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7 Elements of Self-Care

Silver Hill Hospital

When you have the flu, you most likely take time off from work and give your body the rest it needs to recover. When you are struggling with depression, anxiety or another mental illness and you are having a tough time, do you care for yourself in the same way? Do you give yourself permission to rest and do what you need to help yourself feel better? Most likely, you don’t. Many people push themselves too much and as a result, the illness gets worse.

While we aren’t advocating for calling in sick to work whenever you have a bad day, we want to emphasize the importance of self-care. Physical, spiritual and emotional health are all connected, which is why it’s important to focus on taking care of the whole person. Below are seven aspects to focus on to help you stay mentally well.

1.    Stress Relief
We are well aware that stress worsens our life in many ways. Even though you may try to ignore it, stress catches up with you. It can damage the body and worsen symptoms of mental illnesses. It increases anxiety, causes us to eat poorly, prevents us from sleeping properly and can put stress on relationships. While it’s impossible to eliminate all stress in life, it’s crucial to come up with healthy ways to help you deal with it. Find something that works for you. Maybe meditation, deep breathing, gardening or talking to a friend. Here are some other ideas to help cope with stress.

2.    Nutrition
Both good and bad moods can come from food. If you drink too much coffee it will bring on anxiety, nervousness and moodiness. When you’re stressed or depressed, you are more likely to crave and eat simple carbohydrates, like white bread, cookies or candy. These foods boost your mood and energy for a short period of time, but then they cause you to crash shortly after. In addition to eating a healthy, balanced diet, don’t forget to stay hydrated. When you get dehydrated, you can get cranky and even feel disoriented. Learn more about how food affects your mood and what foods you should add to your diet.

3.    Sleep
Sleep is one of the most important elements of self-care. It affects neurotransmitters, stress hormones, thought processes and emotional regulation. Too little can make it difficult to make decisions, solve problems and control your emotions and behavior. Simply put, everything seems worse when you don’t get enough sleep. You may feel more anxious, agitated, depressed; Whatever symptoms you typically experience are amplified. Additionally, even though you may feel like you are functioning fine with little sleep, you aren’t. Studies have found that drowsy driving can impair your functioning behind the wheel as much, if not more than, drunk driving.  Find out how many hours of sleep you should be getting each night.

4.    Connection
When you don’t feel well, it’s easy to stay in the house and avoid the outside world, but social connection is very important. Humans are social animals who crave interaction with others. In fact, loneliness not only negatively impacts your mental health, but it has also been linked to cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure and memory problems. It can even interfere with sleep. When it comes to mental health, loneliness feeds symptoms. Loneliness exacerbates the symptoms of illnesses like depression, social anxiety and alcoholism. As difficult as it is to do, try to take the initiative to reach out to others. If you’re feeling down, you really need to push yourself even when it’s hard. The best way to meet other people is by getting involved with something you like; Take a class, join a book club, get involved with a community initiative, volunteer. It will put you outside of your comfort zone, but when you make connections and begin socialize, you will start to feel the positive benefits. Over time, the loneliness will fade.

5.    Physical Activity
Although it seems impossible to think about exercise when you’re depressed or anxious, you can’t argue with the research—exercise helps. You don’t need a gym membership to reap the benefits. Walking, running, cycling, swimming, dancing and even gardening can all help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Try not to think about it as exercise and think about moving instead. Starting out with something small, like walking to the neighborhood coffee shop, then the next day try to go a little further. Slowly work your way up to a brisk walk every day. The combination of fresh air and movement will help your mind and body. Here are 4 Reasons to Start Exercising Today.

6.    Be Kind
If your partner or best friend came to you and told you they were having a rough time, would you brush them off? Would you tell them to suck it up and push through? Most likely you would be much more empathetic and offer support and comfort. Would you do the same for yourself? Most people hold themselves to higher standards than others because they feel selfish when they are kind to themselves. In reality, it’s important for our health. Make time for yourself (even if you think you don’t have any!), do something you like to do that adds joy to your life, give yourself permission to feel your feelings, stop the negative self-talk and don’t feel guilty for being nice to yourself for a change.

7.    Spirituality
Spirituality is at the core of our humanity. It is not about belief. Rather it is where we experience our deepest, most vital connections to life. While many belief systems and religious traditions have spiritual components, spirituality is also a fundamental part of music, art, dance, creativity, athletic endeavors and the natural world. Compassion, contemplation and meditation also have spirituality at their core.

Spirituality invites an awareness of our existence and the meaning of our moments. However, in stressful and difficult times, it is challenging to call our on spiritual resources. We can feel a lack of connection to others and to the things that are meaningful to us. Here is where spiritual practices are vital to self-care. Simple spiritual practices honor the connections to the life force inside us that is energized by the people, activities, moments and places that matter the most to us. Practicing gratitude, meditation, prayer, creative expression, community service and self-compassion help strengthen our spiritual connections and our inner coping resources. Likewise practicing forgiveness and radical acceptance can be profoundly liberating. All of these practices support other wellness and self-care practices and help us manage stress and challenging times.

Resources
Mental Health America: Live Your Life Well
Mental Health America: Taking Good Care of Yourself
American Psychiatric Association: Why Sleep is Important
Harvard Health: Sleep and Mental Health
PsychCentral: 7 Ideas for Being Kinder to Yourself