This month, I’m really emphasizing the importance of self care and combating the myth that you “don’t have time for self care.” By now, you’ve probably read my post defining Self Care, but as a quick refresher: I consider Self Care to mean anything that you intentionally do to attend to your mental, emotional and physical health.
Today, I want to talk about the basics. What are the most basic things we need to do consistently to attend to our mental, emotional and physical health? Nothing I list today will be life altering or shocking to you. These are basic health habits. But they’re important and sometimes we need a gentle reminder to re-assess and prioritize these things.
So, let’s get back to basics and talk about some important self care habits to keep so you can improve your overall health and your mental health specifically!
Exercise has a direct impact on the brain and regularly exercising is powerful not only for your physical health (your doctor has already talked to you about that…), but also for your mental and emotional health. I often encourage clients to exercise as part of their treatment, particularly for conditions like depression. Why? Because it helps. Have you ever noticed that after a good workout/swim/run you feel exhausted physically but there’s also this little part of you that actually feels more alive and more motivated than before? We know that getting up and moving helps release some of the same neurotransmitters (i.e. brain chemicals) that taking an antidepressant does. Exercising is a great little pick me up and actually changes your brain to make you feel better. As an added bonus, finishing a workout gives you a sense of accomplishment.
Don’t just take my word for it-for more information, you can read this Psychology Today article on exercise or this American Psychological Association post on why therapists should be recommending exercise as part of our approach to mental health concerns
You’ve heard me drone on about the importance of sleep before when I’ve talked about ways to relax before going to bed, tips for falling asleep and ways to recover after waking up from a nightmare, so I’ll keep this fairly short. It’s hard to stay calm when confronted with a difficult situation, think clearly about how to solve problems or pay attention in your relationships when you are too tired to think straight. I generally recommend that my clients keep as consistent as possible of a sleep schedule. I know things come up and it’s impossible to go to bed at exactly the same time each night and wake up at exactly the same time each morning. Yet, it’s important to try to have as consistent of a schedule as your life allows. This way, your brain gets in tune with when it’s supposed to sleep or be awake and the consistency helps everything else in your life flow. When everything else becomes unpredictable, your brain at least knows when it will get to take a little rest…
For more information, here’s a great post about sleep and mental health from Harvard.
Again, physical health and mental health are closely linked and it’s important to take a wholistic approach to both. I have seen a lot of articles pop up on my Facebook newsfeed recently about nutrition and mental health and recently published a blog post myself about the positive mental health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables. I think society as a whole is just in the infancy of understanding the link between mental health and nutrition. I am not a dietician and therefore am not going to give you much specific guidance on what to eat, but I encourage you to speak to a dietician or someone knowledgable about the relationship between food about what tweaks to your own diet might be beneficial.
Take Time to be Grateful
Taking a moment to think about things you are grateful for or why you appreciate people doesn’t have to take more than a minute but has several mental health benefits including giving you a happiness “boost” and even improving your physical health. Research has linked the practice of gratitude to everything from better relationships to less overeating and even less depression. There are a variety of ways you can increase your gratitude practice such as writing Thank You notes to people who have made a difference in your life, writing three things you’re grateful for each day in a gratitude journal, having a bunch of things you are grateful for written in a gratitude jar that you can pull out and read when you feel down or taking someone who has helped you out to lunch to say Thank You.
Practicing Mindfulness on a regular basis is like exercise for the mind. Mindfulness means paying attention to the present moment in a nonjudgmental way. That sounds simple, but in order to effectively use mindfulness we have to build up that mindfulness muscle just like any other muscle in the body. See our Mindfulness page for more information about the benefits of Mindfulness and some basic mindfulness exercises you can try.
Learn More about Self Care
If you or someone you love is struggling to maintain optimal mental and emotional health, consider reaching out and calling Aspire Counseling at 573-328-2288. We are a Columbia, MO area counseling center with empathetic, skilled therapists who can help you set goals, develop a self care routine and move forward to build a more fulfilling life. Also consider downloading our FREE self care guide available at the bottom of this page.
About the Author:
Jessica Tappana is the founder, director and a full time therapist at Aspire Counseling. She created Aspire Counseling to provide the Mid Missouri area with a counseling clinic where clients are carefully matched with the right therapist. Our therapists then provide excellent care using evidence based interventions. Jessica is a big proponent of self care and is passionate about helping people live a fulfilling life!