Physical Acts of Self Care?
November 8, 2017 1:01 PM   Subscribe

I'm a big believer in self-care, and I also exist in my own head a lot. For mental self-care, I listen to podcasts in the evenings, make art, read books for leisure, talk to friends, etc. For physical self-care, I don't really know where to start. What do you do? Hoping for some general suggestions, but am also just curious about what sparks other people's fancies.

A little extra context: I was diagnosed with a chronic illness as a teenager and I learned to dissociate to cope with scans, chronic pain, and potentially frightening doctor's appointments. I'm in therapy and have been working on being more present over the last couple of years, but I think it would be helpful for me to build a relationship with my body so I am comfortable being physically present.

I don't usually initiate touch with others (it's not unheard of or anything, but not common), I don't dance, I don't know what my favorite smell is, I don't put lotion on after I shower or have a skin routine, etc. I don't specifically feel like these examples are huge problems in my life, but I find it odd that the idea of doing these things seems very unnatural to me -- not because I'd dislike doing them, but because I'm so used to escaping from physical feeling by retreating into my head.

I'm not looking for suggestions perfectly tailored to me or my interests, I'm just kind of wondering what people even do for physical self-care. Buy socks? Smell some candles? I'd like to hear what others find indulgent.

Thanks so much for the input! Xx
posted by snufflepup to Health & Fitness (35 answers total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
A pet would be the classic answer.
posted by roolya_boolya at 1:09 PM on November 8, 2017 [5 favorites]

Food is a place to start. Everyone's gotta eat, and so that's an easy "in" - if you've gotta eat anyway, focus on getting the best and most tastiest decliciousest most lucious food ever while you're at it. (This of course has the potential to backfire if you indulge too much, but a little indulgence now and then isn't going to kill you.)

Cushy bed is another thing. You've gotta sleep anyway, so maybe focus on making sure you have the most luxurious cushy comfy bed ever. Make sure it is in exactly the right place in your room, that it's just the right height, that the sheets are washed as often as you like, whatever. This does not necessairly have to be expensive - I have recently fallen in love with these sheets you get at Target that are designed to be for teens (they are resistant to benzoyl peroxide lotion), but for some reason they are the softest sheets I have ever had and I love them. Fit out your bed to be exactly the way you like it, and then for a few minutes before you get up in the morning, just sort in the bed and enjoy it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:10 PM on November 8, 2017 [4 favorites]

Also epsom salt baths or foot baths followed by lotion. Yoga. Self massage. All sorts of grooming. Make up.
posted by roolya_boolya at 1:11 PM on November 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Any time I feel like I need some self-care, I ask myself what would be the most enjoyable possible way for me to spend the next couple of hours. That usually ends up being a fire in the fireplace, a good book, a cat in the lap, and an entire box of Annie's Mac N Cheese all to myself.
posted by houseofleaves at 1:12 PM on November 8, 2017 [17 favorites]

Big fluffy robe! stretching/yoga. good cup of coffee (I recently converted to drinking it black, but will add cream if it's available, and it feels like a luxury). Vigorous exercise sucks at the time (YMMV), but I always feel wonderful afterwards. A mani/pedi is the classic answer for this for a reason.
posted by Fig at 1:15 PM on November 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yoga. It doesn't require me to touch others or be touched, and I like having the physical space of my *own* mat. It's really great for an hour or so to just retreat and be present as much as possible. I do yoga at home sometimes, but more often at the gym in a group setting. I like both for different reasons.

I go to the gym before work. I like the quiet mornings and it's a good way personally for me to start my day. I know others who go after work, though. I seem to be the minority that way, but I'm an early morning person.

Sometimes I'll go to the store and buy special stuff to make a really healthy meal. It's not exactly physical per se, but I love eating healthy food, especially trying out new recipes, and making a healthy meal (especially with leftovers) makes me feel cared for and just .... physically good. If I'm lazy, I'll make a date with a friend and go for sushi or good ramen.

A bath with candles is always really relaxing. I sometimes do this while I read my Kindle (being careful, obviously).

