You can’t draw water from a dry well, or so I’m told. And, particularly when you are surrounded with awful things happening, or friends who are in distress, it’s easy burn yourself out. My particular vice is feeling that it is my personal responsibility to fix everything that is wrong with the world, and then getting stressed when I find that I can’t.
So here are some suggestions for self-care that I should probably try myself some time…
Nine ways to re-fill the well.
- Take a day – or a week – off from social media and from the news. It’s amazing how relaxing life is when one isn’t being bombarded with terrible things happening in the world. And believe me, anything really important is still going to be there in a day or two when you come back.
- Have a really long bath or shower. If you can afford to go get a massage, all the better…
- Go for a long walk with friends. It doesn’t have to be way out in the country, if you are time poor or don’t have a car. Personally, I’m a very urban girl, so my idea of a scenic walk is following the Merri Creek or Moonee Ponds Rivers. You still get to see lorikeets, which is basically the point of the exercise. Or else I take the ferry to Williamstown and watch the black swans.
- Light a candle, or put some essential oils in a burner, and pray or meditate.
- Spend some time with someone you love and haven’t seen for a while.
- Have a movie marathon at home. Pick something really, really safe, like Mary Poppins or Chariots of Fire or the Great British Sewing Bee. Do this alone, or with friends, whichever is more indulgent. Or snuggle under a blanket in your pyjamas and read escapist fiction ALL DAY.
- Sing. Even if you aren’t very good at it – put on something that you like to sing along with and sing or dance to it. If you really can’t bring yourself to sing, just dance.
- Play with colour – paint something, or do some colouring in, or sew something beautiful.
- Get your hands into something tangible – make bread, or do some gardening, or bake, or build something.
Nine small, enjoyable actions, that you can take to reinforce the community around you without burning yourself out.
If, like me, you find it hard to ‘indulge’ in selfish pleasures, these actions are especially good, because they are helping other people while doing something you enjoy, and thus one can ‘justify’ the indulgence…
- Donate to a charity on behalf of someone else. Oxfam Unwrapped will send a friend a card on your behalf, telling them what you donated in their name. The bag of pig’s manure is always a popular choice. I’m also partial to the Women’s Rights gift, that trains women in Bangladesh for leadership roles.
- Bake something delicious and give it to someone. I feed my colleagues a lot, but dropping something in to a local homeless shelter, or for the doctors and nurses at your local hospital is a nice touch. Or you could do this.
- Write a letter or a card to a teacher or friend who has helped you, telling them how much you value them.
- If hand crafts are your thing, make a quilt or a cape or knit a teddy bear for a sick or traumatised child, or check out one of these campaigns.
- If you are in a choir or orchestra or other musical group, get a group together and see if there is a local retirement home, or hospital, or detention centre, that might like a short concert.
- Recommend a book to someone. Buy it for them, if you can afford it. Make it something fun and clever and escapist and quietly feminist. (My recommendations this week are Sherry Thomas’s book A Study in Scarlet Women, which is a really clever gender-swapped Sherlock Holmes; The Invisible Library, by Genevieve Cogman, a fantasy adventure with secret agents, alternate worlds, and stolen books; and anything by Lois McMaster Bujold, but especially Paladin of Souls.)
- Ring someone who you know is having a rough time right now for a chat.
- Volunteer for a tree planting day, or at a wildlife shelter.
- Download Mapswipe, and help Medecins Sans Frontières find people in disaster zones (note that you will need good eyes for this activity)
Some places to go if you really need help
There’s burned out, and then there is falling over the precipice into depression. Which can be an entirely rational response to this world, but it doesn’t mean you should have to deal with it on your own. If you really are not OK, please, don’t go trying all the actions above and then feeling even worse because they aren’t helping and this is yet another thing you are failing at. Please, get some help, because you are a good person, and you deserve it.
- Suicide Helpline – 1300 651 251
- Lifeline – 131 114
- Crisis Line – 136 169
- National Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence Counselling Service – 1800 737 732
- Kids Helpline – 1800 55 1800
- Police, Fire and Ambulance – 000
I don’t have the capacity to make a good list of helplines around the world, but this website from the US has a pretty comprehensive list of suicide helplines in different countries.
Friends in need
If you are OK, but someone close to you is suicidal, the Suicide Helpline (1300 651 251) can send you out some resources to help you support that person. I’ve also written a post on this subject here, based on my experience as a volunteer counsellor with a national crisis line ten years ago.