Mental Health & the Importance of Self-Care

May, as you may have heard, is National Mental Health Awareness Month. In a society where being a productive, active, and healthy individual is so very important to each and every one of us, it can be easy to forget to take care of ourselves. Where taking the time out of the day to stop and ask yourself, ‘What do I need today?’ is seen as a waste of precious time that we could be getting more work done instead. But the thing is, BECAUSE we live in this society, it’s more important now than ever to take time for yourself and to evaluate your needs, because if you don’t, who will?

Take care of yourself FIRST.

Let me say this first. While things like depression, bipolar disorder and generalized anxiety disorder are being discussed more and more these days, we still have a system here in the US that lacks good care or even basic evaluations for these and similar mental health disorders. If you feel that you may be struggling with something more than a little stress or sadness, I strongly urge you to reach out to a therapist for a mental health evaluation.

It sounds scary, I know. But life on the other side of evaluation and treatment is so much more full of possibilities and comfort.

If you’re curious, and professional help seems a little too daunting at the moment- consider taking a generalized mental health assessment on the internet. Psychology Today and Mental Health Minnesota are both good resources for this. You can then do some more research on what these tests say about you, or take them to a mental health professional for further evaluation.

Mental disorder or no, self-care and evaluating your needs are important to every single person.

What is Self-Care?

Self-care is actively making decisions to better our physical, mental and emotional health.

Making self-care a priority in your life is not selfish. In fact, taking care of yourself first will lead to you being happier and healthier, making it easier to help others in return. If you have no energy left, what can you offer others? Taking care of yourself FIRST will lead to happier and healthier relationships.

It’s one of those win-win kinds of situations.

Self-care is not a list of things you “should” be doing. There are basics that every human needs, yes; such as eating a healthy diet, drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, taking care of medical issues. But some needs are more individual than that. For example, an introvert’s needs will vary greatly from an extroverts. An introvert will feel the need to be alone a lot more to process their feelings, which is an example of making a self care choice. Put that time on the schedule! Whereas an extrovert may feel they need to socialize, and can reach out to a friend, family member, or find a local happening to reach that need.

It should start to be obvious to you now that the first step to self-care is evaluating your needs. This sounds simple, but it is so very overlooked in our society. As a woman in our society, we are often taught to be ultra sensitive to the needs of others and take care of them first. As a man, we are taught that if you have needs you are weak. So to really tackle self-care, you first need to abolish these pretenses.

It’s ok to have needs.

It’s ok to address your needs.

It does not make you weak.

It makes you a HUMAN! Which is a wonderful thing to be.

How to create a self care routine that works for YOU

Step One:

Sit down and evaluate how you have been feeling. Listen to what your body is telling you. Are you tired? Rundown? Hungry? Those are easy signals to listen to and address with a healthy diet and a good night’s sleep. No matter how strong or busy you are, you still need basic nutrition and sleep. ‘

Listen to your body everyday. Wake up, scan yourself. What does your body need to thrive that day? Try to gift that to yourself.

Step Two:

Evaluate the more subtle mental and emotional needs you may have. At the end of your days, evaluate the things you WISHED you had made time for. What are you craving? These things could be intimacy, exercise, more time spent with loved ones or on hobbies. If you are constantly craving the same things at the end of your days, it’s time to pencil those things in.

If you’re having trouble deciphering these needs- that’s ok! It’s new and will take some practice! For me it took months of journaling and self reflection to hone in on these needs. What’s most important is to give yourself the space and time to check in with yourself.

When you’ve spent some time evaluating what you need more of to feel mentally and emotionally recharged, try to gift that to yourself as often as possible.

“But how do I make time for those things when I’m already so busy and stressed out as is?”

Why I am so glad you asked! Read on to step three.

Step Three:

Learn to say no. Make a list of things you’d really rather not do with your days anymore. Maybe you HATE spin class and only do it because you feel obligated. Find a different exercise you enjoy instead. Maybe you spend the last hour of the day on the internet, checking emails and reading up on the news for fear of missing out or to try to give yourself a head start for tomorrow when really- you’d rather be taking a bath or reading a book (or both!). Try to find creative solutions to these things on your ‘no’ list.

If something isn’t adding to the value of your life, replace it with something that does. That is self care!

It doesn’t necessarily mean you are a quitter, or weak. It means you made the conscious choice that something wasn’t working out for you. That is self-care. And it feels good!

Step Four:

After evaluating your needs, it’s time to implement some self-care.

Think about the things in life that rejuvenate you and bring you happiness.

Make time for those things in your life!

Often times this will be making time for yourself to do an enjoyable activity, or maybe you just need some time to be with yourself and rest!

I find making an actual list gives me something I can read back on when I feel the emotional labour of the choice is too much after a strenuous day. Literally, anything you enjoy can go on this list.

 

Some Self Care Ideas:

  • Take a bath
  • Read a book
  • Go for a walk
  • Journal
  • Meditate
  • Write a story
  • Volunteer
  • Play a sport
  • Go to the gym
  • Learn something new
  • Yoga
  • Cook a nourishing meal
  • Netflix and chill after a long day

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See the things on your list as gifts you can give to yourself. Accept these gifts with open arms! When you gift a friend something and they reject it (a compliment, a book, buying them a coffee etc) how does it feel? It doesn’t feel good. It makes you feel like your love doesn’t matter. It makes you feel rejected. So try to accept these acts of self care happily, you’ll feel the better for it!

Step Five:

Practice evaluating your needs, and practicing self-care everyday! Some days will be easier than others, and that’s ok. New things are hard. And sometimes life gets crazy and feels bigger than we are and we find we just can’t make that time today.

That’s ok!

Try again tomorrow.

What are some things you include in your self-care routine? I’d love to read and discuss them in the comments!

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