7 Ways to Practice Mental Health Self-Care
There may be certain times of the year when we evaluate our personal health. The beginning of a new year brings all kinds of resolutions. Massive and radical changes that we are going to make to our lifestyle, to live healthier. And that includes our mental health.
The intention is good because we should all be looking for ways to improve our personal wellness. Weight-loss goals and a new gym membership aside, when we think of our health, many of us don’t do the same evaluation of our mental health status.
How stressed are you? Are you sleeping and eating well? If you find that you are too busy lately to connect with family and friends, do you feel that may be impacting your mental health? There is an important link between mental and physical health; they are connected.
Here are seven great ways to create positive mental health habits that can support a healthier and happier you.
1. Reset Your Sleep Schedule to Improve Mental Health
There are a lot of things that can disrupt our natural circadian rhythms. The built-in biological clock that queues our brain to relax and drift off to sleep. But when the circadian rhythm is disrupted, we can fall into unhealthy sleep patterns. And start to experience symptoms of sleep deprivation.
We all know how it feels to wake up after a night of bad sleep. Your energy levels are low, and you may be tempted to drink more coffee and caffeinated beverages. Whatever gets you through the day, right? The problem is that caffeine doesn’t fix sleep deprivation; it can make it a lot worse.
Here are some easy things you can change to sleep better:
- Go to sleep at the same time every night. Make sure you have allowed for eight hours in bed, with the goal of getting at least seven (7) hours of deep, restorative sleep.
- Avoid eating late at night. Indigestion may not be a problem, but when your stomach is busy processing food, it can keep your brain (and body) awake.
- Reduce caffeine intake after 5 pm. That includes coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and energy drinks.
- Shut down your screen time. Whether it is your TV, tablet, or smartphone, the light from a device can mess with your circadian rhythm because it mimics daylight. Put down your devices at least one hour before bed.
Creating some new rules and healthy sleep habits can help boost your immune system and reduce fatigue and stress.
2. Schedule Time to (Literally) Do Nothing
Most people have a daily or weekly to-do list that is packed full of priorities. Between work, activities of daily living, child or senior care, and other important responsibilities, you can feel like you are “always on the go.”
If you can’t remember the last time you sat on a couch and read a book, did a hobby you enjoy, or even indulged in a nap, it may be time to master the art of doing nothing. Because in those quiet moments when you slow down your activity level, your body relaxes. And cortisol (the stress hormone) levels can start to dissipate. Leaving you feeling relaxed and refreshed.
Scheduling time to do nothing isn’t a waste of time. It is critical to have physical and mental breaks when your body and brain can recharge. You may find you feel more refreshed and less stressed, with improved creative thinking and problem-solving abilities.
3. Get Social for Good Mental Health
You’re busy. Your friends and family are busy. Heck, we’re all busy. And after a while, it can seem like mission impossible to get everyone together. Or even connect with a close friend or two. Then weeks, and sometimes several months, can go by without enough face time with the people you like.
Keeping in touch on social media is nice and convenient. But it doesn’t quite replace the feelings and benefits you experience in the same room with someone. Whether you sit at home and watch a movie together or go out and do something fun, we need to make time to be social.
Being deliberately or unintentionally antisocial can negatively impact your health. Loneliness can become a wrecking ball to both physical and mental health. Some studies suggest that socially isolated people suffer from weakened immune system functioning and higher rates of anxiety and depression.
Social isolation can also cause your body to excrete more cortisol (stress hormone). This can cause an increase in inflammation and the risk of developing chronic diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, asthma, heart disease, and more.
4. Acknowledge Accomplishments (And Reward Yourself)
Inside your head, you may have two lists. One may be a list of things you don’t think you are doing right (including mistakes you’ve made). And there is supposed to be another list of things you did well. Moments where you “struck a homerun” at work, in your personal life, or in any accomplishment you achieved.
It’s human nature to focus on the things that are wrong. When was the last time you focused on what you were getting right? Praising yourself for accomplishments isn’t arrogance; it is a form of self-compassion. If you are feeling down, make a list of the things you are doing well. It can help put problems in perspective and help you develop a kinder inner narrative.
5. Practice Self-Compassion Daily
Many people focus on what they got wrong. Mistakes they made that may have caused problems. It is natural to feel uncomfortable when something hasn’t gone the way we planned. And often, we can disproportionately blame ourselves for bad things that happen that are out of our control.
When we’re children, we have ample self-compassion. Somehow on the journey to adulthood, some people disconnect from practicing self-compassion. That means everything that goes wrong is your fault. Or you “should have known better.” And it creates a toxic and negative inner narrative that can be hard to break.
Self-compassion means understanding that you are doing your best. Sometimes in life, random things happen, and you have to cope to the best of your ability. It doesn’t make you a bad person when random difficulties in life occur. It makes you a human being.
Forgive yourself for mistakes or oversights. Focus on solutions and navigating the situation while being kind to yourself. And that starts with the understanding that you can’t control adversities in life. All you can control is how you handle them. And take care of yourself in the process.
6. Eat on a Regular Schedule
There may be some health benefits to fasting, but for most of us, when we go hours without having a healthy meal or snack, we start to feel it. Our energy levels begin to dive, and when we are “hangry,” our usually happy and relaxed mood can also take a hit.
We can get so busy that we need to remember to eat. And sometimes, the choices we make on the fly aren’t the healthiest. Operating our body and brain at a level of nutritional deficiency guarantees some unpleasant side effects. Like fatigue, irritability, problems with focus and concentration, and even increased feelings of depression and anxiety.
7. Do More of What You Love
What hobbies do you have that really light you up? Meaning when you are done with the activity, you feel relaxed, happy, and satisfied that you spent the time having fun. Whatever that activity is, do more of it. Because hobbies are time that we carve out for ourselves that benefits our mental health.
Some research studies have shown that people who are engaged regularly in hobbies they love are less likely to suffer from stress. Making time for your hobbies can help you reduce feelings of low mood or depression and can make you feel more relaxed.
If you are reading this and thinking that you don’t really have a hobby, it is never too late to find one. Many people enjoy a variety of different hobbies to help them relax, including
- Listening to music
- Playing an instrument
- Arts and crafts
Choose an activity or two that you really enjoy. And schedule that time in your calendar to make sure it happens at least 1-2 times per week. Look for a local Facebook group of people who share your interests to get you out of the house and enjoy quality social time and fun.