How Self Care Can Improve Mental Health and Intrusive Thoughts

To me self-care is learning more about oneself because you are so important and amazingly complex and loved. 

I know - sometimes it’s hard to accept that we are loved. It’s also easy to be intimidated by self-care. 

It’s taken on this requirement of being “Instagrammable” and aesthetically pleasing. I’m all about creative art - but sometimes we lose the core of why we deserve to give ourselves the time to care. 

I’ll make this article a “to-the-point” type - the basic foundation of self-care is to give time to oneself. 

When my mental health spirals out of control, it usually means I’m also neglecting other life areas: sleep, diet, exercise, joy. It’s easy to throw away time when it’s about ourselves. 

We think we can power through our anxiety and lack of sleep. But in reality - we all have a limit. 

But, I’m going to lead you through and exercise that forces you into giving yourself the time you deserve. Spoiler alert: it’s not doing something that is already part of your “routine” or comfort zone. 

These things are easy to toss out. You’ve built up a catalog of reasons to toss them away, to skip it this one time. 

So instead, let’s look at something you’ve been actively avoiding, or putting off, and set the strong intention of setting aside time for you.

Maybe it’s cleaning out the junk draw. Perhaps it’s doing your laundry instead of your children’s this week. 

You can even drive to the store to pick up your favorite healthy snacks, instead of only going to shop for your family. 

Whatever it is - pick something that serves you. 

Serving ourselves is a form of maintenance, not selfishness. And when we put some time and maintenance into ourselves, we can improve our mental health. 

For me, I’ve been wanting to clean out this small screened-in, sunroom porch for weeks now and turn it into an inviting work from home flower space. So we’re going to get our hands a little dirty today. Literally. 

So ask yourself, do you have a space in your mind or home that needs cleaning? 

There’s a lot of mental stimulation around self care and cleaning. Let’s jump into the analogies…

The expectation of always having an organized, perfect attitude, thought process and mindset is just not realistic. 

I used to think I was unfixable and disgustingly imperfect because I had to get rid of some clutter. Guess what? We take trash out almost everyday, because that’s life. 

Your daily interactions in and outside of your control dictate your build up and yes, requires you to put on the gloves, tie up the garbage or break out the cleaning supplies. 

It’s not about having the clutter and the trash, aka the complex emotions, or the thoughts or the stressors - it’s about being aware of the trash and how much exists.

This little sunroom first was empty when I moved in, but as I broke down moving boxes, and ordered things non-stop that I needed, this cute space became a holder of, well, trash. At the time, I needed to move everything there to create space for other projects. 

There may have been a time or season in your life where you had to uphold a certain emergency plan, or have an unideal thought process or actions to get through something big. 

You may have had to protect yourself and store away emotions for a period of time. That’s okay! Sometimes we need to prioritize, but as long as you know you’re doing it in the first place. 

If left unresolved two things can happen: the build up becomes so extreme that you cause other problems. Or, like this sunroom, where you’re placing those thoughts, anxieties and emotions are taking up a space that, if cleaned, can be a beautiful place of retreat, new opportunities and happiness.

Can you identify a built up emotion or thought that’s preventing you from creating a space of growth? Good. Let’s clean it out. 

Imagine, what would you grow if you didn’t have that thing holding you back, what would you do, create, become, or love? 

We can’t get rid of our anxiety permanently, but we can declutter often to give ourselves our imagination back. You can still imagine even if it’s not the season to grow what you want. Imagining is the first step towards planning.

Phew. Now that we’re cleaned out, I totally have a vision of this little spot and what I want it to become. Sometimes decluttering allows us to see things clearly, even just briefly, so we know where to go. Speaking of going, let’s checkout our pots. Pots are important! Including where you store your happiness, ideas and love. 

Compartmentalizing both the weeds and the flowers help us have control, and let us water what we want and need to based on our goals. 

Ultimately to separate thoughts from one another, and most important from you. You are not your thoughts! 

