Mental Health

What is self-care? Here’s why looking after your mental health doesn’t need to be complicated

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Lauren Geall
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Self-care can make a big difference to your mental health – but does it need to be as complicated as all the fancy routines on TikTok make it out to be? Here, Stylist’s Lauren Geall waxes lyrical about the benefits of going back to basics.

Take a scroll through the self-care tag on TikTok or Instagram and you’ll be met with a familiar scene. From trips to the spa and overflowing bubble baths to luxurious face masks and inspirational quotes, the term has taken on an aesthetic of its own. 

However, while there’s nothing wrong with engaging in this kind of self-care (at the end of the day, I’m a stickler for a good bath), it’s not the only way to look after your mental health and wellbeing

In fact, when the term ‘self-care’ was first coined in the 1950s, it was used to describe activities that allowed institutionalised patients to preserve some physical independence, including basic things like having a shower and exercising.  

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As someone who lives with a mental illness, I’ve found this “simpler” form of self-care is the one that really makes a difference. To me, self-care means making a conscious effort to “mother” myself – to make sure I’m keeping up with the bare necessities that help my body and brain to function.  

Unsurprisingly, that makes my self-care routine (if you could even call it that) incredibly basic. It’s all about making sure I’m taking the time to do the things that make me feel human and in control of my life – whether that’s eating a satisfying, protein-rich breakfast, going to bed at a reasonable hour (and avoiding the urge to engage in revenge bedtime procrastination) and moving my body in some shape or form.

My self-care routine hasn’t always looked like this – for a long time, I internalised the idea that self-care needed to be performative and Instagrammable – but making the switch has definitely made a difference to my ability to deal with mental health “bad spots”.  

A bubble bath
Self-care needn't be grand or Instagrammable.

For the most part, I think it’s because the kind of basic things we don’t pay much attention to are closely related to the relationship between our physical and mental health.

For example, eating a satisfying, protein-rich breakfast can help to regulate your blood sugar (which, when low, can trigger feelings of anxiety) and affect the production of serotonin (the happy hormone). And getting to bed on time can prevent the effect a lack of sleep can have on your mental health and put you in better stead to face the challenges of the day.

Focusing on the basics can also help you to feel more in control of your day – something which can be hard to achieve when you’re dealing with a period of bad mental health. 

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Of course, it’s important to note that different things work for different people, and just because I’ve found a routine that works for me, it doesn’t mean it’ll work for you, too. But I do think it’s important to acknowledge that self-care doesn’t have to be complicated – especially when so many of us are short on time and don’t need another thing to add to our to-do lists.

So, next time you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, why not try and go back to basics? There’s always space for a nice face mask or facial massage – but focusing on the simple things can make a surprisingly big difference. 

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and women’s issues. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time. You can find her on Twitter at @laurenjanegeall.