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How and Why to Practice Self-care

With mental health challenges on the increase– rates of depression alone have tripled during the COVID-19 pandemic — it’s possible that you may find yourself or someone you know in need of support. To be equipped to offer that support, you need to take care of yourself.

The ups and downs in working with people can have a huge impact on you. Practicing self-care can better equip you to deal with a crisis and the difficulty of aiding someone with a mental health or substance use challenge. Engaging in a self-care routine has been clinically proven to reduce or eliminate anxiety and depression, reduce stress, increase happiness, and more. It can help you adapt to changes, build strong relationships, and recover from setbacks. In a national survey, Americans cited benefits of self-care as: enhanced self-confidence (64%), increased productivity (67%), happiness (71%). From a physical health perspective, self-care also reduces heart disease, stroke and cancer.

Self-care goals can include:

  1. Take care of your physical and psychological health.
  2. Manage and reduce stress.
  3. Recognize your emotional and spiritual needs.
  4. Foster and sustain relationships.
  5. Achieve balance in different areas of your life.

The activities you chose to participate in for your self-care should help you achieve balance in different areas of your life to promote your overall wellness.  SAMHSA has defined eight dimensions of wellness to help you focus on optimizing your health: emotional, spiritual, intellectual, physical, environmental, financial, occupational, social. When thinking of different self-care activities to try, think about these dimensions in your life and how you can improve them. Self-care should not be something you force yourself to do. Self-care practices will refuel you, helping you to take care of yourself and support those around you. If you’re having trouble thinking of ways you can take better care of yourself, here are four simple ways you can get started.

  • Move more. Physical activity can help the brain cope better with stress, making it beneficial in the treatment of depression and anxiety symptoms. Regular physical activity has also been demonstrated to strengthen the immune system, which is especially important as we continue to fight COVID-19. You can also turn your exercise routine into way to spend more time outdoors. Walks, hikes or runs may be easier to fit into your schedule. Studies have shown that spending time outdoors can help reduce fatigue, making it a great way to manage symptoms of depression or burnout.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet. What we eat and drink can affect our body’s ability to prevent, fight and recover from infections, and it can impact our mood. If you’re feeling anxious or unwell, incorporating certain foods into your diet can help alleviate anxiety or encourage the release of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. Try to incorporate as many fruits, vegetables, and whole grains into your meals as you can. Other healthy choices include fatty fish, leafy greens and nuts. If you find yourself stopping for takeout too often or eating too many processed foods, try cooking. It’s a great way to relax and ensure that your body gets the nutrients it needs.
  • Prioritize sleep. Sleep has a significant impact on how you feel mentally and physically. With all of the challenges from the pandemic, you may be experiencing elevated stress levels, but adequate sleep can maximize your chances of having better days. Getting enough sleep will help regulate your mood, improve brain function, and increase your energy to help tackle the day. Take action to ensure that you rest your body by going to bed at around the same time each night. Adults usually require seven to eight hours of sleep per night. If you have trouble falling asleep, try some relaxation exercises or meditation. You can also take a break from social media or disconnect from your phone. Limiting your caffeine and sugar consumption may also help improve your sleep. If you work from home, try and keep your work area and sleep area separate from each other.
  • Plan self-care and set boundaries. Take a moment to think about the best methods to move forward in your life and stay grounded. It’s critical to schedule regular self-care time – plan time to do something that gives you joy and helps you recharge. If you’re feeling anxious, setting boundaries can help you feel safe and comfortable in your surroundings, especially if you have pandemic-related concerns. Boundaries can include setting expectations around physical safety measures with family and friends or putting limits on certain activities. Another method? Create a “no list,” of things you know you don’t like or that you no longer want to do. Examples might include not checking emails at night, or not answering your phone during meals. Learning to say no to things that cause unnecessary stress will positively impact your mental wellbeing.

Think about the advice we get on airplanes: Put on your own oxygen mask before assisting someone else – without caring for yourself, you won’t be able help them. Similarly, if you’re not taking care of your body and mind, you won’t be the best version of yourself, especially when others need you. With a self-care routine that brings you joy, you’ll reap the benefits of a healthier mind and body. And that includes being there for the people who need you.

For more tips on how you can support yourself and those around you with self-care practices, check out these resources:

  1. Self-care: Where Do I Start? – Mental Health First Aid
  2. Two Types of Self-care and How They Can Positively Impact Your Mental Health
  3. How to Take Care of Yourself When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed
  4. How to Create Your Own Self-care Plan
  5. 4 Self-Care Tips for How to Deal with Anxiety – Mental Health First Aid

 

References:

American Psychological Association. (2020, March 4). Working out boosts brain health. https://www.apa.org/topics/exercise-fitness/stress

Clay, R. A. (2020, July 1). Self-care has never been more important. Monitor on Psychology 51(5). https://www.apa.org/monitor/2020/07/self-care

Davis, T. (2018, December 28). Self-care: 12 ways to take better care of yourself. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/click-here-happiness/201812/self-care-12-ways-take-better-care-yourself

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. (2021, October 6). 8 tips on setting boundaries for your mental health. https://www.dbsalliance.org/support/young-adults/8-tips-on-setting-boundaries-for-your-mental-health/

Glowiak, M. (2020, April 14). What is self-care and why is it important for you? Southern New Hampshire University. https://www.snhu.edu/about-us/newsroom/health/what-is-self-care

Lawler, M. (2021, May 19). What is self-care and why is it so important for your health? EverydayHealth.com. https://www.everydayhealth.com/self-care/

Medalie, L. (2020, April 16). Why it’s important to get a good night’s sleep during the coronavirus outbreak. UChicago Medicine. https://www.uchicagomedicine.org/forefront/coronavirus-disease-covid-19/advice-for-sleeping-well-during-the-covid-19-outbreak

Mental Health America. (2022). The State of Mental Health in America. Mental Health America. Retrieved from https://mhanational.org/issues/state-mental-health-america

Mental Health First Aid USA. (2020). Mental Health First Aid for Adults Assisting Adults. Washington, DC: National Council for Mental Wellbeing.

Mental Health First Aid USA. (2021). teen Mental Health First Aid USA: A manual for young people in 10th-12th grade helping their friends. Washington, DC: National Council for Mental Wellbeing.

Naidoo, U. (2020, April 7). Eating during COVID-19: Improve your mood and lower stress. Harvard Health Blog. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/eating-during-covid-19-improve-your-mood-and-lower-stress-2020040719409

Pilkington, K., Wieland, L.S. Self-care for anxiety and depression: a comparison of evidence from Cochrane reviews and practice to inform decision-making and priority-setting. BMC Complement Med Ther 20, 247 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12906-020-03038-8

Stieg, C. (2021, October 10). Depression rates have tripled during the pandemic – how to recognize the signs and respond to them. CNBC Make It. https://www.cnbc.com/2021/10/10/depression-increased-during-covid-pandemic-how-to-feel-better-cope.html

University of Michigan Medicine. (2020, April 7). Importance of physical activity and exercise during the COVID-19 pandemic. Department of Psychiatry. https://medicine.umich.edu/dept/psychiatry/michigan-psychiatry-resources-covid-19/your-lifestyle/importance-physical-activity-exercise-during-covid-19-pandemic

Vagaro, Inc. (2021, January 14). Vagaro Survey Finds Three-Quarters of Americans Believe Self-Care Activities Provide Stress Relief. Newsroom. Retrieved from https://news.vagaro.com/press-release/survey-finds-three-quarters-of-americans-believe-self-care-activities-provide-stress-relief