You can place these pots with seeds somewhere, and walk away if you need too at times. You can come back and observe them, water them. But you will not become them.

Let’s start planting! It’s so warm - finally. I live in New England, okay, cut me some slack. It's always cold. I love the smell of the soil and there’s even fresh mowed grass! 

What better place to start than with new potting soil; which are made for flowers to grow. 

Now, if you haven’t heard it before, definitely read the allegory known as the Parable the Sowers, found in the book of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Even if you’re not a Christian, I encourage you to look up the verses and immerse yourself into the Good News of the Gospel. The written word can always teach us new things.

Jesus compares four different types of soils: no soil, rocky and very little soil, soil with thorns and good soil. In the Bible, the seeds are the Gospel, and the soil represents how it is received. 

For example, the thorns represent the message of God being received, but our concern about how others perceive us become more important. Therefore, instead of living out His Word, we lean into others opinions, causing plants, or the Gospel, to die.

The good soil does not mean easy soil. For example, the Gospel is received and the Christian remains determined regardless of the stormy weather and how hard things get. 

What kind of soil do you have for your thoughts, certain anxieties and dreams? 

Is it a healthy place to put your ideas? More-so, maybe you actually tossed out good soil because you confused good with easy.

Now for the seed! Some seeds are unseen to the human eye due to being so small, but they hold a lot of beauty if they are germinated and cared for; they can fill a space of joy, nourishment and provision. 

Oftentimes we think the size of our opportunity or skill dictates the growth that we may have, or what something can become. However, the seed is a perfect example that how big you are before starting something is less important then starting at all. So begin. We all have micro-seeds inside of us that are grown through the sun of our kindness, self-care, patience and love.

Related to the seed, is also a great introduction to intrusive thoughts. Like little seeds scattered in the brain, everyone has intrusive thoughts. 

They are involuntary and disturbing in nature. And for me, and many others, it causes a sense of distress and anxiety. As someone with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, I tend to think that my anxious reaction to said thought means something, when in fact, these thoughts, also known as obsessions, have no meaning. 

But I give it meaning, and I find myself extremely scared - and therefore I tunnel into my compulsions to elevate the thought. But it’s one big cycle - a weed. These thoughts look like all kinds of things to everyone; violent, self-harm, contamination, religious, and sexual, to name a few.

Even if you don’t have intrusive thoughts related to harm, often, like me, or have a mental health condition diagnosed, what intrusive thoughts are you giving too much attention to? 

Maybe you’re always thinking negatively when you wake up, or you think constantly about how much you hate your appearance, and only notice the wilted leaves and not the beautiful flowers you’ve grown. 

I often teach my lovely friends about intrusive thoughts! It’s a little term but beneficial for everyone to know! We all have a brain, so therefore, we all must pay attention to the health state and patterns of our mind. 

Kind of like learning about weeds, overwatering and infertile soil. Knowledge is power, and the second I learned about intrusive thoughts and hey, I can’t control them, only feed them, a ton of my anxiety improved! 

Weeds are going to grow. They’re small and scattered and sometimes placed by other things or people, but you don’t have to water them, if you acknowledge them. 

You don’t have to blame yourself for every weed in your mind - some weeds are caused and watered by others around you and your environment. 

There’s lots of methods of dealing with intrusive thoughts. But you should always turn to professionals to work on these. You shouldn’t feel shame or fear by expressing these thoughts, as they are just thoughts. 

Uprooting these weeds creates space for amazing fruits and vegetables that are going to feed you on your many paths of growth and goals. 

You’re going to continue to grow weeds, a perfect field doesn’t exist, but hard work can create good lessons.

Now, I don’t want any of this to sound simple. When my intrusive thoughts progressed throughout my life, eventually, I became debilitated and thought about suicide because the traumatic pain of these toughs felt unbearable. 

However, I am proof that you can fight past that season of your life and come out on the other side, now I can give a little knowledge back of what I wish I knew, and honestly, what I too am still working on.

