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3 Lessons About Self-Care I Learned the Hard Way

By Nick E.*

This week, one of our teen patients is taking over the blog in the first of several posts about self-care, gender identity and more.

Self-care is an incredibly important skill for everyone, but especially for people who are going through a stressful time or living with mental illness. Personally, it’s been one of the hardest things to work with on my own road to recovery from a particularly difficult time with mental illness.

Self-care means just what it sounds like: taking care of yourself. It can include everything from eating healthier to meditating to hanging out with your friends if you’re feeling lonely.

I know that my situation is unique to me, but I hope that some of the things that have helped me get through the harder times might be able to help someone like you, the wonderful person reading this, whenever you need to take some time to be your very best self.

1. Self-care isn’t just one time “and you’re done.”

When I first started actively taking a role in my own self-care, I remember being heavily discouraged whenever I didn’t see an immediate benefit from a single act of self-care, like mindfully involving myself in an activity or eating a little bit healthier for the day. Keep in mind that on the road to recovery, nothing is going to be as easy as just one-two-three and then you’re done–not your recovery, and not learning how to properly self-care. One act isn’t going to change your entire worldview or automatically make you feel better. If you want self-care to work for you long-term, your effort is going to have to be long-term, too. And that means committing to doing what works for you, whether that’s playing piano mindfully once a day or ensuring that you eat more than two filling meals each day.

2. Scheduling your self-care makes it easier.

An easy way to ensure that you stay on track with your self-care is to incorporate it into your daily routine. Try setting reminders on your phone or computer. Make the title of these alarms something positive or encouraging to help motivate you! Something that worked really well for me was making my reminders into cute jokes. I also told a trusted friend and partner about my goals. They would try to call me or send a message whenever I needed a reminder to work on my self-care, and would often times give me a little bit of encouragement to keep taking care of myself.

3. It’s best to start small and build up.

When I first started practicing self-care, I tried to start way too big. I recall trying to start out with a very, very extensive workout that was way too much for my (quite frankly) out of shape body. I couldn’t make it through even one rep of the workout, and afterward I tumbled down onto my bed in a sweaty mess, extremely discouraged. I could have hurt myself badly like that—it was the exact opposite of self-care.

When doing any kind of self-care, try not to go too big on your first, second, or even third time. Even less physically demanding acts of self-care can be too much if you dive in too quickly. If you’ve never meditated before and plan your first meditation session for an hour, for example, you’ll probably feel overwhelmed and discouraged from trying it again. Instead, build up to things in a slow, relaxed way to make it easier on you and your body. Overwhelming yourself, even with things that are meant to make you feel better, can hurt you just as much as neglecting yourself can! It’s always better to start small at first and gradually build to your goal.

That’s the end of my first installment for self-care tips, but stay tuned for more of these little posts! I hope you can put what I’ve learned to good use in your own lives—Go forth and be great!

Nick E.* is sixteen years old and writes about sexuality, gender, and mental health, among other topics. He also enjoys reading, and writing his own short fiction stories.

*Not the author’s real name.

The Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center is located in New York City. It provides comprehensive, confidential, judgment free health care at no charge to over 10,000 young people every year. This column is not intended to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or to any other individual, only general information for education purposes only.

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