I like tea, so sometimes I'll spring for a new kind of loose leaf tea at the supermarket. I bought a loose leaf tea basket for my mug at work, and it's a brief de-stresser in the middle of the day. It's a little ritualistic, smells good and warms me up.

When I have the energy and the motivation.... cleaning the hell out of my house while listening to audiobooks is always a good physical thing to do. Keeps my mind busy and my body moving. I clean the house, wash *all* our bedding, take a shower, and spend time relaxing while reading or cooking. I can't explain why this is so satisfying, but to me, it is. Physically demanding but also an accomplishment, I guess?
posted by onecircleaday at 1:16 PM on November 8, 2017 [4 favorites]

I forgot to mention acupuncture. It sounds counter intuitive and you may not be into that depending on your medical experiences and the specifics of your chronic illness, but I find it wonderfully relaxing. The first visit felt like bliss afterward for me.
posted by onecircleaday at 1:21 PM on November 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've taken a few solo hikes this past fall - nothing super remote or difficult, but it's been so nice to feel/smell the clean and crisp air, the crunch of the leaves underneath my shoes, the solitude (on a well marked trail), and get to the top and admire the views. I love the sense of exploration combined with the physical push. It filled me with such a sense of peace, and I generally try and get a little outdoor time every day. I felt incredibly safe on those wooded hikes, and I don't think it's any riskier for a woman than walking in the city. And the rewards (both physical and mental) FAR outweigh any risk, imho.
posted by raztaj at 1:22 PM on November 8, 2017 [12 favorites]

Walk. There are hikes with destinations and rewards. Or you might find a place that can be your own cloister -- it doesn't have to be enclosed, it could be a park loop or a lake -- and walk it as many times as you feel comfortable, for the interplay of what's constant in you and your surroundings and what changes.
posted by holgate at 1:26 PM on November 8, 2017 [4 favorites]

Recognizing that the things I do on a daily basis that are about my physical self in the world take on more meaning if I do them consciously. I can get out of bed more easily if I set a routine, and make that routine part of my day. You mentioned not putting lotion on after a shower, or caring too much about your physical self, but are there things about how you live in your body that aren't about judging your body but finding comfort in it.

Sometimes putting on lotion isn't about luxuriating, it's about living in a dry climate during the winter and not wanting to feel itchy. Having a nice cup of tea in the afternoon isn't about loving tea, it's about having an itchy, sore throat during allergy season and having a tea you like the taste of helps. Cooking with fresh ingredients isn't about making nutrition a task, it's my realization that the broccoli I had the other day tasted really good and I feel better when I eat fresh vegetables. Similarly, buying some nice coffee isn't about loving coffee, it's about my inability to wake up in the morning and recognizing that having a large cup in the morning makes me feel better.

There are changes you can make that seem unappealing, money that can be spent on things.. but just realizing you do the things in your life for reasons, and evaluating exactly why you do them can make you appreciate that your physical needs and how you approach them says a lot about how you value your self.
posted by mikeh at 1:50 PM on November 8, 2017 [4 favorites]

Masturbation tbh.
posted by MadamM at 1:51 PM on November 8, 2017 [11 favorites]

I hike up six flights of stairs a couple times a day. Actually, I don't; I will let weeks go by without doing it. Then I'll get a wild hair and do the stairs three or four times in a day. Two days later, my calves kill. Rubbing them feels... AMAAAAZING. Also stretching them. And putting them in hot water. If I keep doing the stairs regularly, they heal and quit hurting. It's my plan to start actually using my gym membership more and lift weights so that I can make new and different parts of my body sore, just because stretching when you're sore feels so great. (And also you feel generally a thousand times better when you move around some.)

Yoga is also very great, especially when there are a lot of strength poses followed by a nice long sojourn in corpse pose.

