Lately I’ve been working on a longer piece about managing mental health in fandom, but in preparation for it I’ve been compiling some helpful snippets of advice for today’s listicle.
The mental health self-care advice I often see shared online tends to be related to either general offline life or focused on things like social media or the news. Self-care for fans is rare, which is strange given the overlap of people active in fandom and people living with mental illness. I’ll be exploring this overlap in more detail in said upcoming post, but in the meantime here’s five self-care tips for fans.
1. Know what makes you feel good
A regular self-care advice article might suggest a soothing face mask, a walk outside, or your favourite hot drink as a quick pick-me-up. But if fandom tends to be your pick-me-up, it can help to save the fan works or licenced content that lifts your spirits. Bookmark some fluffy fic, find a fun episode of a light-hearted show, re-read a few pages of a webcomic that always makes you laugh. Or get creative and make a playlist for your favourite character or ship. Even better, why not share your recommendations for feel-good content with others? You never know who else might be in need of a mood-lift too.
For me, it’s episodes of ‘Osomatsu-san’ (especially ‘Accident’ or the Summer Kamen skit), or any episode of ‘Shirokuma Cafe’, and maybe a few ProZD skits. Something silly to take my mind off things.
2. Know what makes you feel bad, and steer clear of it
It’s not always easy to spot in advance what might exacerbate a mental health condition or trigger PTSD or bad memories. The fluffiest romantic story, if I’m in a certain mood, can actually end up making me feel worse, since it serves as a reminder of my isolation or previous relationships. It does help when creators tag their work, but that doesn’t always happen, especially if your triggers are something unexpected (for me, it’s birthdays, which not many people would think to tag as triggering – I can rarely get through a fic or an episode with a birthday plot without crying). If you’re watching or reading professional content, there’s even less chance of content being tagged in any meaningful way. So it’s up to you to recognise when something is making you feel bad and distance yourself from it.
It can be tough to switch off a show or a game in the middle, or hit the back button mid-fic, but you have to make the call about whether content is worth the bad feelings it evokes. You can always take a break and finish it another time.
I tried to watch ‘A Silent Voice’ back when everyone was raving over it, but wasn’t prepared for the brutally realistic portrayal of school bullying which triggered some horrendous flashbacks for me, and had to nope out of it halfway through. I went back and finished it a couple of days later when I felt more prepared, but I know I’ll never be able to watch it again because of how close to home it hit. Same with the Mogami arc in ‘Mob Psycho 100’ – luckily I’d read spoilers and could go into it aware of what was coming, but I know to skip that episode when I re-watch.
3. Change your environment once in a while
Some days, you might not have the energy to do much more than read comics or watch videos for a few hours. When your mood is low, a day spent just reading (or writing, or watching, or drawing) might feel like a day wasted. But if you can get out of the house and do that same low-energy activity in a different place, it can feel like a big achievement. Add in the small effort to get dressed to leave the house, and that’s already a bigger accomplishment than if you’d just stayed home.
I like to do my fic-writing in coffee shops, where there are fewer distractions than at home. If I can’t get any writing done, then I’ll read instead. There’s a park in my city with fountains that make for some wonderfully relaxing white noise if I just want to read a book for a while. Sometimes, I’ll just ride the tram or the bus for an hour as an excuse to read with no interruptions. It might not seem like much, but getting out of the house, getting some fresh air, and sunlight, makes me feel better than if I’d just stayed in.
4. Go easy on the merch
Merch is a great way to show off your fandom love, but honestly, the way some fans accumulate it really does scare me. I’ve seen fans post about their purchases within hours of posting about being stressed over money problems. Sometimes I look at photos of people’s merch hauls, total up how much they must have spent, and die a little inside.
It’s not my place to tell anyone else how to spend their money, and I have my own merch collection, so I know the joy it can bring. But if money is a regular stresser for you, then occasionally stop and ask yourself: do I really need another imported keychain? That purchases might make you happy for a little while, but it’s not healthy to rely on shopping as a long-term answer if you feel down a lot of the time.
I prefer to restrict my merch shopping to cons, where I can talk to artists and vendors, or for shopping trips with other people, where trawling the local comic shops or branch of Forbidden Planet is as much of the experience as the actual purchases, and the stuff has fun memories attached as a result.
I’m not saying don’t buy merch; just think about how much you actually need, and how happy it will really make you in the long-run.
5. Reach out to others
I know, first hand, how much mental illness can contribute to feelings of isolation, and how hard it can be to reach out to others if you have a history of being rejected or ignored. But online fandom offers plenty of ways to make contact with someone that are low-risk and low-effort.
Leave a positive comment on someone’s fic or art post. Make a rec-post of your favourite fanworks, or ask for recommendations. Post headcanons or prompts and invite someone to write or draw them. It’s surprising how many people can respond to something as simple as saying, ‘imagine this character in that situation’. If, like me, you struggle with face-to-face conversations, little interactions like these can be a big help because they allow you time and space to consider your responses, and you can get a big return for a small effort. Plus you get the added bonus of helping someone else to feel good too!
I’m planning to explore all of this an a much longer post, but for now, I hope some of this helps! And if you have any tips for how fandom can help with mental ill health or low mood, please share in the comments.