Every so often a new buzzword becomes popular in mental health and wellbeing circles. The latest seems to be ‘self-care’. Although often hijacked by PR and marketing, and packaged up alongside ‘Because you’re worth it’ sentiments, the concept has an important part to play in treatment and recovery. Learning to look after ourselves and our surroundings are fundamental steps towards resilience and healthy self-esteem, as artist and mental health activist Hannah Daisy’s extremely popular #boringselfcare illustrations accentuate (her Make Daisy Chains Instagram account has 32.5 thousand followers).
A new contribution to this field is 365 Ways to Feel Better: Self-care Ideas for Embodied Wellbeing by Eve Menezes Cunningham. As the title indicates, Cunningham offers one suggestion per day beginning on 1st January and running through to 31st December, with a bonus tip included for leap years, but it’s perfectly possible to begin on any given day.
The 365 self-care ideas cover a number of areas. Mindful breathing and yoga receive a lot of attention, with Cunningham (a certified yoga teacher) usefully modelling even the most basic poses in a series of photographs. There are classic coaching style questions like ‘What would you say and to whom if you weren’t afraid of rejection?’ and ‘What would you do if you cared about yourself?’. There are fun, playful recommendations too, such as experiment with singing and dressing differently.
The suggestions range from the practical to the ethereal, sometimes on the same page. On 19th and 20th March, for instance, there is encouragement to declutter alongside a meditation involving crystals and chakras. The subtitle’s emphasis on embodied wellbeing is evident throughout, including attention to medical health; linking to a national awareness day on 23rd April, Cunningham encourages readers to test their blood pressure.
Cunningham rightly reminds her audience that their own inner wisdom is transformative and can be used for guidance. Nonetheless the 350+ tips will almost certainly supplement almost anyone’s self-care repertoire. I was particularly inspired by the concept of ‘yogic caffeine’, asanas to alleviate the mid-afternoon slump. I also found myself doing Alternative Nostril Breathing, where you use your thumb to block one nostril while breathing in, then block the other and exhale, before an appointment I was anxious about. I’d learnt this technique before but hadn’t used it for some time until the book provided a handy reminder.
The example of alternative nostril breathing highlights the ongoing nature of many suggestions included in 365 Ways to Feel Better. Relatively few are discrete activities; a large proportion are concerned with forming new self-care practices to integrate into your daily life. This is not a criticism per se. However it does mean you can’t open the book assuming that day’s proposal will make you feel better immediately (perhaps that is too much to expect from any self-care advice!).
The need for ongoing practice means that it isn’t really feasible to thoroughly immerse yourself in all 365 self-care ideas. It would simply be overwhelming. Some readers might also find Cunningham’s mystical philosophies and practices off putting; if you’re sceptical about New Age spirituality then this is not the book for you. But if you’re looking for lots of self-care prompts that you can dip into, then Cunningham’s new work is worth checking out.