In the winter I like to go to the movies with oranges and chocolate. I have a special coat with lots of pockets to make this work. One pocket has the oranges. One pocket has the chocolate--some high-end bar that I will make last the whole movie. Another pocket has a tea towel and a little hotel-shampoo bottle full of rubbing alcohol. I peel and eat one orange after another along with the chocolate 'til I'm out of either oranges or movie. Drop the orange peels back into the orange pocket--you don't want to make a mess for the theater people. Clean up with the alcohol and the dishtowel. It's fun. If I get popcorn, I smuggle in melted butter in a thermos because movie theater "buttery" is so awful. Unsalted butter: there's already too much salt on movie popcorn.
posted by Don Pepino at 1:58 PM on November 8, 2017 [6 favorites]

Going for a walk, preferably outside in a natural space.
posted by jclarkin at 2:23 PM on November 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

I want to second acupuncture. I don't have a chronic illness, but I was treated for cancer in the past few years, and the experience of acupuncture has been so different from any other medical experience. There's some interaction with the provider as needles are being placed, but then they leave you alone for a while and it is really peaceful and nice to just ~be~ there for 30 minutes or whatever.

Also, socks are a great idea! I have invested in nice wool socks and they are really enjoyable to wear. I tend to go for things that look fun as well.

Figuring out what kind of bedding you like is also a good idea. I sleep (usually) alone), and I keep five pillows on my bed so I can make a semi-circle around me and have pillow in every sleep position. I also have a blanket with satin binding that I like to touch.
posted by jeoc at 2:24 PM on November 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have sensory processing issues, which means that I am bothered more than the average person by minor discomforts such as clothing tags, tight straps, anything that tickles or itches... the list goes on and on. I have learned to detach some from the physical just to get through the workday, but on some level I am still aware of whatever is bugging me and it makes me irritable.

So today I'm working, and feeling vaguely uncomfortable and irritated, but I'm busy so I'm trying to ignore it and focus on work, and getting grumpier and less focused as I went without quite knowing why.

It finally occurred to me to stop and mentally scan my body to see what the deal was. Starting from the top of my head and moving down, I discovered:

A slight headache
My hair tickling the side of my face
A irritating pointy booger
Chilly arms
A wedgie
A faint but annoying shooting pain in my thigh
Clutter on my desk and floor was bugging me

So I went down the list fixing things:

I took some Tylenol for the headache and thigh pain
Put my hair in a ponytail to get it out of my face
Got rid of the booger
Put on a sweater
Fixed the wedgie
Straightened up my cube
And got myself a cup of tea and a healthy snack, because that is generally always a good idea.

Since you know you have detachment issues, it might be a good idea to do a mental body scan at regular intervals, just to see what sensations you might discover that you weren't even aware of. And rather than tuning back out, see what you can do to actually make yourself happier and more comfortable in the moment.

And don't forget to check in with all your senses: what are you feeling? smelling? hearing? tasting? seeing? Sometimes a glass of water, a stick of gum and earbuds drowning out the ambient noise with soothing music is just the ticket.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 3:02 PM on November 8, 2017 [19 favorites]

Hiii!! [waves]

So I've somewhat answered this here and here.

I deal with chronic illness and am basically homebound. I left my job over 2.5 years ago. This is what I do and what has greatly helped. (That said, while I've battled with my body I mostly haven't totally ignored it, only when it's gotten the worst.)

I use instagram and it's pushed me to do outfits and makeup pictures on the regular and connect with people. 99% of the time I don't go anywhere. I just get ready and take photos. But I can't tell you just how much it improves my mood. Even if I'm still wearing PJs out of frame or immediately change.

And, perhaps you're daunted by makeup (if you are a makeup wearing person.) Don't be! This is the PERFECT time to play around with it. Makeup can be cheap! (DM me if you want my list, but my Instagram -linked in my profile - also has products listed for my looks.) I've had so much fun just learning how to do makeup. YouTube has amazing resources for learning this (and other things.)

In terms of other physical stuff, yes baths and showers. I also dye my hair (green) and cut it myself and that's always a fun - if exhausting - care day.

The outfits and makeup actually get me moving around. That helps a lot with my illnesses. Occasionally I go on a short walk, check the mail, or do light exercise.

Cleaning - yes - fucking cleaning. There was a long long time in which I was too sick to even stand to do the dishes. There's no shame if this isn't something you can do. But you asked what I do. Sometimes I clean. I've been working on getting into a good routine of cleaning so it only takes a few minutes here or there to keep things tidy. I'm not perfect at it, but it's much improved. And I feel so much better and accomplished when I've done it.

