I Tried Every Self-Care Tip On The Internet – Here's What I Learned

Photo: Eylul Aslan
After 30 years spent practising self-destruction, I’m desperately trying to make up for lost time in the self-care department. Earlier this year, I did a health insurance survey that estimated the age of my body, based on the answers I gave about my lifestyle, at 42. That shocker, plus a mental health crisis, forced me to start taking self-care seriously. As someone who’s just said yes to everything anyone’s asked me to do personally, professionally and socially for decades, I finally decided to turn my priorities around to face me. It felt like a radical act.
You could say self-care got into the wrong hands when Google searches for the term peaked following Trump’s inauguration and consumer marketers jumped at the chance to flog everything from acupressure mats to Himalayan salt lamps to white noise sound machines under the ‘self-care’ umbrella. This bastardisation of self-care spawned articles such as "19 Items To Buy For Your Mental Health, Because Self-Care Isn’t Always Free" (Bustle), which lists Green & Blacks chocolate and a soft toy sloth “to cuddle when times get tough” as must-have items.
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While the NHS and Mind advocate general things like 'nourishing your social life', 'making time for therapeutic activities' and 'looking after your physical self', notably leaving room for you to fill in the things that actually work for you, there are hundreds upon hundreds of wacky websites with names like Little Buddha which offer much more specific self-care instructions, ranging from stroking your own arm to cloud-gazing.
Since I’m on this self-care journey anyway, I decided to say yes to every self-care suggestion the internet threw at me for 24 hours to see if the Bustles and the little buddhas were actually on to something. So here goes: 32 self-care tips from the internet, packed into one already-busy Friday.
Seize the day!
Self-care is a morning person. My alarm goes off an hour earlier than usual because I’ve got a lot of self-care to achieve before I leave the house. I usually hate mornings but since I know my first six tips include a morning bubble bath, meditation and dancing – without having to venture outside – I actually feel excited to be up. It’s the most carpe diem I’ve ever felt before a coffee.
Morning meditation
Pretty much every self-care list on the internet tells you to start the day with meditation so I listen to the first guide that comes up on YouTube while the bubble bath is running. I always find meditation hard because it’s boring; I guess that’s the point but when the voice starts telling me that I’m part of the universe’s ecosystem, it just makes me think of being caught in seaweed in the sea. My impatience makes me switch to another meditation but the next one doesn’t do it for me either because she says really basic zen bitch things like "There’s no room for a bad mood in gratitude!" so I give up on meditation. I knew it wasn’t for me.
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Morning bubble bath
I only have time for a danger bath: when you know you don’t have time for a bath, but you have one anyway. I recline, close my eyes, and try to think of something Eureka-worthy. It’s 10 times more relaxing than the YouTube meditation but 10 times less relaxing than an evening bath that you can go to sleep after.
Practise the sacred sound of Om
I’m a big fan of Oms, they’re my favourite part of a yoga class. Since I’m doing them for the first time alone, I google what ‘Om’ actually means and find an article in the Yogi Times which informs me that it’s a sacred sound from the Hindu faith, also used in Buddhism and Jainism, and it means ‘source’ or ‘universal consciousness’. I do three Oms with this knowledge and they make me feel deeply calm and balanced. Spoiler: The Oms are my second favourite thing from the internet tips that I will try today.
Singing, Dancing
Lots of the self-care websites tell you to sing and to dance. Singing wasn’t originally on my to-do-before-work list, but my boyfriend’s flatmate happens to be singing Erasure’s “A Little Respect” (he’s probably singing the Wheatus version) while he’s getting ready for work so I go and join in and we share a verse and a chorus. And do a little jig. We both feel amazing afterwards.
Tell yourself you’re gorgeous in the mirror
I found this tip on a ‘self-care wheel’ online that a woman called Olga has created (and translated into several languages for global use). Self-care is synonymous with self-love so why not? I stand in front of the mirror and tell myself I’m gorgeous. The words sound empty.
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Write a poem or a book
I plan to do this on the Tube on the way to work to save time and because I’m thinking about the poem from the moment I go underground, I look at everything in terms of its poetic potential. I stare intensely at everyone in my carriage and write down what they’re doing in the Notes section of my phone. It ain’t poetry. Instead I settle for writing a paragraph of prose about an unusual-looking man sat opposite me who reminds me of Boo Radley. It’s the best thing I’ve written all year.
Flirt
So on the self-care wheel, which I’m now fully aboard, it lists ‘flirt’ under the ‘emotional self-care’ section. As fate would have it, someone flirts with me in the lift up to my office, which never normally happens – I must be extra ‘present’ from all the self-care so far. I’m carrying a plate of peanut butter on toast that I got from the café downstairs, which is not on the official healthy eating self-care menu but I’m rather tired from my early start. The guy in the lift with horn-rimmed spectacles says “Are you planning to put jam on that peanut butter?” Not exactly a slam-dunk line but this may be my only opportunity to flirt today, so instead of frowning and saying ‘No’, I say: “Yes. I’m going to put jam all… over… it.”
Aromatherapy
I light a candle at my desk and find it very embarrassing.
Stroke your own arm
It’s impossible to do anything else while stroking your own arm. I feel no benefits.
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Tea
It doesn’t give me the same buzz as coffee so I have a coffee after. I then start my working day and forget all about self-care until 1pm.
