By Dr. Aimee Vaughn LPCC-S
Self-care is a buzzword flying around to describe things we do for ourselves in order to ensure our well-being in a high stress world. While a bath bomb, an evening with a good book, or splurging on something special might feel great in the moment, they often don’t have lasting effects on our mental health. When a person lives in a state of high stress, anxiety, and/or depression, one or two self-care acts are not going to be enough to make the impact we need to get our heads in the right space to feel better. Effective self-care is a lifestyle change and requires action every single day. Here are a few areas that I suggest incorporating into a daily self-care plan.
Be Nice to Yourself
Do you ever take time out of your day to just give yourself a pat on the back for the awesome job you did today? We can be our own worst critics and negative self-talk is not going to make us feel any better. Take some time out of your day to celebrate your successes! Not every success has to be a life altering event. Getting out of bed in the morning is a success when you really struggled to do it. We spend too much time thinking about ways in which we are not enough. There is a difference between working to be better and holding unrealistic standards to are either unachievable or are achievable, but at great cost to your personal health.
If you want to engage in self-improvement then I encourage you to make a practice of taking at least 5 minutes of your day and thinking only about how you have succeeded today. Reflect on the things you feel good about having done. Nothing is too small. If you can only list a couple of things, spend that time really digging into how good that experience was for you. It will give your brain a workout an teach it too look at yourself in a better and more accurate light.
Get Some Sleep
Despite what you might think, the average person needs 7-8 hours of sleep to function his or her best. Lack of sleep can negatively affect mental health and reduce performance and reaction time in important tasks. Think you can sleep 12 hours on Saturday to make up for only getting 4 hours of shut eye through the week? It doesn’t quite work like that. Sleep debt is accrued, and it takes time to pay it back.
So how do we deal with the things that are keeping us up? Here are some tips: If your thoughts are going 100 miles an hour, write them down on a list that you can look at later. Engage in guided meditation or progressive muscle relaxation to relax the body and help focus the mind; there are a lot of free apps you can use. Use a sleep routine that helps the brain recognize when it is bedtime. Unplug: turn off the phones and other devices at a set time to help prevent staying up later than intended.
A well-rested brain and body can make a huge difference in your preparedness to take on the day.
Take Care of Your Body
Have you ever noticed when you have been sitting nonstop or eating nothing but junk food you start feeling bad? The state of our bodies strongly impacts mental health. Getting some exercise every day is important to staying mobile and able to do the things you enjoy while also getting those happy endorphins kicked up a notch. You don’t have to hit the gym if you don’t have time; go for a walk, do some yoga, or anything that will get you up and moving throughout the day. The important part is that you make movement a regular part of your daily routine and do it even when you don’t feel like it.
Also pay attention to what you put into your body. We have all had to hit drive-thru because we are short on time, but constant high fat and unhealthy diets can lead to physical discomfort and unwanted weight gain. Try to ensure that you are getting some fresh fruits and vegetables every day!
And there you have it friends! If you want to improve your mental health and generally try to take better care of yourself, self-care needs to be an intentional and daily practice. Consider creating a self-care plan that you can post somewhere and will have to look at every day as a commitment to yourself. The key to making gains is continuing with the self-care tasks even when it isn’t convenient or you don’t feel like it, because that is when you need to do it most.
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