Lastly I do art. Which is more of a hobby than physical, but it can also be very physical in the sense of sitting and sometimes moving around. It's definitely more active than listening to something or watching something.

Beyond that my life is a lot of instagram, movies, tv, video games, podcasts, and feeling crappy. The occasional trip to Target or doctors or whatever included.

I hope that's helpful. Feel free to DM me or Insta me - let me know it's you! I'm working on expanding my group of other spoonies on there! :)
posted by Crystalinne at 3:26 PM on November 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

Super comfy clothing--a cozy sweatshirt, comfy sweatpants/pj pants, fluffy socks. Also, I recently splurge purchased a throw at Costco that has microfiber on one side and faux sheepskin in the other and Holy Cow! is it the coziest thing ever, and the whole fam fights over it for Netflix watching (another self care option--the physical aspect being curled up on the comfy couch under the aforementioned throw)
posted by msbubbaclees at 3:39 PM on November 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

Pedicure, or rubbing my feet with lotion on my own (I don't paint my own toenails, though).
Wrap in a blanket/be warm enough.
Drink hot tea or cocoa.
posted by 2 cats in the yard at 4:22 PM on November 8, 2017

Several mentions of hikes/walks above—I started doing this on weekend mornings at a local preserve/bird sanctuary and I cannot believe how relaxed and grounded it makes me feel. There are lots of different trails and loops for variety, and it just feels so good to be out in the fresh air. Doing this regularly has made a huge difference in my mood and attitude—I just love it!
posted by bookmammal at 4:27 PM on November 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

I now work from home (but I get dressed every morning, still!) but my favorite physical comfort thing I do is expand my loungewear wardrobe for night. Fun, gorgeous silky kaftans and soft jersey knit pajama sets, for instance (or cozy flannel in the winter). I like buying them in bright colors or fun prints or with characters (I have more than one set of Hello Kitty pajamas). Now, 99% of the time, no one but me sees these things, but it makes me feel better after a long day to wear something that's not that ratty old T-shirt and worn out yoga pants when I'm unwinding from my day.

I have a nice wooded path nearby so I generally try to talk a 20-30 minute walk per day (weather depending). It's as much for the physical activity as it is for my state of mind. I generally don't listen to music or anything while on these walks, but I used to.

I am also a stuffed toy cuddler (I can't have pets because of my lease). I always found stuffed toys comforting anyway, but it's just pleasant to have something soft and fuzzy in my arms when I'm watching a movie or whatever. (I have a "Couch Bunny" that is, well, a bunny that lives on my couch, for this very purpose.)

I also like trying out scents. I'm not a huge fan of Bath and Body Works, but they often have ridiculous sales and do offer travel sizes. So sometimes I just pick up some hand soap or lotion I think I might like and try it out. And if I don't like the scent, not a big loss of money.

Hot baths (especially!) with some kind of indulgent product (like from Lush!) or a hot shower are also wonderful things.
posted by darksong at 4:30 PM on November 8, 2017 [3 favorites]

I have some muscles that give me trouble, and to me physical self care is "spending a full hour doing all the boring physical therapy stretches I'm supposed to do to help those muscles but never do because a full hour of stretching is an insane amount".
posted by potrzebie at 7:05 PM on November 8, 2017

I got a waterpik! Just this week. It is very fun to use and feels much better than flossing and my teeth feel much cleaner. Next I might get an electric toothbrush.
posted by Don Pepino at 7:40 PM on November 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

I like rubbing my face against a soft blanket (whatever feels soft to you), and also those head massager things that look like whisks cut apart. Also, foam rolling.
posted by batter_my_heart at 9:18 PM on November 8, 2017

Walking, taking a hot shower, and eating foods I love are all great, but are ordinary parts of my life and don't feel all that indulgent (except for some foods.)

Things that feel more indulgent:

Rollerblading or ice skating. Hardly anything is more physically enjoyable than skating.

