Are you a perfectionist? I know I can be driving myself way too hard and beating myself up emotionally when I don’t reach unrealistic and self-imposed targets. Over the years, I have worked out these traits are not good for my mental wellbeing. I practise self-care more than I have ever done but with that perfectionist streak, I can all too easily start setting targets for that part of my life too. I am delighted to share a personal guide to self-care for perfectionists from the lovely Naomi. Her powerful guide to self-care spoke to me and I hope it helps you too.
“In one year, nearly three quarters of adults in the UK reported at some point feeling so stressed that they felt unable to cope.
It’s a mind-blowing statistic, and one that perfectly encapsulates why self-care is so important. That’s not to say that a bubble bath and a nice cup of tea will solve a severe psychotic disorder, but it’s clear that a lot of us are not looking after our mental health as well as we should be.
If you’re a perfectionist or an over-achiever like me, self-care can be one more thing that you feel you need to be exceptional at. And, in the process of trying to do it perfectly you only detract from your wellbeing, and possibly end up as another person in the unable-to-cope 74%.
To avoid this, I want to advocate for low-pressure, flexible self-care that you cannot possibly fail at. In fact, sometimes failing is the best self-care you can do. And I’m not just saying that. I have ‘failed’ at self-care many times myself, and often discovered it was exactly the right thing to do.
Self-care that fits into a routine seems to really appeal to perfectionists (it certainly does to me). I like the idea that I’m organised and self-aware enough weave these things into my everyday life. And, if you struggle with mental health problems as well, it can be so good to make it a habit, because self-care can be hardest when you need it the most.
The two self-care practices that I try to fit into my routine are meditation and mood tracking. Meditation is linked to increased concentration, better self-awareness and even lower blood pressure, among many other things. Theoretically, the benefits increase the more you do it, so it makes sense to make it a habit. As for mood-tracking, this is actually a practice based around cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). You record your thoughts and feelings, allowing you to track them over time and identify what makes you feel bad and what makes you feel good. Again, for this to be of the greatest benefit, it’s a good idea to get into the habit of doing it regularly. I have an app on my phone for it, and I try to record my mood whenever I notice a change.
I love these two acts of self-care for different reasons. I love meditation because it helps calm racing thoughts, and it’s equipped me with the tools I need to be able to assess situations more calmly, and to feel panic less easily. To not take things so personally. I love tracking my mood because I get to analyse myself, to overthink for a good reason. I get to actively figure out what consistently makes me happy, and what I need to avoid or work on.
However, there were points where I gave up on both of these – and it was totally ok. In fact, it was important that I did.
I used to get up a bit earlier for work in order to meditate. But there came a point in the middle of winter where the prospect just made me feel stressed. I resented having to get up, even ten minutes earlier, just to sit and do nothing (which is basically what meditation is). It took a while, but eventually I decided to break the routine, and I felt so much better. My new self-care routine was ten more minutes in bed. I listened to myself, and I think if you really break down what self-care is, then that’s where you’ll end up. Listening to what you really want.
The break from mood-tracking was a similar story. I found it stressful to keep doing it on holiday, where I was trying to let go of everything and relax. So I did, and it was a great idea.
A dropped self-care routine can easily be picked back up when you feel up to it again, but if it’s causing you any kind of stress then it is not doing its job.
Home guide to self-care
Little things that you can treat yourself with at home are probably the least likely to cause you stress, but if your brain runs at 100 miles per hour, you still need to check yourself, and make sure you’re really looking after yourself, and not performing the idea of looking after yourself.
For example, I like taking baths. And, it is something that graces many a list-post on self-care. I like taking my time, using a fancy bath bomb and propping my iPad up on the toilet so I can watch something on Netflix. It’s nice. But sometimes it’s also boring, and it is completely pointless to stay in the bath when you’d rather be up and about, even if your bath bomb was expensive. Self-care, sometimes, is getting out.
Hobbies can be problematic in much the same way. Me, I love reading – you can get lost somewhere else. And, importantly, you can get lost somewhere else away from screens. But, sometimes I force myself to read because I think I should, or I battle on when I’m not enjoying myself or I’m nodding off. I 100% advocate doing your hobby of choice whenever you have the chance. I think it’s important to connect with things you like, and not get sucked into a never-ending cycle of work and chores. But sometimes you’re not into it, and if you battle on when you’d truly rather do something else – then you’re performing self-care, not practicing it.
My final suggestion for self-care-at-home is harder to perform, because for all intents and purposes it feels like organisation (well, it is). However, it could still definitely be detrimental, taken too far.
When I have energy, I like to plan things for ‘future me’ to do. I’ll buy her tickets to things, so that when she’s not feeling so good, she’ll have to get out of the house anyway, and hopefully the activity or event will cheer her up. It’s a nice feeling, channelling your positive energy into improving your own life in a fun, non-work-related way. Personally, I have not encountered a problem with this yet, but I think the pitfalls are many – overspending, for one, or cramming your schedule so full that there’s no time even to breathe (I have a lot of thoughts about busyness and self-care, but that is a whole other topic).
Self-care guide when outdoors
Depending on the state of your mental health, self-care outside the home, I think, could be the hardest to practice. That nature is great for your wellbeing seems undisputed, but if you’re having a bad day, it can seem pretty impossible to get out into it (even to walk to the shop).
The same goes for socialising (human contact being another staple in the lists of advice to people looking to improve their mental wellbeing). I mean, it seems to be true. I once spent the evening crying because I cancelled going to a big get-together and immediately regretted it. And on other occasions I have dragged myself from the house to meet friends, resentful and grumpy, and ended up having a lovely, uplifting time.
Like everything else on this list, flexibility and listening to yourself is key. If you can’t face getting up, don’t beat yourself up for not going outside. Mental illness is stigmatised enough by the world at large – you don’t need to berate yourself too. If you feel that bad, in all likelihood a cup of tea is the most you’re going to manage in the way of self-care, and that’s fine. Be realistic. And don’t get stuck just because you’ve made a decision. When I didn’t go to the get-together, I wasted a huge amount of the evening where I could have changed my mind. Instead of bawling my eyes out, I could have put on make-up and turned up a bit late. I could have overturned the decision that was making me miserable – that would have been better self-care. Equally, if you drag yourself out for a walk and hate it, go home.
Listen to yourself. Let yourself fail. If it stresses you out, it’s not self-care.”
Naomi Curston is the founder of Inching Forwards. She has been blogging since 2015, and writing forever.
Now you have read her guide to self-care for perfectionists you may want to check out her blog is for people who want to look after themselves better while striving to fight injustice.
She wants to investigate how we can improve our lives and our mental health. She wants to celebrate self-care. She wants to help you figure out what you want to spend your time on most. And she wants to talk all things work – from boredom and disillusionment to ambition.
But she also wants to empower you to make positive changes in the world around you, and to lift up those less fortunate. Think feminism. Climate change. Race, gender, disability and more. Think challenging hate, in all its forms.
What would you include in a guide to self-care for perfectionists?