On Self-Care and Why February Sucks

Today is March 1st and honestly, I couldn’t be happier for February to be over. Historically, February is always the hardest month of the year for me. Whether you call it the Winter Blues or issue a formal diagnosis of Season Affective Disorder, I have spent every February since high school struggling with classic symptoms of depression: low/irritable mood, crying/general tearfulness, fatigue/loss of energy, increased desire for sleep, trouble concentrating etc.  Despite this being a yearly pattern, I always find myself flabbergasted each February as to why I am feeling so awful. “I just don’t understand – nothing is actually wrong – so why can’t I just get it together? What is wrong with me?”

All-aboard the negative self-talk train.

I tried to write a post on self-care all last month, but just wasn’t able to get it done. Now, suddenly it’s March 1st and BAM – here I am, cranking out this post as though the last 28 days weren’t a constant battle between staying awake and sleeping every chance I could.  While I considered moving on to another topic as I sat down to write today, I’ve decided share some of my thoughts on self-care from the last month because it’s been a huge part of how I’ve managed to handle this February better than in previous years. And by manage, I mean how I’ve been able to get to March 1 with less negative self-talk and more self-acceptance than ever before. So, with no further ado:

Things I Learned About Self-Care in February, 2020

Self-Care requires self acceptance

If you read nothing else in this article, I hope you read this point and I hope it sticks with you: self-care is about caring for yourself – not copying the ways other people care for themselves. Just because your best friend or your mother-in-law or the author of some article you read said that going to 5 am yoga 3x/week is what really keeps them grounded and rejuvenated, doesn’t mean that 5 am yoga 3x/week is going to do the same thing for you. Because you’re you, not them. Which brings me to my next point…

Self-Care requires mindfulness

If caring for yourself in a meaningful and effective way means tailoring self-care to your individual needs, you’re going to need to actually be in tune with yourself. You have to know what actually helps ground, relax, recharge, and rejuvenate you. Frankly, sometimes it’s hard to know what we need when we’re feeling depleted. There’s nothing worse than someone asking “What do you feel like you need right now?” and drawing a blank. Asking ourselves what we need in the moment is definitely one form of mindfulness and self-awareness, but if you’re drawing a blank, my suggestion is to think back to before you felt depleted. What things did you enjoy most then? What brought you the most joy? When did you always find yourself sighing with relief? Maybe those are the things you need now.

Self-Care does not require extra money or time

…but it can require you to think differently about the things you already do. Two of the biggest obstacles I hear about prioritizing self-care in both personal and professional conversations are time and money. “Massages and mani/pedi’s are great – but it’s just not in the budget right now.” “I would love to know what it’s like to sit down and read an entire book from start to finish – maybe I’ll have time for that in 2023.”

First – there is definitely something to be said for prioritizing and making space for things we need. However, sometimes it’s not a matter of prioritizing. Sometimes we truly just don’t have the time or money to do the things we want to do for ourselves. Good news – I’ve found that you can still take better care of yourself just by thinking differently about things you’re already doing.

For example – eating. You already eat at some point (hopefully, multiple points) every day. If you’re in a particularly busy season of life, you might see meal time as yet another thing consuming time you don’t have to spend. Instead, try thinking of meal time as an opportunity to fuel and nourish your body which is doing the best it can to get you through these long days right now. Same goes for sleep and hydration.

For me, this realization allowed me to accept myself where I am, as I am, in a way I’ve never been able to before in the midst of seasonal depression. This provided me with the following opportunity for creativity in how I managed February:

Because my hard season is largely related to weather (ongoing overcast days, rain, and cold weather = depression for me) it can be difficult for me to get more of what I need (sunshine and warm weather) when I need it most (ahem, winter). This February, instead of bemoaning the existence of rainy day after rainy day, I decided to try embracing them after thinking back to last summer, when I wasn’t depleted and remembering that I actually enjoy a good rainy day as a reprieve from my preferred warmer temperature. It’s only when they go on and on and on that they begin to feel dreary and heavy, rather than restful and cozy.

So I asked myself what my favorite parts about rainy days are and then tried to recreate those elements for myself. When I’m really loving a random rainy day, I always spend more time in bed that day. I leave my windows open so I can feel the cool breeze, hear the different sounds the rain makes as it falls on difference surfaces, and – perhaps my favorite part – and smell the freshness of the air. So the other day when it was raining…again…I decided to work from my bed rather than my desk, opened the window, lit some candles, turned on the Rain of Leaves setting in my Calm App and played it through my bluetooth speaker to really immerse myself in the sound and experience of the rainy day.

I won’t lie to you and say I still didn’t spend a good portion of the time sleeping – or wanting to sleep. However, I did spend more time actually appreciating the day, rather than resenting it. I was accepting of my desire to stay snuggled in bed and sleep off and on, because for me, that’s part of what makes an unexpected rainy day enjoyable for me anyway. In all of this – I didn’t add in any new activities – I didn’t even try to fight my desire for sleep. I just accepted and embraced where I was and really sank into it – rather than fighting against it, because I knew that was what I needed.

Thankfully, Daylight Savings Time begins in 8 days – so my blessedly predictable hard season will likely be winding down soon. However, the need for self-care doesn’t disappear in easy seasons either. Whether you’re in an easy season or a hard one, I would encourage you to ponder the quality and effectiveness of your own self-care. And if pondering self-care quickly gives way to feeling overwhelmed by adding more items to your to-do list, try working through some of the lessons on the philosophy of self-care I’ve learned this year. They’ve been a game changer for me.