Photo: Eylul Aslan
Cloud-watching, Drawing, Turning my phone off
Loads of people recommend cloud-watching or ‘cloud-glazing’ for self-care. And also drawing. Time is of the essence so I decide to watch clouds, then draw clouds, and I leave my phone at my desk to tick off the ‘turn phone off’ tip. I go and sit on the outdoor balcony on the third floor where our office is and look at the sky. It’s a truly terrifying experience; the clouds are moving too fast, it makes me feel dizzy and like the world could end at any moment. It also reminds me of something my year 10 boyfriend said to me over the phone one night: he asked me to go to my bedroom window and look at the sky and then proceeded to tell me how amazed he was that the sky always looked different every time you looked at it. He said if an artist were to paint the sky, everyone would say ‘That’s not what the sky looks like’ – but the sky looks different every day, so it might well be what the sky looked like that day. I draw the clouds, safe in the knowledge that no one can say my drawing is crap because how do they know what the sky looked like today. On my way back to the office, because I don’t have my phone with me, which I would usually be on, refreshing my emails, I notice a guy giving me the eye through his clear-glassed office. I hold his gaze, clutching my cloud drawings.
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Write in a journal
I object to the word ‘journal’. But it is nice to write down your feelings as a way of realising which ones are worth exploring further, and which aren’t.
Learn about who you are
I do the first personality test that comes up on Google. It tells me that I’m a 'campaigner' personality type (ENFP). It’s truly the most accurate description of myself I’ve ever read. The description concludes with “don’t lose that little spark of madness”, which makes me feel special – as I suspect all internet personality tests do.
Eat healthily / Treat yourself / Citrus scents / Dark chocolate
I really struggle to eat healthily in life so I eat peanut butter on toast for breakfast, salad for lunch, and buttery potatoes followed by orange polenta cake for dinner (citrus scents). I know healthy eating is probably the most important self-care practice but we all have our limits. The salad left me feeling hungry and sad. The cake made me feel very happy, and another self-care internet tip is to ‘treat yourself’. ‘Eat dark chocolate’ is yet another so I buy myself that Green & Blacks as an afternoon snack and realise Bustle was right: I feel cared for and ethically sound.
Cry
I know exactly what makes me cry so this is easy. It’s 50 Heartbreaking Movie Moments on YouTube. I watch and cry at the scene from Life Is Beautiful at my desk. I don’t know what this has to do with self-care if the crying is purpose-built.
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Make a vision board
A vision board is a collection of images that represent ‘what you want to be, do or have in your life’. I can’t think of anything to put on a vision board, which makes me think I must be happy with my present life. I’ve out-self-cared self-care.
Say no to things
My friend invites me to the theatre tonight because he has a spare press ticket but I’m really looking forward to the Friday-night self-care package I’ve got planned. So I say no.
Exercise / Sunset
It’s not rocket science. I’m able to leave work early today and I’ve googled the time the sun sets so I make sure I’m running as it’s setting, which is spectacular and much better than the cloud-gazing. I’ve planned to meet my brother on the run and we do laps of our local hometown park together while discussing Stoicism – the school of philosophy which says that happiness is found in the present moment. This is the best thing I do all day / week. I feel all the gratitude I didn’t feel during my morning meditation flood through me. The pinks, purples and oranges of the sky are so beautiful, I almost call my year 10 boyfriend and ask him to go to his bedroom window.
Massage
I massage my knee because it really hurts. I knew I was damaging it while running because it hurt almost the whole time, but I was so high on the sky that I ran through the pain.
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Cuddle with a pet
I do have two pets (beagles, look how cute) that live with my parents. I’m now home for the weekend so I have a big cuddle with them which is nice, but not significantly better than watching dog videos on Instagram.
Laugh, Hang out with family
I go to watch The Florida Project with my siblings. The little girl in it (watch her here) is hilarious. The end of the film takes me by surprise and I burst into tears; I didn’t need the sad film compilation after all. This makes me realise a lot of self-care happens naturally throughout the day.
Be sexual
Noted.
Self-reflect / Pray
I always feel weird praying after being sexual. I’m sure I’ve self-reflected enough for one day, but I put my hands together anyway and thank God for my amazing, outrageously privileged life which allows me to spend a whole day practising self-care tips from the internet.
Arm-stroking and citrus scents aside, I conclude that taking self-care to excess is a good thing. Dedicating a day to yourself and trying this stuff out might sound like a privileged waste of time but self-care isn’t a privilege, it’s a necessity, hence why the NHS and Mind and every doctor you speak to will prescribe a form of it for pretty much any mental or physical condition. As Dr. Claudia Herbert, clinical psychologist and director of the Oxford Development Centre recently told me: “It’s just about starting to get to know yourself. Most people don’t know their system, they switch off from it, they ignore it and they treat their cars better than their bodies. Start to know how to use your body and relax your mind. Appreciate yourself.” What doctors probably won’t say is 'Why don’t you go and watch the sunset in your hometown park?' and 'Try singing an '80s pop classic with a friend before work', because they would feel silly. Which is where the Little Buddhas come in.
My top 3 tips for self-care from the internet:
1. Watch the sun set.
2. Practice the sacred sound of Om.
3. Specifically sing “A Little Respect” with a friend before work.
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