The present situation is unforeseeable, insecure and scary for many people in the world. I am scared about future too. But I need to take many steps to keep my mental health where it is now, not to sink which would be so easy. I need to keep myself sane in order to care for my family, especially to help my 3,5 years old son B. to cope with this abnormal situation. I decided to write few posts about steps we took and take to cope with the current situation. Today is about self-care I gift to myself. Hopefully, it inspires you… Here is a related post about how to rise level of emotional intelligence in the family.

Information filters

Few days after February 24, 2022 I decided to ban all the channels that brought news to me – including news websites, any Facebook accounts that posted about war news, immigrants’ stories, ways how to help immigrants. All of that disturbed my sleep, worried and horrified me and I behaved accordingly. I was grumpy all the time, ready to explode after a small impulse. And with a little child at home there are plenty of impulses like that. Exposing myself to news as they are now resulted in a war zone in our home. But this is not what I want! I do not want to spread violence even further… So I disconnected.

I do not ignore what is going on. Occasionally I ask M. to inform me about basics, usually he knows what he can tell me so I am able to function further. I just do not think it helps anyone when I read news. We help actively too. We donated some money, gave advice to Ukrainians who we met and I supported a family on the playground, at least I believe I did.

Offering support and help

It was just an ordinary playground day when two women with three older children (about 10 years old) and two small children (younger than B.) arrived. They just sat on the benches and ate some snacks. Then older children went to play and they were lectured from time to time by their mothers. I realized that they do not speak Slovak, I probably heard Ukrainian. Maybe that is why all of them are quite shy.

B. observed them thoroughly so I decided to involve him. I asked him whether he wants to say hallo to them. He stepped out immediately. He came to them very close and said: “Ahoj.” They were probably surprised and did not understand him. One of the women smiled and answered: “Привіт.” So I explained B. that they do not speak Slovak and they said “privit” which means hello. I think he understood they are related to the war which he is scared of – he run away and started to play again. The woman told me that they arrived just yesterday and do not speak Slovak yet. I smiled and nodded.

The language barrier did not allow me to express my support more. But I think it was quite enough for them as they seemed to be more relaxed and not so shy while playing with their children and they did not lecture their older children any more. When leaving they came to say goodbye.

From jealousy to love towards all

Everyone’s capacity and ability to help is different. I admire others who are able to directly help and meet immigrants or those who offer their own homes to them. Now I can admire those people but few days ago I had a thing about being jealous about them.

I wanted to help so much but somehow I got in my way while grumbling about my mental health. Realizing that I envy those helping people I started to feel grateful and thankful for them. Looking inwards helped me to move from jealousy to gratitude and thankfulness. It was such an easy step and I reduced the level of violence in the world at least a tiny bit. Every little step counts! And I started to be grateful for myself and my strength and felt such an overwhelming love towards me and all the people and the whole wide world. I cannot influence many things, but I can affect some things. I start with myself, with self-care.

Book reading as self-care

I love reading books since I can remember. When I was a child I read books for entertainment, later in my teens, I sought books for catharsis which I experienced through identification with characters and their restoration. Now I read books to actively improve my life in various ways.

Psychological books helped me to get through a period of postpartum depression, PTSD and anxiety disorder. Books about parenting make our life easier at home and self-care books allow me to improve various aspects of my existence. Now I experience catharsis through releasing emotions stuck in my body, re-living and resolving past situations that needed to be dealt with.

Below is a list of books that I think inspire readers to grow. They are on the positive spectrum – they focus on present and future and touch the negative past just gently.

AuthorEnglish titleSlovak/Czech title
Ada BeckerRozhovory v tichu
Daniel GolemanEmotional IntelligenceEmocionálna inteligencia
Louise L. HayYou Can Heal Your LifeMiluj svoj život
Chris IdzikowskiLearn to: Sleep WellAko na to: Zdravý spánok
Pavel Kopřiva, Jana Nováčková, Dobromila Nevolová, Tatjana KopřivováRespektovat a být respektován
Philippa PerryThe Book You Wish Your Parents Had ReadToto mali čítať naši rodičia
Marschall B. RosenbergNonviolent CommunicationNenásilná komunikace
Mark Williams, Danny PenmanMindfulnessVedomá myseľ

I like it when book authors who are authorities in their fields write also about their mistakes they did with their own children or in their own lives. Knowing that everyone, even e.g. psychologists, does mistakes keep me hopeful for me raising B. In this respect I recommend books by Ada Becker and Philippa Perry. I love that feeling when I know someone else experiences similar situations as I do.

