It's easy to define the term "self-care." Simply put, self-care is caring for yourself. Anything you do to prioritize your mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health is self-care. When it comes to mental well-being, it helps to think of self-care as a personal pit stop in a daily race.
Maintaining mental well-being can be a challenge, but when you make self-care a habit, you give yourself an advantage and the edge you need to thrive. Let's dive in and learn more about self-care activities for mental health.
Why is self-care important?
To understand the importance of self-care, let's use the automobile as an analogy. When you drive your brand-new car off the lot, it will probably run well with no maintenance for quite a while as long as you keep putting gas in it. However, at some point, you need more than gas to keep your car going. Regular maintenance such as oil changes and tune-ups, and new tires are all needed to keep your car at its best.
Self-care for your mental health is as important as servicing your car. Specifically, self-care is essential for your mental health because it can help you better manage stress and anxiety over the long haul, as well as give you the tools you need to avoid burnout.
One thing to remember is that self-care for mental health isn't just about how it makes you feel better in the moment. Self-care is a preventative practice. Using the automobile example, we don't wait to get an oil change until the car breaks down. Regular oil changes and other maintenance are what keep the car functioning at its best. Investing in your mental health long-term can pay dividends for your entire lifetime.
How to practice self-care
The most effective way to practice self-care is to make it a habit. It's not a good idea to wait to do self-care when you're facing a crisis, whether it's a mental health crisis or a crisis in another area of your life.
We recommend making self-care a part of your routine. You can even go as far as actually scheduling regular self-care. For example, set a time every week to unplug from technology and read books, spend time in nature, or visit with friends and family.
To practice self-care:
- Recognize the signs when you're in need of self-care.
- Have a checklist prepared with self-care activities you can do to respond to your needs.
Below, we outline some specific self-care activities for mental health.
We all need quality sleep to be healthy and function at our best, both mentally and physically. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), only 33% of Americans get the sleep they need.
If you don't get sufficient sleep, you may find yourself becoming moody and irritable. When we're well-rested, it's easier to stay emotionally and mentally grounded. The National Sleep Foundation says average adults need approximately 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
Also, consider indulging yourself with a nap when you need a quick recharge. Power napping for 20-30 minutes is the perfect way to clear your mind and reset. To take a nap, find a quiet spot with minimal distractions. This may be actually lying down in bed, dozing in a chair in your living room, or even putting your head down on your desk.
One way to unwind and reset is with breathing exercises. Conscious breathing brings your attention to your breath as you pay attention to each breath that goes in and out.
Follow these steps to begin conscious breathing:
- Lie down or sit in a comfortable spot.
- Close your eyes and start breathing, bringing your attention to your breaths.
- When you breathe in, hold your breath for five seconds, then exhale.
- As you inhale and exhale, pay attention to your breath as it moves into and out of your body.
- Say the word "in" as you breathe in and "out" as you exhale.
- If it helps, consider adding a mantra to help you stay focused on your breath.
Regular exercise has a link to stronger bodies and healthier minds. Exercise helps you reduce stress, improve focus, and lower the risk of age-related mental decline.
The National Institute of Mental Health reports that walking for 30 minutes every day helps improve your health and boost your mood. Even if you can't walk for 30 minutes at a time, breaking your walking up into several shorter walks adds up and has the same effect. In addition to walking, low-impact exercises like yoga are effective for self-care.
Mindfulness and meditation
Mindfulness is all about being present in the moment or being aware and conscious of whatever is going on with you, your mind, and your body. Equally important, mindfulness brings balance to your life and helps you maintain the progress you make in your mental-health self-care.
One way to achieve mindfulness is by implementing and maintaining a meditation practice. As you meditate, keep the seven pillars of mindfulness in mind:
- Non-judging: Pay attention to your thoughts as they pop into your mind, but don't judge them. Simply acknowledge them.
- Patience: Everything will emerge when the time is right. Be as patient with yourself as you are with other people.
- Beginner's mind: Observe things with an uncluttered and clear mind. Avoid allowing past experiences, expectations, and beliefs to keep you from seeing things as they are in the present moment.
- Trust: Trust yourself and your feelings. We all make mistakes as we go through life, but looking inward for guidance and trusting your intuition can help.
- Non-striving: We approach most of our lives with plans and goals. However, mindfulness and meditation are all about focusing on seeing things as they are in the present moment and accepting them. Embrace the moment, and focus on "non-doing."
- Acceptance: When you accept things as they are without striving to change them, you become more aware of what you're experiencing at any given moment.
- Letting go: This comes back to non-judging. As you pay attention to your thoughts and inner experiences, you might discover your mind tries to hold onto some thoughts. Try to let them go and allow them to be what they are rather than getting caught up in judging them.
Taking the time to meditate when you're feeling stressed can quickly de-escalate anxiety and bring you back to a healthier mental headspace. However, having a regular meditation practice in place helps you stay on track. Try to meditate at the same time every day so it becomes a part of your daily routine.
Tracking self-care for optimal health
Now that you're up-to-date on some great self-care activities for mental health, you can level up your personal effectiveness and healthy living. In terms of how to improve mental health, tracking can help. Evidation Members can track their mood and self-care activities and earn points. Download our app today to learn more.