Planting cleome in my garden because I love the smell of the leaves. If there hadn't already been lilacs at our house I probably would have wanted to plant them too, because the flowers smell so great. My sister leaves some of the wild milkweed that comes up on the edges of her garden because she loves the smell of the flowers.

Going for a walk in a place where I know there are cottonwoods during the time of year when they're just starting to leaf out. The smell of the buds and new leaves is one of my favorites. Sometimes I've brought back a branch or two full of buds and put it in a vase.

Buying the best-smelling shampoo.

On a hot day, going to a place where I can wade or swim in clear, cold, natural water.

I'm not sure it's an indulgence, but getting my hair cut short removed so many little daily physical annoyances that it was probably one of the best self care things I've ever done.
posted by Redstart at 9:55 PM on November 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

You mentioned dance, which I wouldn't have thought of as self care, but now that I think of it that way, it definitely is. I never danced that much before but I recently got a Bluetooth speaker and now I have music on all the time and I can't stop dancing. It's fun and feels good and it's like a whole new way to enjoy something I thought I liked to the full extent. I always thought dancing wasn't for me because I thought it was about being pretentious and showing off but this is just like, shaking your butt and waving your arms around for the fun of it. So yeah. Your body is your friend, it's nice to get to know them.
posted by bleep at 10:32 PM on November 8, 2017

I grind white rice in a coffee grinder. Then I rub it on my face. So satisfying. The smoothiness. You can't imagine. You have to try it.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 10:52 PM on November 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've started swimming in the last 6 weeks. I love the feel of using my muscles without getting overheated... Because water submersion! Yay! I also love the feel of the water on my skin.

Also massage can be amazing. And yeah. Masturbation for sure. I like burning incense, but that's not for everyone. And being able to reach out and pet my long-haired cat whenever I want is a pleasure without measure.
posted by greermahoney at 12:24 AM on November 9, 2017 [3 favorites]

Physical self-care for me is:
  • checking in with my body daily, through yoga or stretching or at least a walk
  • working out and/or sport several times weekly
Sport scratches social and learning itches. It also allows me to just feel pleasure in using my body.

Working out is different. Whether “working out” means a run or gym time or doing bodyweight exercise at home, and whether the run is twenty minutes or an hour, whether the gym time is spent powerlifting or doing kettlebells or doing circuits on the machines or whatever–working out is, at its core, about caring for your body. Just like people with a dog can’t in good conscience not take it out for a walk or run, it’s unconscionable not to regularly take your own human body out for a spin. Maintaining and improving your body by working out is a project of tremendous self-care. It’s “me time”. It’s an indulgent chance to recharge and reboot by letting my body do what it needs to get better.
posted by daveliepmann at 5:13 AM on November 9, 2017

I take one evening a week for the act of physical self care. You're gonna need some supplies, which I'll list here:

- Yoga mat
- Stretchy clothes to do yoga in
- A water bottle
- Epsom salts (a big container for bath-use, not edible use. You can get this at the drug store or even some dollar stores)
- A bottle of nice-smelling essential oils (peppermint or lavender are a good place to start, but you can go to a health food store or a drug store and sniff them until one appeals)
- Body lotion (extra-moisturizing in a big big bottle)
- Fluffy warm socks
- Comfortable PJs
- Your favourite tea

Step one: find a good yoga video online. Check and pick one that appeals (I like this one for beginners looking for self-care).

Step two: set aside a few hours for this project. Put it in your calendar so you don't let other things bump it aside.

Step three: at the time in question, do your yoga video to the best of your ability. Try to enjoy it. Take the time to really listen to your body as you do it (often the instructor will tell you to do this).

Step four: Fill you tub with hot water, adding epsom salts (lots! at least a cup) and three or four drops of essential oil. While it's filling, fill your water bottle with cold water. Turn the bathroom lights as low as they'll go (hard mode: get out some candles). Get in the tub.

It's very hot. Your skin will tingle. Drink your cold water and focus on the feelings in your body--the loose muscles from the yoga, the tingly skin, the hot water you're in vs. the cold water you're drinking. Stay in the tub for as long as you're happy there--sometimes I even bring a book in.