Making something beautiful from a destruction

Speaking of not being alone in some situations, last week I stumbled upon Kristina Kuzmič’s videos. She talks about mom guilt, self-care and support parents can give to one another. She also wrote a book Hold On, But Don’t Hold Still which I have not read yet, but I may add it on my book wish list.

Kristina made a video about creating something beautiful from a destruction and to illustrate that she used a statue she owns by a man from her country of origin. The statue was made of materials found in the town destroyed by bombing.

Relaxation, rest and sleep

My self-care journey started at the point where I could not lie still not even for two minutes and I could not relax my muscles at night time. Contracting my muscles constantly woke me up. I was desperate, so I started to listen to guided relaxation firstly lasting for two minutes, slowly building up to ten minutes, later even longer. I listened to guided relaxations every night which after years resulted in shorter falling asleep period and less disturbed night sleep. Generally, I was much calmer and relaxed.

Gradually I built up my preference for guided relaxations. At the beginning I could listen just to imagery with no affirmations as those made me angry. For example, affirmation telling me I am worthy was useless because I did not feel worthy, I felt like a looser and a failure. After a lot of inner work I was able to include affirmations into my night and day routines too. In audio relaxations I prefer deep male voices. I have two favorite Youtube channels: Kenneth Soares and Michael Sealey.

I consider sleep such an important self-care strategy that I could not emphasize it more. For months, almost a year, I was able to to fall asleep for just three – four hours a day. I was extremely sleep deprived, therefore, disoriented, confused and dizzy. Relaxations helped me improve my sleep and that allowed me to be a more competent human being. I still hold on noon naps although B. usually does not sleep.

Appreciating little things

Probably like most people M. and I complain about so many things – the trash needs to be taken out again, our kitchen is too small for the three of us, its annoying to go to our storage room (which is, by the way, right next to our front door) so often… The end of February 2022 made us rethink our approach. Although there were attempts to do that before, probably we needed something very serious to help us with that. Suddenly we were able to eat breakfast and enjoy the variety on our plates, we were able to appreciate we have food we can eat quietly in safety of our apartment, that our clothes are clean and washed by a washing machine.

I am grateful for sleeping in a soft, cozy and spacious bed where in the mornings all three of us can comfortably cuddle, for hot shower when I may relax my muscles when they are tense after whole day, for having information about self-help and self-care at reach of my hand. There are so many things I do not notice because I consider them a certainty. Maybe we are spoiled by the fact that we grew up as a generation of probably the most peaceful and democratic era that has ever been in our country. It is funny how everything is relative…

Affects everyone

I would have never believed what a difference it is when someone near me appreciates a little thing! It surprises me in the first place, then I smile when realizing, yes, it is true, our chess board is beautiful, soft and comfortable to play with. Then the appreciation multiplies because we all find little details we like about our chess board. And what is even more important, appreciating little things increases likelihood of another thing being appreciated. For instance, B. comfortably rolling on his bed: “It feels so good in my bed. It is my safe place.”

And on top of that – it improves everyone’s mood, sets a positive tone to our day and makes us being kinder to one another. And it works immediately. So important!

A kindness, for instance, may triple for days… or set things in motion in different ways. It travels much further then you’ll ever know… under the treetops… over the snow… till it’s wandered… and fluttered… and floated… and twirled – making things happen all over the world.

Nancy Tillman in a book You Are Here for a Reason

Getting sunshine and vitamin D

Whenever possible I love going for walks when it is sunny. Usually, I spend few minutes sunning my face with my eyes closed or I just take advantage of sun on our loggia. Sunning one’s face is one of the techniques to improve sight (for more information read a book by Daniela Maťuchová titled The Miracle of Sight: Stories from My Clinic).

Since my mental health issues started in 2018, I noticed my symptoms worsen during winter when there is just a little sunshine, mostly it is cloudy and dark. As I have not studied it yet, I am not sure, but it might be a seasonal affective disorder.

Vitamin D deficiency may affect mental health through several different mechanisms. A deficiency may cause temporary discomfort, depression and fatigue (which are normalized when the deficiency is restored) in otherwise healthy individuals, a mechanism that may be relevant in seasonal affective disorders (winter and spring depressions). (…)

Mats B. Humble: Vitamin D, light and mental health1

In 2020 when a pandemic was a major concern, some studies were published about “association between vitamin D sufficiency and decreased risk of adverse clinical outcomes from COVID-19”.2 At that time B. was about two years old and was supplemented with vitamin D drops as was advised by our pediatrician from birth to his second birthday. M. and I started to supplement with vitamin D too and we have not stopped since. There were few days when we forgot about the drops which was immediately reflected in worsening my mental health in winter time. Few days after supplementing again my mental health improved again. For now vitamin D drops are our everyday must, for me it is one of the self-care means.

