When it comes to your daily routine, incorporating self-care practices is integral. Self-care is essentially about looking after yourself and your well-being, both mentally and physically. Implementing some simple self-care strategies can be helpful for managing or improving the symptoms associated with mental health issues.
Serious mental health problems can be very complex and the road to recovery can be a long one. Depending on the nature and severity of the problem, some mental health concerns may require additional treatment, in conjunction with self-care practices. Always consult with a mental health professional if you need additional help and support outside of these basic self-care principles.
The following list of self-care strategies may be helpful for improving mental health.
1. Seek out social connections and support
Many studies have found strong correlations between supportive relationships and positive mental health outcomes. Positive social communication with friends and family can reduce anxiety levels, improve feelings of security, and help reduce perceived stress levels.
Seek out positive social connections and support. Spend time with people who help you to feel uplifted, and with whom you are able to talk openly. Speak with friends and family about how you are feeling, and how they can help.
If you don't feel like you have the support or understanding that you need from your immediate circle, seek out community groups where you can connect with like-minded people. Joining a support group with others who have experienced similar feelings may also be helpful. There are even virtual options available that may fit the bill for what you need to thrive.
2. Take time to relax
Prioritizing time for relaxation is an important consideration for managing the symptoms of mental health problems, including stress and anxiety. Chosen methods for relaxation come down to individual preferences. The following suggestions may be helpful:
- Regularly stop to take 10 long deep breaths. This simple technique can help your parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system to become more dominant
- Choose something to do that helps you to feel relaxed, such as reading a good book, taking a bath, or doing something creative
- Practice meditation, which has many profound benefits for the brain. Research shows that meditation can be an effective practice for improving many of the symptoms of mental health concerns, such as mood, anxiety, and stress levels
- Spend time in nature for its therapeutic benefits. As little as 10 minutes outside in nature can have positive effects on mood. It can offer an effective strategy for the prevention or management of mental health issues such as anxiety, stress, and depression
3. Identify triggers and take early action
Try to be aware of your mood, and of the events or situations that can have a negative effect on your mental health. When you become aware of your personal triggers, you can find ways to minimize them. Mood awareness can help you to take positive actions with self-care strategies before the consequences for your mental health become greater.
Mindfulness can be an effective strategy for awareness because it's centered on "being" in the present moment. It can help you to take notice of thoughts and feelings and can be practiced during simple daily activities such as washing the dishes or playing with your kids.
Journaling is a useful strategy for maintaining awareness of your moods. Write down your feelings and see if you can recognize a correlation between your mood, and what has been happening throughout your day. This reflection and awareness can help you take steps to avoid or minimize situations that trigger your symptoms.
4. Look after your physical health
At first glance, it may seem that general self-care such as physical activity, quality sleep, and optimal nutrition are strategies for better physical health. Whilst this is absolutely true, they are also important considerations for mental health.
Poor nutrition can be a contributing factor to low mood, and physical activity offers significant mood-boosting effects. Restricted sleep periods and poor quality sleep can have a profound impact on hormone levels and may exacerbate the symptoms of mental health problems.
The inseparable nature of mind and body means that physical self-care strategies can also have positive effects on mental health. A few general strategies include:
- Moving your body every day, with a form of physical activity that makes you feel uplifted. This could be as simple as taking a brisk walk to get your heart rate up and blood pumping.
- Practicing good sleep hygiene to improve sleep quality. Examples include going to bed and waking at regular times, switching off devices an hour or two before bed, and reducing alcohol intake.
- Eating a wide variety of whole foods to help cover the nutrient base your body and mind need to thrive. Choose minimally processed foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
5. Do the things you love
Life can feel serious all too often for many adults. It's important to make time to do the things you love doing and have some fun! Recognize the things that make you laugh, jump for joy, or just feel happy inside, and prioritize time for them.
Doing things you love can also have the double bonus of helping you to feel relaxed, as well as rejuvenated. Choose things that resonate with you personally, and use the following principles as a basic guideline:
- Think of something you used to love doing, which you haven't done in a while, and do that thing!
- Do something that you have always wanted to do but haven't done yet. This could also involve joining a group, which may offer additional mental health benefits from social interactions.
- Add these joy-boosting activities to your calendar. Whether you're planning to take an actual class or simply to reading a good book in a bubble bath, the act of carving out the time in your schedule will make it more likely that you'll actually do the things that make you happy.
6. Mind your thoughts
Your thoughts have an enormous impact on your feelings, so it's important to find ways to help manage your thoughts so they can positively affect your feelings. Mindfulness and journaling are two of the strategies mentioned above, which can help you manage your thoughts. Other suggestions include:
- Being kind to yourself. Is the negative inner dialogue you use on yourself something you would say to someone else? Focus on giving yourself loving, kind, and positive inner dialogue.
- Switch off from the media regularly. Be careful what sources you consume your information from, and how long you consume it for. The news is often focused on things that are going wrong in the world. Be aware of how much it affects you, and consider seeking out some positive, uplifting stories to find a balance.
- Switch off from social media regularly, especially if you notice a negative impact on your mood after using it, or you feel like you're becoming addicted to it. Comparison with others, or worrying about what others think can become all-consuming. Switch off so you can enjoy living your life on your own terms, rather than the way you perceive you "should" be living.
Find out more about mental health strategies in "Supporting Employee Mental Health in the Workplace" and "Coping with Covid-19: Ways to Care For Your Mental Health and Wellbeing."