Step five: get out of the tub, dry off, and apply lotion anywhere your skin feels dry and tight (usually legs, arm, hands, neck, face). Let the lotion sink in--see if you can feel it do so, focusing on your skin. When you're no longer sticky, put on your pajamas and your warm socks and make yourself a nice cup of tea.
posted by AmandaA at 7:08 AM on November 9, 2017 [4 favorites]

Get plenty of sleep. It's simple, but truly one of the best things you can do to take care of your body.

Yoga, mindful stretching, etc. I started taking a weekly pilates class and now really look forward to that time.

I also do at least one outdoor hike every week, usually through a forest preserve, which helps me feel more grounded.
posted by writermcwriterson at 8:21 AM on November 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

One of the greatest purchases of my life was a weighted blanket. I got mine because of insomnia - they are also used for people with anxiety, restless leg syndrome, and autism. There is something extremely comforting about being covered by a very heavy blanket (they come in different weights - mine is 25 pounds). I think it's kind of a nice substitute if you don't want to be touched by people. The only downside is I don't want to get out of bed - pretty much ever. They are very expensive, but I consider mine completely worth it. Lots of places sell them. I got mine from this Etsy store.

(People need to be extremely cautious using them for children - there have been a few disasters with children who had blankets they were not physically capable of moving.)
posted by FencingGal at 12:05 PM on November 9, 2017

A couple of others mentioned massage therapy, and I want to reiterate it here, particularly with respect to one thing you mentioned:
I think it would be helpful for me to build a relationship with my body so I am comfortable being physically present.
So, there's a perception among a lot of people that massage is just about "pampering." And I mean, it can be that, but depending on the MT (massage therapist) you visit, there can be a heckuva lot more to it. Massage can impart a greater sense of connection to your own body and a better physical "grounding" in the world. MTs sometimes call this "body awareness," and it's about more than just knowing where your achy spots are--it's about getting to know your entire physical self, AND it's about learning where and how your physical self and your emotional self intersect (e.g., where in your body do you "carry" emotional burdens? In what ways might you be carrying the emotional weight of past physical trauma?).

This can be a really useful and important thing as you work to care for your physical self! You're not likely to get this experience at churn-em-out chains like Massage Envy or "indulgence" spas, but if you have the means, it's worth doing some research online or trying out different MTs in your area to see who and what is out there. (I can give recommendations for the DC metro area, but beyond that I'm of no help.)
posted by duffell at 8:30 AM on November 13, 2017

So, tea, good food. Yes.
But don't just make it and eat it.
Take time. Smell the tea before you brew it. Or coffee - the smell as its being ground, as its brewing. Smell the ingredients before you cook them, as you cook them. Taste as you go.
When its all done, smell the tea again, the food. Take a moment to enjoy the first bite, the first sip. With the food, not just the flavours but the textures too. What textures do you like the best? What seems strange? There's a whole sensory thing with food & drink beyond just the flavour.
posted by sandraregina at 8:29 AM on November 15, 2017

I grind white rice in a coffee grinder. Then I rub it on my face. So satisfying.

This actually does double-duty - as well as producing a powdered face scrub, running a handful of rice through your coffee grinder is actually a recommendation for cleaning the coffee grinder as well.

So actually, you can spin that a little - maybe if you don't want to fuss with getting whole-bean coffee, get a coffee grinder anyway, and use it for spices and this rice-face-scrub thing. Then get whole spices instead of the ground powdered stuff. Use your spice grinder when you bake anything that involves cinnamon or cloves or whatever - it'll take just a few moments longer, the spices will be fresher and tastier, and when you're done cooking you can then throw some rice in the thing to clean it out and use the ground rice as a pumpkin-pie-scented face scrub.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:15 AM on November 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Are you close to any hot springs? This is one of my favorite things to do as it can often include other self-care stuff listed above (forest-bathing, hiking, being immersed in mineral-rich hot water).
posted by ikahime at 9:46 AM on November 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

« Older Recommend guided 'emotional release' meditations?   |   Cat stressed out - help me be the best cat carer I... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.