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Self Care And Mental Health— How Do They Connect?

BY Laura Casciola

Already well into May, AKA mental health awareness month, we’re all still adjusting to this new view of what daily life looks like. If your world looks anything like mine (hi! I’m Laura, staff writer at function) that means slowing down and simplifying. I’m finding the small things to suddenly have the biggest value in my day– especially how I care for myself. Doing your hair might not be noteworthy in ‘regular’ life, but now kind of feels like an accomplishment, right?! And if your feeds look anything like mine does, “self care” is being talked about more than ever.

All of that got me thinking: how, in life and especially in having so much time at home, do our self-care routines affect our mental health? What are they doing for us, really? I wanted to have the conversation, so I was lucky enough to be able to reach out to my friends Sarah Sasson and Liz Heit, who run It’s Fine, I’m Fine, a podcast that works to normalize the conversation around mental health. Here’s what they had to say:

Image courtesy of It’s Fine, I’m Fine 

Laura: Hi Liz + Sarah! Thanks for talking to me. Can we take a quick sec to define mental health? So we’re all on the same page.

Liz: I think when people hear ‘mental health’ they think about mental illness, and they’re not the same. Your mental health is an assessment of how your brain is doing- just like how physical health (a check up) is assessing how your body is doing. It doesn’t have to be a scary/clinical topic. 

Laura: Got it. So mental health can include mood, stress level…

Sarah: Yes! It’s as simple as it sounds. It’s the health of your mental state– your emotions and thoughts. It’s an awareness of how you’re feeling.

Laura: Can you give some background info on why you decided to make mental health a more daily conversation?

Liz: One of the things we want to do is take those conversations and make them more accessible. Because I think people get very intimidated at where to start, and the first step is just normalizing this convo. I feel similarly about function of beauty– if you want to start caring for your hair and you’re intimidated and think you have to go straight to the professionals, here are some products that can help you start accessing self care on your own.

“The balance of taking care of yourself while also not beating yourself up is self care.”

Image courtesy of It’s Fine, I’m Fine

Laura: Love that. Can you tell me about your personal self-care rituals and how they affect your mood/your mental health?

Liz: Sure! Something I do is wear makeup most days. People are like, “I can’t believe you’re doing all of that!” and it’s controversial. But I’m not doing it for other people. I do it because it makes me feel like me. It’s a form of self expression. Not everyone’s self care is the same as another person’s. Someone else’s might be taking makeup-free days! Then there’s other more universal things I do. I wash/care for my hair a certain way too.

Laura: Yeah, washing your hair can feel like a big self-care moment– it was my mom’s go-to advice when I was feeling ‘blah’ as a kid. Liz would you say makeup makes you feel confident?

Liz: Absolutely. They’re inextricably linked.

Sarah: I feel the exact same way- “look good feel good” is such a real thing for me. When I feel like I look good or I’ve done something to care for myself, I’m a different person that day. Even if that’s just exfoliating, when I get out of the shower the mood that I’m in is instantly better because I feel like I’ve cared for me.

“self care will allow us to ultimately be valuable to others.”

Image courtesy of @pen.and.brushes and @thegoodquote

Laura: YES! Now we have so few options, and for a lot of us that’s stressful. Do you feel like having self-care rituals can help us with feeling more in control?

Sarah: Yeah, these days it’s sometimes hard to even get out of my PJs. But then I do it, and it allows me to feel like I had some control over something in my day– I accomplished something however small– which for me, personally, helps my anxiety.

Liz: I make myself breakfast every day in quarantine. It’s not like I have to cook every single meal or else I won’t always accomplish it and I’ll be hard on myself. The balance of taking care of yourself while also not beating yourself up is self care. It’s about relinquishing control and allowing yourself to take the day off from whatever your self care ritual is, too.

“I want to make it clear… we don’t have to be ‘gurus'”

Laura: These days, self care can feel like an accomplishment and a like form of productivity.

Liz: I agree. There’s something to be said about how much more productive I am when I take care of myself. I think especially as women, we’re always trying to prove that we are valuable, so self-care may feel uncomfortable. Because we believe that self care means we’re not adding value to the world, we’re being selfish. But self care is not only needed because we ourselves are valuable, but also because self care will allow us to ultimately be valuable to others.

Sarah: Having some type of ritual or routine is really important for our own well-being. In COVID, everything is one big BLOB of time without a schedule in sight. And that’s scary. So just taking it day by day allows us to have some “normalcy”. But I want to make it clear that it’s not easy to always be on top of self-care. We don’t have to be “gurus” at it.

Laura: Right! It’s not about a perfect self-care routine.

Sarah: Right. Self care can be mental, physical, emotional. It can be exercise or journaling or putting on ‘real clothes’. There are so many ways to care for yourself.

Liz: The buzz word that I’ve been repeating to myself is ‘balance’. On the one hand, I think it’s so critical to have a routine, because really at the end of the day if we aren’t getting out of bed and doing anything it can be detrimental to our mental health. But on the flip side, there’s this whole culture about hyper productivity. Where it’s like we have to be training for a marathon by the end of this. No– it’s about finding a space for yourself in the middle. 

Laura: So, breaking it down– self care just means taking care of yourself. Whatever that means for you that day/moment. It comes from knowing your own self and addressing your own needs. 

Sarah: 100%. 

Liz: Totally.

If you’re interested in learning more about what we value at function of beauty, read this.