How to Spend a Self-Care Day in Baltimore
As one of the many people who struggle with stress and anxiety, I've learned that it's necessary to be aware of the anxiety I'm feeling and to actively and consistently address it through self-care. I grew up with a childhood social anxiety disorder called selective mutism and although I've grown out of the most severe aspects of that disorder, anxiety is still a daily struggle.
Self-care simply means taking the time to do the activities that nurture you, rather than always focusing on the needs and wants of others. Self-care is summed up in any variation of the popular quote, "you can't give to others what you don't have yourself." It's not just something that's nice to do for yourself every once in a while, but a responsibility for your health just like brushing your teeth or going to the doctor for a check up.
Self-care can include anything from an overseas vacation to a walk in the park, as long as you are focusing on your own mental, physical, and emotional health. As much as I would love to go on more vacations, there are a few things I like to do right here in my home city of Baltimore that give me the opportunity to relax, re-center, and reset for the days ahead.
1. Be in Nature
Spending time in nature is always a rejuvenating experience. Water and mountains in particular give me a sense of calm and relief from the stress of everyday life. It's also important to take a break from the concrete and car fumes of the city to breathe some fresh air and have a change of scenery. The Baltimore area has plenty of options, from gardens in the middle of the city to parks fit for outdoor sports like hiking and canoeing.
One of my favorite spots is Rawlings Conservatory and Botanic Gardens in Druid Hill Park. If you visit on a weekday right when they open at 10 am, there's a good chance you can have the place all to yourself. The conservatory consists of rooms with plants that grow in different environments - Mediterranean, desert, tropical, etc. - and each has benches for quiet reflection.
2. Pamper Yourself
At the risk of revealing my bougieness, I have to admit getting pampered is high on my list of things to do, self-care or not. A good massage, body treatment, facial, or mani/pedi is the most direct way to improve your mood and make yourself feel special.
Other than vacations, getting pampered is one of the most expensive but enjoyable ways to practice self-care. For those of us who can't afford it regularly, giving yourself a spa treatment at home and using essential oils isn't a bad substitute. Even a small practice like running an essential oil diffuser or applying a facial mask before bed can make a big difference in how you feel about yourself and in general.
If you don't want to do the work yourself, there are more affordable options. For $30 plus tax, you can take advantage of the wet and dry saunas at Seoul Spa, a Korean bathhouse in Windsor Mill. Services are a separate cost, but your $30 entry fee allows you access for the entire day (10 am-10 pm) and if you get hungry from all the relaxation, you can stop into the attached restaurant for a meal.
Meditation has been scientifically proven to have many positive effects for the mind and body and can actually improve connectivity between different regions of the brain. It can help reduce stress and anxiety, fight depression, improve concentration, reduce blood pressure, strengthen the immune system, help you sleep, and increase energy, among other things. And the great thing about it is that you can meditate anywhere, anytime, for 5 minutes or an hour, and for free. There are plenty of phone apps that can hep you get started and provide you with guidance. My favorite free app is Insight Timer and Headspace is a good paid app.
If you prefer in-person guidance or your home is too noisy and distracting, meditation and mindfulness classes are easy to find in the Baltimore area. The Baltimore Shambhala Center offers free meditation classes on Sunday mornings and Thursday evenings, as well as free public sitting hours daily.
I haven't been too successful at meditating every single day, but that's okay. One of the most useful skills I've been able to practice through meditation is to not beat myself up over every real or perceived failure. Instead, I'm better able to observe the feelings that arise without judgment and then keep it moving. It's a work in progress.
Where To Go: Baltimore Shambhala Center, Kadampa Meditation Center Maryland, Transcendental Meditation Baltimore, Insight Meditation Community of Baltimore (Meetup group), Northeast Interfaith Peace Garden
4. Exercise and Movement
I write this grudgingly, but exercise is a form of self-care. Most of us have a difficult time motivating ourselves, but once it's over we feel good. This doesn't mean exercise always has to be a super-competitive or intense activity, unless that's your thing. Boxing is one of my favorite ways to exercise, partly because it can be a kind of therapy when I need to release anger and frustration and partly because focusing on the moves keeps my mind off the physical discomfort.
But exercise can also be peaceful and reflective. Going out into nature and hiking or biking, or practicing yoga are great ways to integrate the mind and body and consciously make exercise a self-care activity. Even other, more intense types of exercise can be self-care activities, but the key is to be mindful while you're doing them and not just focus on getting a six-pack or outperforming someone else.
If you have an office job, getting outside at least once a day and taking a walk is also important and something I'm trying to be more disciplined about. There are proven health benefits to moving your body throughout the day instead of sitting in one position for hours at a time, and it also gives your mind a break from work and whatever stress comes with it.