Self-Care & Mental Health

man running on side of road

“What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor, and more unashamed conversation.”

– Glenn Close

One of the most important things us mentally ill folks can do is practice consistent, and proper self-care. Self-care is an important approach to managing long-term health conditions, especially when it comes to one’s mental and emotional health. Plus, it’s just downright good for you.

But what exactly is self-care? It is something generally described as the process of taking care of oneself, promoting good health and the management of illness.

According to Harbor Light Hospice, self-care promotes a “healthy relationship with yourself to the benefit of your physical, mental, and emotional health”.

Not being able to take care of oneself makes it harder to take care of others. As a husband and a father to three boys, I don’t have the option of not being there for them.

That’s why practicing self-care is such an integral part of self-maintenance and self-preservation. It can improve both one’s overall health and well-being, and can also help manage stress, lower the risk of illness, and increase energy.

Here are some tips from NIMH to help you get started with self-care:

  • Get regular exercise. Just 30 minutes of walking every day can help boost your mood and improve your health.
  • Eat healthy, regular meals and stay hydrated. A balanced diet and plenty of water can improve your energy and focus throughout the day. Also, limit caffeinated beverages such as soft drinks or coffee.
  • Make sleep a priority. Stick to a schedule, and make sure you’re getting enough sleep.
  • Try a relaxing activity. Explore relaxation or wellness programs or apps, which may incorporate meditation, muscle relaxation, or breathing exercises.
  • Set goals and priorities. Decide what must get done now and what can wait. Learn to say “no” to new tasks if you start to feel like you’re taking on too much. Try to be mindful.
  • Practice gratitude. Remind yourself daily of things you are grateful for. Be specific.
  • Focus on positivity. Identify and challenge your negative and unhelpful thoughts.
  • Stay connected. Reach out to your friends or family members who can provide emotional support and practical help.

Self-care can even help support one’s treatment and recovery, if true recovery is even possible.

Sometimes, however, even self-care can seem like an impossible task to take on.

It is important to seek out medical help if you are experiencing severe or distressing symptoms, such as:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Appetite changes that result in unwanted weight changes
  • Struggling to get out of bed in the morning because of mood
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Loss of interest in things you usually find enjoyable
  • Inability to perform usual daily functions and responsibilities

More Tips for Practicing Proper Self-Care

  • Take breaks to unwind through yoga, music, gardening, or new hobbies
  • Find new ways to safely connect with family and friends, get support, and share feelings
  • Take care of your body and get moving to lessen fatigue, anxiety, or sadness
  • Treat yourself to healthy foods and get enough sleep

Self-care has become a more popular, mainstream concept in recent years. According to Google Trends, the number of searches for “self-care” has more than doubled over the last five years.

Marni Amsellem, PhD, a licensed psychologist, describes self-care as “anything that you do for yourself that feels nourishing.”

“It can be something that’s relaxing or calming, or it can be something that is intellectual or spiritual or physical or practical or something you need to get done,” she said.

So, self-care can mean and be something different to everyone.

Self-care can also include things, such as:

  • Turning off the TV instead of watching another episode because the alarm is going off at 5am so you can get to the gym.
  • Declining the second drink at the office holiday party.
  • Saying “no” to the thing you don’t want to do even if someone is going to be angry at you.
  • Maintaining financial independence.
  • Doing work that matters.
  • Letting other people take care of themselves.

Bottom line: You have to take care of yourself. And in more than one way. We weren’t built to last. There are enough negative factors surrounding our illnesses as it is, so self-care is the least we can do to try and maintain some semblance of sanity and balance. There’s still going to be bad days, but we just have to try and push through. It’s all we can do.

One of the most important things us mentally ill folks can do is practice consistent self-care. Self-care is an important approach to the management of long-term health conditions, especially when it comes to mental health. Plus, it’s just downright good for you.


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