Self-care—defined by many as the act of nurturing your body, mind, and soul—has come to be viewed as a core component of wellness for most.
Self-care can encompass a wide range of activities that, individually and inclusively, can have a variety of scientifically proven benefits for our health. Self-care can also help you understand your needs, be more productive, enhance your cognitive functioning, and better your relationships with others—all things that can be crucial to your mental health.
In this article, we’re going to cover the different ways self-care can enhance your mental well-being.
How Self-Care Can Improve Your Mental Health
Self-care, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, means doing “things that help you live well and improve both your physical health and mental health”.
Below are some of the ways self-care can benefit your mental health.
Fostering Emotional Awareness
Self-care is often focused on helping us be more introspective. Certain self-care activities are particularly helpful for increasing emotional awareness, which is your ability to identify and understand your feelings. This level of consciousness can help you avoid repressing your emotions or expressing them in unintentional ways.
Journaling is one constructive way of learning more about your emotions. Writing can be an outlet for your feelings and a way of examining your emotions more closely. As you create a journal, you can go back and reference entries to become more aware of how your emotions may be affected in certain situations, while also tracking your progress when it comes to managing them. Studies also show that journaling can help improve mental health-related concerns, like stress.
Mindfulness is another self-care activity that can lead to emotional awareness. A form of meditation, mindfulness is centered around an increased sense of presence. Through enhanced awareness, you can connect more deeply with your feelings and learn to recognize them as they arise. This practice has been shown to improve symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions.
Reading can also help us foster a greater understanding of our emotions. Research has found that there is a direct link between reading and emotional intelligence. Reading—either fiction or non-fiction—can help you learn how to describe what you’re feeling, view situations through different perspectives, and comprehend complicated relationship dynamics.
Self-care can bring about feelings of confidence and self-sufficiency, which can be vital to our mental health. It can be a chance to remind yourself that you deserve to be cared for and have your needs met.
Sometimes, just knowing that you alone have the power to give yourself compassion and care can be empowering.
Exercise, for example, can be a motivating and inspiring self-care activity that can improve your mental and physical well-being. When you achieve fitness goals or simply complete healthy physical activities, you might be likely to feel an encouraging sense of accomplishment. Additionally, exercise is generally regarded as a proven method of managing stress and similar mental health challenges.
Nurturing Healthy Relationships
Tending to your own needs can provide you with the energy and positive mindset that can be necessary to interact with others in a constructive and healthy manner. It is generally often said that you can’t pour from an empty cup. This means that it can be hard for you to care for the people in your life without first caring for yourself.
Self-care can help you navigate relationships by helping you feel better, focus and function more efficiently. When you’re caring for your own emotional health, you can better empathize with others and understand their point of view. Self-care can also provide you with more self-assuredness, which may help you advocate for yourself when you interact with others.
Many of the self-care benefits on this list can contribute to your ability to nurture healthy relationships. For example, increasing your emotional awareness can help you better identify others’ feelings and provide them with support. Additionally, focusing on your physical health can give you motivation, which may translate into a bigger cup from which to pour.
Improving Physical Health
There is generally thought to be a well-established link between your mental and physical health. So, when you perform self-care activities that nourish and support your body, it can be helpful to remember that you are often benefiting your mind as well.
There are a variety of things you can do in your daily life that contribute to physical wellness, even if only in small ways.
Diet is one of the most obvious ways for many when it comes to enhancing physical health through self-care. Giving your body the nutrients it needs by eating a variety of healthful foods can be an effective way to defend against disease and increase energy levels.
It’s generally best to select a dietary style that aligns with your specific bodily needs and the general need for a variety of nutrition. For example: Consider taking inspiration from the Mediterranean diet, which focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, legumes, and nuts—and has been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and even some cancers.
A massage is a self-care activity that can actually provide several benefits when it comes to your physical—and, in turn, mental—health. Massages can help relax your muscles and release built-up tension, which can alleviate nervousness. You might consider scheduling recurring massage appointments as part of your self-care routine.
Lastly, another method of caring for your own physical health is to establish a regular sleep routine. The benefits of sleep can be far-reaching, possibly including stress reduction, improved heart health, and blood sugar control.
