10 Self-Care Strategies to Try Between Therapy Sessions
Therapy can be a powerful tool for managing mental health concerns, but it's not a magic wand that will make everything better. Practicing regular self-care is one path to improved quality of life on a day-to-day basis. For many people struggling with low self-worth (a common experience for queer, trans, and neurodivergent people), we often don’t put as much energy into caring for ourselves as we might into caring for others. Starting to take care of yourself can be a powerful signal to your brain that you are worthy of care. Here are five self-care strategies you can try on a daily basis:
1. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness is a practice that involves paying attention to the present moment with curiosity and without judgment. By practicing mindfulness regularly, you can learn to live with your thoughts and emotions. There are many different ways to practice mindfulness, such as meditation, breathing exercises, or simply taking a mindful walk in nature. For people with complex trauma, mindfulness can help connect with a true sense of self.
2. Joyful Movement
Exercise is a great way to boost your mood and reduce stress. Regular physical activity can release endorphins, which can help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. You don't need to rush out and get a Crossfit membership to feel the benefits of exercise - even a 20-minute walk around the block or a kitchen dance party can help improve your mental health.
3. Prioritize Sleep
Adequate sleep is a crucial ingredient for good mental health. Lack of sleep can increase symptoms of anxiety and depression and make it harder to rebound from difficult feelings. Aim to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night, and try to establish a regular bedtime routine to cue yourself so your brain knows it’s time for bed. Avoid using electronics for at least an hour before bed, and create a calm and relaxing sleep environment.
4. Connect with Others
Queer and trans people are more vulnerable to social isolation and exclusion. Even if you're an introvert, it's important to make time to connect with others in whatever way feels right to you. This can involve spending time with friends or family, joining a club or group, or volunteering in your community. If you're feeling isolated, consider reaching out to a therapist, counselor, or support group. “Queer community” sounds great but can be hard to access - a therapist or other professional may be able to support you in feeling more connected.
5. Engage in Self-Reflection
Journaling is a great way to engage in self-reflection and gain insight into your thoughts and emotions. Set aside a few minutes each day to write down your thoughts, feelings, and experiences. You can also try other forms of self-reflection, such as talking with a trusted friend or creating art.
6. Practice Gratitude
There’s actually a whole bunch of research saying that practicing gratitude for what we have will improve mood. Taking the time to reflect on what you're grateful for can help boost your mood and reduce stress. Try writing down three things you're grateful for each day, or make it a point to express your gratitude to someone else.
I recommend this strategy with the disclaimer that practicing gratitude can be hard to do when you’re feeling really low, and if you’re facing genuinely awful circumstances or systemic oppression, it doesn’t take the place of talking to someone who can listen and see the injustice of what you’re going through. No one is saying you have to “feel grateful” if things have been really unfair - just that it may help your mood if it’s a practice you feel like you have the capacity for. I firmly believe that there's a time for gratitude and a time for dismantling oppressive systems.
7. Engage in a Hobby
Engaging in a hobby you enjoy can be a great way to relieve stress and improve your mood. I play the cello and walk my dog, and I genuinely enjoy exploring with my clients how to find balance in their lives, and supporting them to try new activities that help them feel relaxed and fulfilled. Whether it's painting, playing an instrument, or gardening, find something you love to do and make time for it regularly.
8. Take a Digital Detox
In today's world, we're constantly bombarded with information and stimuli from our phones, computers, and other electronic devices. Taking a break from technology (and especially social media) can be a great way to reduce stress and improve your mental health. Try setting aside some time each day to disconnect from your devices.
9. Practice Self-Compassion
Self-compassion means turning towards ourselves with kindness and understanding. You can start to practice self-compassion by talking to yourself in a kind and supportive way, and treating yourself with the same care and concern you would show to a friend. In session I often offer my clients skills and exercises from Mindful Self-Compassion, which has a strong evidence base for improving mood if you practice it regularly (ie. between your therapy sessions).
10. Connect with Nature
Spending time in nature can have a positive impact on your mental health. Whether it's taking a walk in the park, going for a hike, or simply sitting outside and enjoying the fresh air, make time to connect with nature regularly. Not only can it help reduce stress, but it can also improve your overall sense of well-being.
Remember, self-care is a journey, not a destination. It takes practice and dedication to make self-care a regular part of your routine. But with patience and persistence, you can cultivate a greater sense of well-being and resilience in your life. When I’m working with my clients on integrating more self-care into their lives, one tool I use is something called “the plant metaphor.”
The Plant Metaphor
The plant metaphor suggests that just as a plant needs certain conditions to grow and thrive, we also need certain things in our lives to take care of ourselves and promote our well-being. These "conditions" can include things like:
Nourishment: Just as a plant needs water and nutrients to grow, we also need to nourish ourselves with healthy food, plenty of water, and other self-care practices like exercise, sleep, and stress reduction. If you’re feeling low, check out my post on feeding yourself when you’re depressed.
Sunshine: Like a plant, we also need exposure to light and fresh air to thrive. This can mean spending time outside, getting some exercise in the sun, or simply opening up the windows to let in some fresh air.
Support: A plant needs support in the form of soil, nutrients, and perhaps even a trellis or stakes to help it grow straight and strong. Similarly, we also need support from others in our lives, whether it's from friends, family, or a therapist or counselor.
Space: Finally, just as a plant needs space to grow and spread out its roots, we also need space in our lives to rest, relax, and recharge. This can mean setting boundaries with others, saying "no" to commitments that drain us, and making time for activities that bring us joy and fulfillment.
By using this metaphor, we can better understand the importance of self-care and the different elements that contribute to our overall well-being. It can also remind us to be patient and compassionate with ourselves, just as we would be with a growing plant that needs time and care to thrive. Growth doesn’t happen overnight, and it may not always be visible day to day, but we will certainly see changes if we maintain a steady routine of self care.