychology, think-yourself-happy waffle doesn’t cut it when you’re genuinely feeling low. Instead, I want to share a few tips and tricks I’ve put in place for myself (often with the help of others, including professionals) that stop me crashing and burning in peaks and troughs. The key is to be active in your self-care: don’t limit yourself to a bubble bath once a month. Being aware of what triggers your low points and crafting a lifestyle that enables you to cope will make the world of difference.
So here are a few ways I’ve found of building self-care into my life. Of course everyone is different so these may not be an appropriate fit for you, but I hope at least to spark a few ideas. Any suggestions are welcome, just pop them in the comments below!
1. Streamline your social media
Body-positive, sex-positive, think-positive – you name it, I probably follow it. And anything that makes me feel bad about myself? You guessed it: unfollowed. This isn’t about me trying to “shelter” myself from harsh realities. I am aware there are things about myself I need to work on, like my tendency to feel responsible for the entire world. But just because I have flaws doesn’t mean I need to be reminded of them all the time. Social media once played a big part in whittling away my self-esteem. From “thin-spo”/”fit-spo”/”clean” bloggers on Tumblr to ignorant people on Facebook to the Instagram feeds of the rich and famous – all of these things can trigger self-criticism and feelings of worthlessness. So now I’m strict with my social media. I don’t spend hours and hours online and I don’t follow people who I know will make me feel bad about myself. Instead, I follow people who uplift and inspire me. A few personal favourites are bodyposipanda, omgkenzieee and the Sorry About Last Night comedy duo, who produce a weekly sex-positive podcast called Guys We Fucked. Again, to make things super-duper-soaked-it-in-Cillit-Bang-clear, streamlining your social media isn’t about being a coward. It’s about removing unnecessary negativity and making informed choices about what’s good for you. I do believe that’s actually quite brave.
2. Cut out poisonous people
Easier said than done, I know. But once you’ve done it, processed it and moved on, you won’t believe what you used to put up with from folks. Trimming your social circle to remove unhelpful people from your life is not cruel. It’s incredibly self-preserving and affirming. Whether it’s partners who demand too much of you, friends who spread nasty rumours, or family members who bully you for not meeting their expectations, choosing to step back from those relationships will do you the world of good. Granted, knowing who is bad for you is not always simple. People are complex; it’s very rare to find someone who is absolutely a bad person. Even if someone is a mostly good person, sometimes the combination of you and them creates something toxic; a relationship is after all more than the sum of its parts. But if someone is perpetually bringing you down, if you consistently feel like spending time with them is making you feel worse about yourself than you otherwise would, this is pretty concrete evidence that a relationship isn’t healthy. Take steps to protect yourself by easing up on the amount of time you spend with or talk to that person. It may be painful and you may feel like you’re hurting them. But you do deserve better. Letting go is the first step towards finding greater things, and people who make you feel a million dollars.
3. Guard your me-time like a lioness guards her cubs
If you’re anything like me, you’ll have a hard time believing that L’oreal might just be right: you really are “worth it”. Taking care of yourself is not something to be taken lightly. Sometimes it can feel like you’re too busy to indulge, but me-time doesn’t have to be a whole day at the spa each week. Building regular, small spaces into your schedule reserved for doing things that make you feel energised and at peace is a sustainable way of keeping stress at bay. In the long run, it’s better to invest in half an hour a day or a few hours a week exclusively for yourself than to plough through and slam face-first into a wall. You are not a machine. You are a human being who needs to stop every now and then. And actually, even machines need a break – anyone who owned a computer back in the halcyon days of Windows XP knows that if you ask too much of a machine, it will crash. So work out what replenishes you and make sure you do it often. For me, that means being creative. I carve out blocks of time to go to dance classes, read for pleasure, see plays and films – anything that turns off my rational brain for a while. You might hate the theatre and find dance mortifying. And that’s totally fine! Find what works for you and run with it. You really do deserve it.