7 ways to practice self-care when you’re living with HIV

self-care-positive peers

By: Jennifer McMillen Smith, MSSA, LISW-S, Division of Infectious Disease and medically reviewed by Ann Avery, Infectious Disease Physician at Metrohealth Medical Center

Just chill. That’s all there is to it, right?

If only.

Whether you’re living with HIV or not, it’s crucial to have “me time” for doing whatever makes you happy. Practicing self-care means you’re carving out that time — and then making sure you enjoy it.

We know, you’ve got responsibilities. People are counting on you.

Well, you can’t help them if you get so worn out that you can’t help yourself.

So, let’s get it on with these seven tips for HIV self-care:

self-care-positive peers

1. Learn to meditate.

If you’ve got the tornado-brain because you have 17 things that need to be done yesterday and your boyfriend is stepping out on you and the new boss doesn’t get you and crap, you forgot to pay the light bill…

Meditation tames the tornado. You can start by sitting down in a quiet place where you’re comfortable and focus on your breathing. When you think about your breathing — the sound in your lungs, the air going in and out of them — you stop thinking about everything else.

Meditation isn’t supposed to solve your problems. It just reboots your brain so you can relax and think clearly about what to do next.

self-care-positive peers

2. Get plenty of sleep.

That’s right — sleep eight hours out of every 24. You need them all. Your body heals when you’re sleeping and recharges your batteries. If you don't get enough sleep, your body never gets enough recharge time.

self-care-positive peers

3. Cut back on the social media.

Guess what: Social media platforms are designed to be addictive — it’s like hard drugs but with selfies and cat videos.

And what do you keep coming back for? To argue about Real Housewives of Atlanta or to fume because your best friend can’t stop showing off the kids and the new car?

You can’t help but compare your life to others and think they’re having all the fun and you’re stuck with the dregs.

Give it a try, dial all that back if you can — unless social media time really makes you happy and helps you forget your worries. Then it’s OK. Just remember, it’s a tough drug to kick.

self-care-positive peers

4. Get exercise.

Scientists have proven that exercise releases happy juice into your bloodstream. OK, they don't call it happy juice. But exercise does have an odd way of making you feel better.

It doesn’t have to be hard. It just has to be regular. Like, at least 30 minutes a day and even more if you have a sit-down job.

Related: The importance of exercise when you’re living with HIV

self-care-positive peers

5. Cook a healthy meal for yourself.

OK, we say this a lot at Positive Peers. Your body needs good food — fruits, vegetables, and lean meats if you’re into that — to help your meds get their chores done. And it’s just hard sometimes to find truly healthy food at a restaurant. You don't know where that stuff has been.

But if you prepare your own food and cook it yourself, you know what’s going into you. You can also teach yourself to make food you enjoy and you can season it however you like. Restaurants design meals for the masses. You’re an individual — you deserve better.

Don’t know how to cook? Go to YouTube and check out some recipes and how-tos. Start simple and stay within your budget.

Related: HIV nutrition: What foods should I eat?


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self-care-positive peers

6. Do something that makes you feel good every day.

It doesn’t have to be the same thing every day. It just has to bring you joy. Think: Beyoncé dance party in your bedroom (OK, you can do that every day. A couple of times, actually). Binge-watch some Netflix comedies. Stay home Friday night with a good book.

self-care-positive peers

7. Take your meds, go to your support group, see your doc.

Okay, we know we say this a lot. Sorry, not sorry about the nagging? But seriously, doing these things are a big part of self-care when you’re living with HIV. They’re not just about surviving, they’re also important to thriving. When you feel healthy, have a meaningful support network, and a doc who’s invested in you, then you’ve got a solid foundation from which to build a long, healthy, and happy life.

self-care-positive peers

What self-care isn't about

Self-care is not selfishness.

It’s not about shrugging off responsibilities like work, school, and family.

Self-care doesn't mean blowing off your friends. And it’s not about treating yourself to junk food or going on a shopping spree you can’t afford.

It’s not an excuse to put off something you don’t feel like doing — even though you know you have to.

These are all common misconceptions.

Self-care is about investing in you. It’s meant to serve your future self…to ensure a better, wiser, and more experienced you than the person you are today.

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