To establish healthy sleep habits, you might consider creating a nighttime routine that can prepare your body for bed. This can include tending to your hygiene, reading, journaling, drinking nighttime tea, and avoiding your phone for an hour before you get in bed. It can also help to prepare your space for sleep by eliminating clutter on and around the bed, utilizing white noise machines, or even using aromatherapy to promote relaxation.
Managing Symptoms Of Mental Health Conditions
Mental health challenges can impair cognitive ability, affect emotional well-being, and make everyday functioning more difficult. While many mental health disorders require comprehensive care, symptoms can often be alleviated significantly through lifestyle changes. Self-care is a frequently suggested strategy for helping manage mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Breathing exercises are generally regarded as a simple form of self-care that can improve your mental well-being by relaxing the body and easing tension. Box breathing, for example, is a deep breathing exercise you can practice almost anywhere. To start, you can take a deep breath for a four count, then hold for a four count, exhale for a four-count, and hold again for a four count. You can then repeat this process three to four times.
How Can Online Therapy Help Someone To Pursue Self-Care?
Therapy can also be considered a form of self-care—one that can give you the tools and support to navigate a wide range of mental health challenges. When you participate in therapy, you can provide yourself with the time you need to address concerns in your life and grow.
If you’d like help fostering mental and emotional wellness through self-care, a licensed online therapist can help. With an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can gain useful resources that can help you adhere to your self-care routine and overall mental health journey. BetterHelp works with thousands of mental health professionals—who have a range of specialties and areas of expertise—so you might have a good chance of matching with someone who can address your specific concerns.
Online Therapy As A Form Of Self-Care: Is It Effective?
A growing body of evidence suggests that online therapy can help individuals care for their mental and emotional well-being. In a meta-analysis of over 90 studies, which included nearly 10,000 total participants, online therapy was suggested to be an efficacious form of treatment for several different mental health challenges. Researchers mentioned that online therapy may not only be beneficial for symptoms of mental health conditions but also for self-care-related activities—like quitting smoking.
How can I practice self-care without being selfish?
It can be important to realize that, in general, self-care isn’t selfish. Thinking that self-care is selfish can be a harmful mindset to maintain, as taking care of yourself mentally and physically can ensure you maintain the capacity to care for others. Try to give yourself permission to take care of your needs on a daily basis.
Why is it not selfish to take care of yourself?
It can be crucial to take care of yourself so that you can keep up with your responsibilities and care for your family members and friends. Caring for yourself can promote happiness and empower you to be a valuable member of your community.
What happens when we don't practice self-care?
Failing to practice self-care can result in stress, burnout, and exacerbated symptoms of existing mental health disorders. In today’s world, it can be crucial to remind yourself that self-care isn’t selfish, but essential.
Is self-care considered selfish?
While some may believe that self-care is selfish, it isn’t. Self-care can be thought of as a vital way of taking care of your needs and health, and it can come with a wide range of positive effects. Spending time taking care of yourself can be very rewarding.
Is it selfish to care about yourself more than others?
It can be healthy to care about yourself more than others (to a certain extent). Always putting others before yourself can result in uncomfortable pressure, stress, burnout, and other undesirable consequences.
Why does it feel wrong to take care of myself?
It may feel wrong to take care of yourself if you’ve spent much of your life putting others first. However, taking care of yourself can be important and necessary for your health and well-being.
How does selfishness affect yourself?
Chronic selfishness may hurt your self-esteem, increase your susceptibility to various mental health disorders, and harm your relationships with others.
Is self-care different for everyone?
While some aspects of self-care may be universal, such as getting plenty of sleep, eating a balanced diet, and exercising, other aspects of self-care may be seen in different forms from person to person. It’s not a one-size-fits-all practice! Even small things like giving yourself a much-needed break from work or enjoying a treat after completing a list of chores can be considered self-care.
What is it called when you don't care about yourself?
Not caring about yourself can be referred to as apathy. Apathy is more commonly defined as a lack of enthusiasm, concern, or interest.
Is there such a thing as too much self-care?
There may be such a thing as too much self-care. Although self-care should generally be a part of your daily life, it should not typically be your life’s focus or the only part of your life.
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