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Have you ever had trouble maintaining personal care during low points in you mental illness?
I know have. At my lowest and most anxious, I just stopped eating. Showering became such a chore I didn’t want to do it. I let my hair and skin get dull, fuzzy and stringy. It even began to fall out. I pulled dirty clothes out of the hamper to wear instead of washing them.
It’s not something I’ve really talked about with anyone. No, it’s not easy to admit I let cleanliness go because of depression. But I think it’s important for others to hear.
Because it doesn’t mean you’re bad or a slob. It means you’re sick and trying to survive a serious mental illness. If more people talked about the personal care they let go when dealing with MH issues, we’d all soon realize we’re all in much the same boat.
Why Does Personal Care Tank When Your Mental Health is Low?
It’s all about spoons, man.
Seriously, to understand why personal care tanks when your mental health is low you have to know about Spoon Theory.
This theory, created by Invisible Illness activist Christine Miserandino, is a clever way to describe what happens to your energy when battling a chronic illness.
Basically it states that every action has an energetic cost attached to it (a spoon value). Some things like waking up and watching T.V. are low cost while others like showering and going to work are high cost.
People who don’t struggle with a chronic illness have lots of spoons (energy). But people who deal with something like depression day in and day out don’t have a lot of spoons to start with.
This is why personal care often takes a backseat during severe expressions of mental illness. Patients are using their already limited spoons just to survive. Eating, cleaning, exercising, and even getting dressed are unimaginable activities to those of us struggling to get through a day with MI.
Why is Personal Care so Important to Your Mental Health?
A flip side of the Spoon theory is this: engaging in certain activities can add spoons over time and make us feel better. Weirdly enough, those activities are many of the same ones that suck spoons in the first place.
Yep, that’s right. Personal care can take all our energy to do but we have to do it in order to feel better. Ironic isn’t it?
That aside, personal care is super important for your mental wellbeing. Exercise increases feel good hormones. Bathing makes you feel whole and human again. Eating a real meal helps regulate your blood sugar. Doing these things consistently over time adds up, paying out those spoons in dividends.
It’s getting to that point that’s the problem.
The Energetic Catch-22
Why is it so hard for many of us to get out of the struggle cycle?
It’s because of the energetic Catch-22 I mentioned above which has plagued Spoonies and Mental Illness sufferers forever. We often have to decide whether to put our health first to reclaim energy or suffer through daily life to make ends meet.
“I can spend my energy taking a shower and eating. It’ll definitely make me feel better. But that means have no spoons left to go to work today which puts my job at risk.”-A real conversation I’ve had with myself
Real talk: it’s messed up that we live in a society where people are forced to make those kind of choices. A culture that values productivity over wellbeing is a big part of why people are depressed in the first place.
Long story short, life shouldn’t be this way. However, it will be that way for the foreseeable future. We’re getting there. But societal change takes time and, you guessed it, energy.
So how can we balance personal care and mental health in the meantime?
How Can You Balance Personal Care and Mental Health?
There are quite a few strategies to maintain personal care as a chronic mental illness sufferer.
1. Take a Bath Instead of a Shower
I’m going to be honest, taking a bath isn’t really a substitution for a shower. I know. But it is a way to get clean without putting in a ton of effort. Plus nice warm baths are amazing for your mental health.
I like to add bubbles to indulge my inner child and bath salts to help me relax. Anything with Lavender is amazing for comfort when you’re low. I highly recommend purchasing these bath salts from Thistle Farms – a social enterprise entirely run by women survivors of abuse.
You can also shop my favorite bath items from Amazon. Dr. Teal’s always makes for a great bath. And the Gorilla Grip pillow adds an incredible amount of luxury and comfort. Seven Mineral’s Deep Relaxation Formula is also great because of Magnesium Chloride, which helps soothe tired muscles.
2. Invest in Comfy Everyday Clothes
When I’m low, even putting on clothes is a struggle. I’ve been known to exist in my pjs all day, which is totally fine too. But I’ve found I feel better when I wear “actual clothes.”
I put “actual clothes” in quotes because you don’t have to get dressed up to have the feeling of being dressed. My go-to combination is leggings and a nice t-shirt. But you can get the same effect from a pair of shorts, a casual skirt, or some nicer sweatpants. I don’t recommend jeans or pjs.
Check out my fave selection of leggings from Amazon. They are all a decent price but not thin like a lot of low priced leggings can be. And they have pockets!!
IDK about you but as a woman, wearing a regular bra is a chore. Dont get me wrong, I’m all for team no-bra (woo!). But if you’d like some *ehem* support I suggest a sports bra or a comfy bralette. For max feel good potential, make sure your undies are the right size and shape for you.
