3 Self-Care Steps for Long-Term Mental Health
By Brad Krause
Between work, family, and friends, too many of us don't end up with nearly enough time and energy for ourselves. While self-care is a highly individual habit, there are a few common principles you'll want to incorporate into your own routine, whoever you are. Devote the time necessary to build these habits of self-care now, and you'll set yourself up for positive physical and mental health for decades to come. These habits are also incredibly helpful for keeping your sanity during quarantine - yes please.
Though our exercise routine may be one of the first things to go when we're feeling stressed or overwhelmed, those are in fact the very times when we need it most. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America explains regular aerobic exercise appears to have a range of benefits for our mental health, from producing endorphins that lift our mood, to decreasing tension, reducing fatigue, and improving concentration.
While we all likely have the best of intentions when it comes to exercise — just look at the spike in gym memberships after New Year's — some of us need a little extra motivation to follow through on our goals. If that's you, consider investing in a fitness tracker to help monitor your steps and physical activity throughout the day. There are a vast array of options, but whether high-tech or more bare-bones, all that matters is that the device motivates you to get a little more movement in your day.
Getting enough sleep every night is one of the most fundamental self-care practices — and may also be one of the most difficult for many of us. Though you've likely heard them before, it's worth repeating some of the risks that can come from chronically short-changing your sleep: weakened immune system, higher risk of anxiety and depression, weight gain, lowered fertility, and increased blood pressure, just to name a few.
Though there are a number of different factors that may be affecting the quantity and quality of your sleep, there are a few good, simple practices to begin developing better sleep hygiene. These include things like going to bed at the same time every night, keeping work — and electronics — out of your bed, and being mindful of what you're eating and drinking in the hours immediately before bed.
If you struggle with sleep or find you’re often groggy, make it a point to address potential culprits. Is light coming through your curtains? Invest in blackout shades. Are outside sounds disturbing you? Add a white noise machine. You can even download a sleep journal to your phone to help you help you scrutinize things that could be interfering with your slumber. With a bit of tweaking, you can resolve those issues and get the sleep you need.
As Pharmacy Times explains, chronic stress is known to wear down our mind and body in a variety of ways, including many symptoms we may think of as exclusively physical, like colds, eczema, acid reflux, and IBS. Although many stressors are simply facts of life in the modern world, we can still be conscious of which ones we allow into our days and, more importantly, how we react to them.
Make lists or use a productivity app to help prioritize your time and to make sure you're focusing on the things that matter most. You should also incorporate a calming habit into your daily schedule. While meditation is one such technique that is directly linked to reducing stress in the body, what's most important is finding something you enjoy, in order to make sure you stick with it long-term. Walks, journaling, dancing, gardening, or doing a home spa day, are all habits that can give you a bit of personal space, allowing you to return to the ups and downs of life with a newfound perspective. Here at Friends we love to take care of ourselves with beautifully made body products and candles as a way of destressing.
For many of us, our finances are a major source of stress, so look for some ways you can relieve that stress by cutting costs. Small changes like brewing your own coffee instead of buying it each day can add up in the long run, as can working out at home instead of paying for a gym membership. If you’re a homeowner, you may be able to reduce your monthly mortgage payment by tapping into the equity of your home with a refinance. Through refinancing, you can lower how much you pay each month by getting a better interest rate or extending the term of your loan.
While none of these practices are themselves difficult, forming healthy habits can nevertheless be a challenge. Be patient with yourself as you develop your self-care routine. Remember that it's all about finding your own sustainable techniques for managing your stress and maximizing your mental health every day.