It’s easy to watch videos and assume that that person has it all figured out and if they’re talking about it, it means they’ve mastered it. 

That is not true, at least for me. I am sharing what I am learning because I have been a student and a Disciple for my entire life. We’re all very layered. 

Speaking of layers, look at these Marigolds! They come in a variety of colors and have many layers. They are believed to have health benefits and medicinal properties. 

They grow almost all year long depending on conditions. Maybe you have an anxiety or thought that is manifesting throughout most of the seasons of your life - but actually turns into something beautiful and healing! 

Not all anxiety, in my experience, leads me to bad things. Mental health has made me more empathetic, patient and understanding of others. Your kindness from what you’ve learned in our hard walk can spread like wildflowers. 

Just like the purple flax flower - they have the ability to produce an abundance of flowers and can spread vastly. This plant actually prefers dryer soil. 

They’re resilient and require very little maintenance. One seed or flower always seems to be able to overtake the next if it dies. 

Which is totally another great analogy about emotions. I think sometimes I believe being in a state of emotionless, feeling nothing is good or what “normal” is - so when I’m a little tense, or overly jittery, I assume that’s a bad thing - in reality, it’s just a thing. 

One emotion always replaces the next, we’re always existing with some sense of feeling or process. Just because you’re tired, a little restless or thinking of something, it doesn’t automatically override happiness and having some good pockets of sun in your days. 

Oh guys, look at these. Strawberries have a beautiful aroma, are bright red, juicy and sweet that are adored throughout the world. We actually just muddled some and made strawberry lemonade! 

Did you know the flavor of strawberries are influenced by weather and ripeness when harvested? 

It’s made me think about which fruitful opportunities I’ve had that I may have harvested too late or two early. Now, God has really placed it on my heart and given me strength when I’m equipped and ready to do so. 

This little sunny project was years in the making, of creativity, lessons, struggle and change. 

And this is my favorite! An amazing herb - basil. The leaves are glossy and smooth, and the smell makes me always think of comfort food. These little guys immediately take my mind to a warm, content place. 

They too like warm soil and environments with sun, but can be drowned easily with overwatering. They also need pruning - which encourages them to grow more leaves to be used for cooking and oils. 

I love the power of a small thing, how it can bring in so many thoughts and feelings. How one little idea can make use in so many parts of our lives. Our minds are so powerful to associate things together, and so is nature.

But in the end, it doesn’t matter if you’re looking to plant marigolds, wildflowers or basil. You need to water whatever your planting. I wish I could tell you there’s some easy, simple, thing, like water for our minds.

I wish I could tell you that with that water, only the best thoughts emerge. Only the best memories. But that’s simply not the case. 

You can have the best intentions, and still have involuntary intrusive thoughts, weeds, due to your efforts. 

Water can still grow bad things or experiences, but it doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t mean you're a tarnished field. It means you’re a tarnished field with immense purpose and nourishment. That’s every single one of us. Broken, but in all the best, well-designed ways. 

So what is water for the mind? Love; the most wondrous, amazing thing. Sorry, if you were looking for a more complicated solution. Don’t be fooled. Love is also complex, and takes a lot of work. Love will grow weeds. It will create pain, cracks, problems, and be our greatest loss. Loving ourselves is hard, it’s full of labor and confusion. 

Mental health loves to make us second guess how much water we need before we drown. It makes us think we need water from others in abundance, when we must first start with ourselves.

With plants, sometimes you use a big watering can, but other times you use a spray bottle. Some ideas need to be gently worked on and watered, like a spray bottle, while others need an aggressive, big push. 

Love is both. 

Identify your delicate changes you’re trying to make. Some are more emotional, raw, but are still worth pursuing to heal. 

It just means you may need to change your approach on how to tend for them. With mental health, at times, we need to ask others to love us differently or in new ways.

Well, it looks like I’m all done here. I now have this peaceful space in the mornings or afternoons to work, read or do some bible studying! I hope you enjoyed our little journey together. Crack open the junk draw today and get to work! You are worthy of it.

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