For many, self-care and mental health go hand in hand. Caring for yourself through emotional wellness activities can help you maintain a healthy mindset and reduce overwhelming feelings. It may also lead to improvements in physical health. Self-care can also be used in tandem with professional mental health treatment to help individuals reduce distressing symptoms of a mental illness like depression or anxiety. The activities that work as self-care for mental health can vary person to person, so understanding how to start your self-care routine can be valuable.
What Is Self-Care?
Self-care can look different from one person to the next, depending on their lifestyle and preferences. The act of self-care includes any activity done to deliberately care for your mental, physical, or emotional well-being that has real and lasting positive impacts.
There can be short-term forms of self-care, like brushing your teeth or getting out of bed. You can also partake in forms of self-care that have long-term impacts, like exercising daily, eating healthy food, or journaling each night before you sleep. All forms of self-care are valid and can have significant benefits.
Why Is Self-Care Beneficial?
If you’ve ever ridden on an airplane, you may have seen the flight attendants give a safety demonstration before the flight. The airline safety instructions often include putting on your oxygen mask first before assisting others in the case of an emergency. Many people try to be noble in dangerous situations and attempt to help others first. However, putting yourself first before helping others can ensure you’re healthy, safe, and well so you can offer the best care necessary.
Self-care is not about being egotistical or having selfish motives. It is often about nurturing yourself to be your best self for your well-being and the well-being of the people you love. If a self-care activity doesn’t make you feel positive, cared for, or relaxed, it may not be a beneficial form of self-care for you, even if it works for someone else.
Types Of Self-Care To Practice
For many people, personal needs can change over time. For example, you might need a physical reboot one day and an emotional one the next. There are three different areas in which you can practice self-care. These areas are mental, emotional, and physical. Each of these care areas requires different methods.
Although there are many types of self-care, the mental kind is often favored. Busy thoughts can be innovative and productive sometimes, but they can also be distracting and difficult to work through. For many people, feelings of anxiety or depression arise when they do not prioritize their mental self-care.
According to MentalHealth.gov, mental health involves emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Mental health can improve your overall outlook and make your life feel more fulfilling. Mental health can also be crucial in how someone feels, thinks, acts, and progresses. If you're concerned that you're not feeling as well overall as you could, it may help to incorporate healthy habits for mental health into your routine. A few ways to improve your mental health through self-care include the following:
- Talking to someone you love, like a close friend or partner
- Writing a story
- Taking a break from responsibilities for your mental health
- Setting healthy boundaries
- Talking to a therapist
- Getting enough sleep
- Partaking in activities that make you feel self-love
In this category you may also count social self-care practices like spending time with friends and family members, or spiritual self-care, such as attending religious services or practicing meditation.
Emotional self-care can be similar to mental self-care, as mental and emotional health are often related. If you ever feel as though your emotions are in control of you, it can be beneficial to practice emotional nurturing. Emotional nurturing means caring for yourself as you might care for someone else, validating your emotions, and opening yourself up to what your emotions teach you.
For many people, emotional self-care looks like a night of relaxation. Relaxation could involve bathing, eating your favorite foods, or watching your favorite movie. For others, emotional self-care could be spending time with loved ones. Consider what makes you feel emotionally well and take part in it.
Physical nurturing is often different than emotional and mental self-care, and yet research shows that mind and body are connected in many ways. You can partake in self-care by participating in activities that serve your body. Eating a nutritious meal or going for a walk are examples of physical nurturing. Physical self-care could also involve healthy practices like physical activity, going to the gym, ensuring you stay hydrated, stretching, participating in yoga, or taking a shower. Listen to what your body and mind need and take part in them.
Physical self-care can significantly impact your internal health in various ways. For example, exercising can release endorphins, chemicals in the brain and body that bring positive emotions. A recent study headed by Saint-Maurice PF found a significant correlation between a higher daily step count and lower all-cause mortality. In addition, when you nurture yourself physically and making your physical health a priority, you can improve your mental health as well. For many people struggling with emotional health, it is hard to implement physical self-care. However, doing so can give you extra mental energy to cope with challenges.
How Can Self-Care Benefit My Mental Health?
Practicing self-care happens when you make an informed decision to practice an activity that positively impacts you. Self-care is not only for those experiencing mental or physical challenges or distressing diagnoses. Anyone can partake in self-care and benefit from it. Below are some of the mental health benefits you might find.
Feeling optimistic about yourself can be an outcome of practicing self-care. Certain types of self-care, like mindfulness and meditation, have also been found to increase self-compassion. When you consciously decide to care for yourself, you are choosing to show yourself compassion, which can increase your self-love.
Routines And Consistency
Internal stability and peace can be achieved when self-care is implemented. For many, a self-care routine is comforting because it offers stability and a plan for how the day will proceed. An article by Piedmont Healthcare states, “Predictable, repetitive routines are calming and help reduce anxiety. They’ll also help you take control of your day and, subsequently, your life.” Stability can be beneficial for someone looking for a boost in their well-being, as a lack of stability may cause emotional turmoil or anxious thoughts.
Awareness Of Your Emotional Health
If you are more aware of your emotional health, you may be more likely to keep track of it and stay on target with improvements and goals. As you become more aware of your emotions, you may feel better able to label, understand, validate, and feel them. As suppressing emotions can negatively influence physical and mental health, being more aware of your emotions can reduce these impacts.
A Greater Ability To Cope
How you cope with mental health struggles can significantly impact your physical and mental health. Choosing to partake in self-care is often a decision to choose to cope with your challenges in a way that benefits you instead of in a way that potentially harms you. As you learn to cope in these situations, you can use your knowledge to help others and improve other aspects of your life and well-being.
A Declutter Of Life
For some individuals, stress occurs due to procrastination on essential self-care tasks. Procrastination can involve physical and internal clutter. Decluttering or renovating significant areas may improve your mental health by lessening the baggage you deal with daily. Caring for yourself can mean removing physical items or habits that hurt you more than help you.
To declutter your life, take note of what weighs you down. If you're feeling especially stressed, you could even consider scheduling a self-care day where you engage in activities that make you feel relaxed and cared for. For example, it could be a mundane task, a habit you struggle to rid yourself of, or a box of items you haven’t gone through in years. Do your best to declutter these areas as self-care. It may give you a sense of liberation to be get rid of what holds you back from your full potential. For example, cleaning your house can be a form of self-care if you’re in the right mindset. Having things in order can help to manage stress and play a role in reducing anxiety.
Although self-care has several benefits, starting a healthy self-care routine can be difficult if you’re not sure where to start or struggle with your mental health. In these cases, talking to a licensed psychologist or therapist can be valuable. In addition, if you struggle to get out of bed or find the funds to afford therapy, you can meet with a provider from home by signing up for online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp.
With an online therapist, you can learn research-backed self-care methods in a comfortable environment. You can also choose between phone, video, or live chat sessions to select the method most applicable to your therapy needs. In addition, studies have found that online therapy can effectively treat many mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and stress.
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