Movement as self-care

I used to be quite active – I loved hiking, dancing, long walks, morning stretching. Beside feeling more flexible and energetic I improved my stamina, mood and it also helped me with mental health as I often experienced awe in nature, relieve and tension release when stretching or a meditation while breathing and walking rhythmically.

It lasted until I became pregnant and the doctor told me that pregnancy (in general, not just mine) is like a butterfly, meaning we do not have to talk about anything related to pregnancy in the first trimester because I might not carry it to the end. I abandoned physical movement and I was also extremely tired and did not even have energy for exercising (maybe if I would exercise I would feel better). The statement about the butterfly caused my fear about my pregnancy and with many other harming statements, actions and situations filled a barrel firing my mental health struggles.

Dancing cha-cha while unloading a dishwasher, Vivaldi dance party, singing with B., going crazy with children songs… That happens almost every day.

On my way to my body

Months after giving birth to B. I tried to incorporate exercise into my days. I started with Dinah Rodrigues’ hormone yoga therapy. Then I practiced belly dance (I used to attend Youtube classes by Leilah Isaac, later preferred taking two naps a day with B. After that I included set of my morning stretches and strengthening exercises which have been in my morning routine since then because they last just about 15 minutes. Few months ago I added also face yoga that reduces morning puffiness of my face.

Exercises I do are not very extensive or challenging, but probably that is the reason why I rarely skip them. Slowly, I built my strength and stamina and now I feel my best that I have felt in years.

Me and B. prepared breakfast together. B. also served food on our trays. Notice its uneven distribution… Maybe he distributed it according to our preferences. B. loves cucumbers, I like tomatoes, M. eats everything.

Nutritious food

I consider sufficient hydration and nutritious and appropriate food a necessity for health and I do not need any studies to back this up because I have many personal experiences. The most obvious one is this: I suffered from recurring candida albicans vaginal infection for about 20 months. Advice and prescriptions of several doctors was based on taking antibiotics and probiotics vaginally. Nothing helped. Until… I stumbled upon a book Candida Albicans: Natural Remedies for Yeast Infection by Leon Chaitow. Since we completely changed our eating habits in 2017, I had candida albicans vaginal infection just once and it lasted for just a week because I immediately returned to a strict meal plan from the book mentioned above.

I believe nutritious food supports everyone’s well-being including physical and mental health. Emma McAdam, licensed marriage and family therapist, created also a video related to this topic. Regarding nutritious food I take inspiration from Pick Up Limes Youtube channel and kidseatincolor.com. Informing and explaining B. why we eat the food we eat has become one of our missions. Food may be self-care.

Conclusion

All tips I offered above are interconnected, for me they create a base for a healthier life. I consider it very important to educate myself in many areas of life, because nobody knows me better than I do and just I know what works for me. Trial and error is my main research method. I have tried to follow advice of many experts in different fields but usually I needed to find out what would help me. Sometimes was expert’s advice even counter-productive resulting in worsening the condition I sought her/him for.

Looking back at everything what I have done and do for my self-care, physical and mental health, it seems to be a lot. And maybe it is, but without that I am not who I want to be – a kind, patient and tolerant person. So it is worthy! I wish everyone is able to prioritize self-care in order to make the world a better place. Taking care of myself I model B. how important it is and how to do it.

Everyone has his/her own way how to deal with difficulties and care for self. For now this is my self-care. And what is yours?

Notes

  1. Humble, M. B. 2010. Vitamin D, light and mental health. In Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology B: Biology. [online]. [2022-03-20]. 2010, Volume 101, Issue 2. Access:<https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1011134410001879?via%3Dihub> pp 142-149.
  2. Maghbooli, Z. – Sahraian, M. A. – Ebrahimi, M. – Pazoki, M. – Kafan, S. – Moradi Tabriz, H. – Hadadi, A. – Montazeri, M. – Nasiri, M. – Shirvani, A. – Holick, M. F. 2020. Vitamin D sufficiency, a serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D at least 30 ng/mL reduced risk for adverse clinical outcomes in patients with COVID-19 infection. In PLoS ONE 15(9): e0239799. [online]. [2022-03-20]. 2020. Access: <https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0239799#sec016>.

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