Self Care – Tips to support your Mental Health
Do you ever forget to take care of yourself?
I know. You’re busy, and finding the time to take proper care of yourself can be hard. But if you don’t, it won’t be long before you’re battered from exhaustion and operating in a mental fog where it’s hard to care about anything or anyone.
Self-care is defined as “the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own wellbeing and happiness, in particular during periods of stress”. The only problem is that when you are truly stressed – when you’re juggling multiple demands on your time and energy – self-care often flies out the window. The nice little things you do for yourself get sacrificed when stress takes over and other people’s needs swamp your own.
While self-care in general might include sleeping enough, exercising more and eating well, I believe self-care for your mental and emotional health could include the following behaviours:
Give yourself permission to relax
Running around and meeting other people’s needs may be your default setting. You may have been conditioned to put other people first, and to gain some kind of self-worth from having ticked off the many items on your hefty to-do list. Resting can feel like you’re being lazy. Except that a busy-busy diary can deplete you and leave you without the emotional resources you need to live your life. Try reframing ‘relaxation’ as an investment in yourself rather than a waste of time. Take a moment out for yourself. Meditate, daydream, switch off. You’ll be way more useful to others, and yourself, when you do.
Say no to others, and say yes to your self-care.
Learning to say no is really hard; many of us feel obligated to say yes when someone asks for our time or energy. However, if you’re already stressed or overworked, saying yes to loved ones or coworkers can lead to burnout, anxiety, and irritability. It may take a little practice, but once you learn how to politely say no, you'll start to feel more empowered, and you'll have more time for your self-care.
Lower your expectations
We give ourselves a set of high expectations – and expect others to meet them as well. The gap between expectation and reality is often a factor in mental health issues such as depression (you feel hopeless at not achieving those expectations) and anxiety (you’re super-stressed because people aren’t doing what you want/need them to do). Think ‘realistic’ rather than ‘perfect’. High expectations just put way too much pressure on yourself.
Take care of yourself by getting organized.
Getting organized is often the first step to becoming a healthier you, because it allows you to figure out exactly what you need to do to take better care of yourself. A small change, like keeping a planner or a calendar on the fridge, can help you write down all your responsibilities and appointments, while at the same time keeping your life a bit more organized. You can also create an area to keep keys, purses, backpacks, briefcases, and coats, and make sure they’re ready to go for the next day.
Writing, speaking, drawing, acting, dancing, singing, painting. Whichever your preferred way to express your thoughts and feelings: do it! The act of expressing your truth releases the emotional burden you’re carrying and leaves you feeling lighter and freer. Make it a regular practice and you’ll be able to make more sense of what’s going on in your life – helping to build your resilience and have a stronger relationship with yourself and others.
Worry less what other people think
Many of us live our lives feeling that there’s a judge and jury out there somewhere that passes judgement on everything we do. So, there’s a good reason we worry about what others think of us. We want to be in their good books so that we can develop and nurture our relationships with them. We may become self-conscious about how we look and act, or we get into the habit of comparing ourselves with others (such as on Facebook, Instagram etc). How would it feel to live life under your own conditions of worth, without worrying about other people’s opinions? Try it for a day and see how it feels!
Take a self-care break by getting outside.
Spending time outside can help you reduce stress, lower your blood pressure, and be more mindful. Studies have even shown that getting outside can help reduce fatigue, making it a great way to overcome symptoms of depression or burnout. Getting outside can also help you sleep better at night, especially if you do some physical activity, like hiking or walking, while you are outside.
Schedule your self-care time, and guard that time with everything you have.
It can be hard for us all to find extra time. But it’s extremely important to plan regular self-care time. Moments alone can help you to ponder the best ways to move forward in your life and keep you grounded. And moments with friends can help you feel more connected and relaxed.
Whether you decide you want to go for a long walk, take a hot bath, or enjoy a good movie with friends, taking self-care time is imperative. Look for small ways you can incorporate it into everyday life; for example, you might wake up 15 minutes earlier to sit with a cup of tea and practice deep breathing before the chaos of the day begins, or you might take a walk around the block on your lunch break. The more you can work self-care time into your schedule, the better you’ll be able to grow, enjoy your life, and thrive.