(Psst, I recently came across the absolute best sports bras EVER. Seriously, these AKAMC bras are so comfy, great coverage, and they fit my body just right. Check them out here on Amazon!)
3. Make Eating Less Overwhelming
Eating a real meal requires cooking, which requires energy, which you don’t have because depression. Ordering food is an option but it’s super expensive. Fast food works but isn’t great for your mental health in the long run.
So what can you do? First, you can check out this great article from Buzzfeed about eating healthy even when you’re really low. It’s got pretty much all the answers from asking for help to getting groceries delivered.
My favorite suggestion in that article is being realistic with your nutrition goals while you’re severely low. Sometimes, for your own wellbeing, you have to calibrate your idea of health to a reasonable level.
I.e. understanding that a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or two is okay, even if you’re regularly paleo and low carb. Your body needs the nutrition to heal.
Speaking of carbs. When you’re low – carbs are your friends. Yes, I said it. Carbs are great for Depression. That’s because many carbs help us produce Tryptophan, a precursor to Serotonin, one of the feel good hormones that aids in sleep and digestion.
That being said, maybe don’t scarf down an entire pizza. Try to get complex carbs from wheat bread, fruits, vegetables, cereals, and oatmeal. There are also lots of other easy to make foods that help produce Serotonin, you can find a list of them here.
And if you do eat a whole pizza, that’s fine too. Cut yourself some slack, you’re sick and sometimes greasy carbs are just the thing to make you feel better.
Bonus! I recently found the what is arguably the best meal for folx experiencing a low. It’s called Talbinah and it’s been scientifically proven to reduce symptoms of depression by increasing happy chemicals in the body. It’s also super easy to make. All you need is barley flour, honey, a pinch of salt and some milk. I add fruit to mine. You can get the harder to find ingredients straight from Amazon:
4. Lower the Energy Cost of Cleaning
Cleaning and organization are very important to mental wellness. The issue is when you get low, cleaning often goes by the wayside – it just costs too many spoons. So what can we do about that?
We can make lower the energy cost of cleaning.
Sometimes just the idea of cleaning overwhelms me. That’s where micro chores come in. Micro-chores are manageable actions like picking up laundry from the floor, putting dishes away, and doing a cup check in your bedroom. They don’t cost many spoons but still give you the satisfaction and a sense of order.
You can also automate cleaning by investing in things like an automatic shower cleaner or this purely adorable microwave cleaner called the Angry Mama.
You can find more info about automating organization in our article Organizing for Mental Health.
5. Develop a Gentle, Simple Skin and Hair Routine
My skin gets particularly bad when I’m depressed. So does my hair. I’ve worked to accept that I won’t look my best when I’m sad and that’s okay.
When I’m low, I adopt an extra gentle, extra simple skin care routine. I pretty much only do a TCM (Tone, Cleanse and Moisturize) morning and night if I can swing it. Just those three steps are enough to keep your skin healthy while you’re fighting depression. Here’s what I use and swear by:
As for my hair, I just let it do it’s own thing really. All I can say is, dry shampoo and dry conditioner are real lifesavers. Not Your Mother’s Clean Freak is my go to but OGX and Amika also make great products too! I also make a point to use a scrunchie instead of a hair band because hair bands give me headaches.
After years of hating my skin and hair, it’s really refreshing to treat myself nicely when I feel down. There’s something soothing and magical about it. A good swipe of moisturizer never fails to lift my spirits!
6. Exercise for Wellness Vs. Fitness
Just like we lowered expectations for our nutrition goals, we’re going to do the same with fitness goals. Having depression is a lot like having a sports injury. You just can’t push yourself the same way you did when you were healthy.
It’s just something you’ve got to accept. Which can be admittedly tricky. Especially if you’re a naturally athletic person.
The good news is, being sick doesn’t mean you can’t workout. It simply means you have to exercise for wellness instead of fitness. Just until you’re back to health. What does this mean? Exercising just enough to produce much needed happy chemicals in the brain and give your body a good stretch.
Some great ways to do this are:
- Easy Cardio and Weight Lifting
- Swimming and Pool Running
Bonus points if it’s an activity that brings you joy! Check out our full article on Exercising for Mental Health for more info!
Shop MSB’s favorite easy workout gear on Amazon:
Whew, that was a long post! Good job for sticking with us all the way to the end!
We hope you learned a lot and picked up some new coping skills on the way. Let us know in the comments below how you deal with personal care while fighting mental illness. Or if any of the tips have helped you!
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