Like many in the chronically ill and neurodivergent community, I’ve had to prioritize self-care from a young age to maintain my quality of life. Managing symptoms and flares requires diligence, but a flexible approach to my self-care routine has been key for me.
Over the years, I’ve honed a morning and evening self-care routine that weaves in small yet mighty practices to support my health on my own terms. They provide stability when so much feels unpredictable.
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My Self-Care Philosophy: Flexibility & Self-Compassion
As you might know if you’ve followed the blog for a while, I’m autistic with ADHD and live with several chronic health conditions. Recommendations like “meditate daily” or “exercise more” are fine in theory, but rigidly adhering to those isn’t always possible with my lived experience, and maybe yours, too.
Instead, I embrace flexibility, doing what I can day-by-day. I’ve also given myself permission to adjust my routine based on my capacity, since some days, a full routine isn’t feasible. I allow myself to swap one practice for another that’s easier when I’m really struggling. And I forgive myself on days where self-care doesn’t happen at all.
Having this self-compassion has allowed me to sustain consistent self-care over the long-haul rather than burning out on unrealistic expectations.
My Ideal Morning Routine
Mornings set the tone for my day, so I frontload them with nourishing rituals!
When my alarm goes off, I start with 5 minute journaling, jotting down 3 things I’m grateful for and my goal for the day. This cultivates optimism to start the day right! I also review my horoscope as a fun way to focus on self-growth first thing.
Checking my Finch app as part of my AM self-care routine helps too, since I find tracking self-care habits there to be motivating. I track some of my more traditional to-dos in there, too, so this helps set me up for success.
Before I really dive into the rest of my morning self-care routine, I make sure to spend quality time with family & pets. Cuddles from my emotional support cat, Fitz, are especially crucial!
From here, preparing and savoring coffee while reading gives me treasured “me time” to feel centered and engaged. After a half-hour or so, I’ll put on a podcast and get breakfast ready to go. Then it’s time for the next phase of my AM self-care routine!
First up, I feed Fitz after a few minutes of training time before taking my morning pills and vitamins. Then it’s tidy time, where I spend at least five minutes to make the bed, scoop the litterbox, and otherwise reset my space. This is one step that really stands out if I miss it—it’s shocking how even just a few minutes adds up!
Finally, I prioritize personal care—like oral hygiene, showering (if it’s a shower day!), skincare, and getting dressed in whatever outfit I’ve saved from my Whering closet. If I’m able, I’ll also do some light exercise like yoga or a walk to get energized through movement.
Evenings Are for Unwinding
Once my phone sends its daily bedtime reminder, I shift my focus to purposely unwinding and getting the rest I need—The Mayo Clinic Guide to Fibromyalgia recommends 8 1/2 hours. To prepare for tomorrow, I’ll set up the coffee maker and prep breakfast items, like if I’m planning for overnight oats in the morning. Before really moving into the unwinding process, updating my to-do list also feels productive yet relaxing.
Taking my medication, finishing up my oral hygiene tasks, and a little more time forskincare, signals to my mind and body that it’s time to wind down. Changing into comfy pajamas enhances that further—there’s nothing like some cozy jammies! Some stretching helps release muscle tension before bed, too. I’ll often use my cervical traction device, do some TMJ exercises, or do some simple sleep stretches or yoga before turning down the lights.
Meditating is an easy way to help quiet my mind before bed, and a few minutes of reading is another crucial element of my nighttime self-care routine. A bit of journaling allows me to process emotions and thoughts form the day, while expressing gratitude adds a little more joy before bed. Finally, listening to sleep affirmations encourages restful sleep!
The Benefits I’ve Seen from my Self-Care Routine
Weaving small acts of self-care into my mornings and nights has been invaluable. While each piece offers singular benefits, having an overarching routine provides:
- Improved sleep quality
- Less anxiety and overwhelm
- A sense of comfort and consistency
- Better ability to manage stress and symptoms
- Increased self-confidence and compassion
- An overall sense of stability and control
Challenges I’ve Faced
Of course, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. There have been plenty of setbacks including:
- Periods of depression that disrupted my routine.
- Times my symptoms flare up, making self-care feel impossible.
- Beating myself up rather than readjusting my routine on bad days.
- Comparing myself to others who seemed “better” at self-care
- The feeling I’d “failed” if I couldn’t do everything.
But over time, I’ve learnt to extend myself grace rather than judging my limitations harshly. I also embraced the notion that some self-care was better than none, even on off days when I can’t manage my full routine.
Tips to Build Your Own Routine
If you also live with chronic illness or neurodivergence, I encourage you to create customized self-care rituals. Consider taking inventory of your needs—sleep, pain management, mental health etc. Pick 2-3 manageable practices to start that address those needs. Try scheduling them at times you already have habits, like over morning coffee.
Don’t do it all at once and have backup lighter self-care options in mind you can swap in for bad days when you need to adapt. Use tools like journals, apps, reminders etc to stay on track.
Most importantly, remember to be flexible and adjust as needed. Self-care should ease stress, not cause more! And practice self-compassion if you “fall off” your routine—get back to it the next day, or when you’re feeling a bit closer to your baseline.
Sample Self-Care Ideas & Swaps
Not sure where to start? Try any of these practices tailored to your needs:
- Gentle yoga or stretching
- Drink lemon water
- Appropriate bedtime (whether that’s early to bed or a different timeframe that works for you)
- Listen to upbeat music
For anxiety management:
- Guided meditation
- Sip tea mindfully (here are some of the best online tea shops so you can stock up!)
- Adult coloring book
- Pet, hug, or call a loved one
For pain relief:
- Warm Epsom salt bath
- Topical CBD lotion
- Guided imagery
- Heated blanket
- Watch an inspiring Ted Talk or video
- Make a vision board
- Read an inspiring quote
- Listen to a high-energy playlist
Too tired for your full routine? Swap it for 5 minutes of stretching, curling up with a soft blanket and book, trying a guided sleep meditation, or sipping a cup of soothing herbal tea.
The Next Step
I hope sharing my self-care journey and practices empowers you on your own path to wellness. Remember—progress over perfection. Start small, stay flexible, and nurture yourself above all else. You are worth it!