The Power of SELF-CARE
While it may sound like a no-brainer, we frequently overlook “taking better care of ourselves” as an integral part of our mental health. At any age, nourishing the mind, body, and soul is some of the best medicine out there. Luckily, there is much we can do in our own spare time to achieve better self-care in each of these three categories. Therapy is not necessarily the first answer. After all, the purpose of therapy is not to foster dependency on a professional to solve our problems, but to empower us with the tools necessary to heal ourselves. Keep in mind that no two people are alike, so finding the right combination of self-care habits for you and your schedule is important for effectively mending emotional wounds, reducing stress, and improving over-all quality of life. Below are some basic ideas to help get you started.
When contemplating how well we care for ourselves, the way we treat our bodies must be at the top of the list. Why? Because if our physical health is compromised everything else becomes affected. Think about it. How often do we become impatient and irritable when we’re hungry or have a headache? The wellness of our mind is so directly linked to our body that the standard of care in therapy demands ruling out physical symptoms that might be contributing to emotional issues before even considering a mental health diagnosis. Here are key ways to care for your body.
For children/adolescents many reputable sources recommend 60 mins of physical exercise every day. Most of which should be moderate-intensity aerobic activity (e.g. running, jumping, biking, team sports). Growing bodies also need an additional 60 mins of muscle/bone strengthening activity three times per week (e.g. climbing, gymnastics, sports, and playing on the playground). Exercise is crucial in child physical and mental development and should be strongly encouraged. If you’re a parent struggling to motivate your child to be physically active, try being a little creative. Make exercise or outdoor play a game, and/or something you and your child do together.
For adults, sources recommend 20-30 mins of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise daily (e.g. hiking, long walks, biking), muscle-training activities twice per week (e.g. weight lifting, sports, yoga), and 75 mins of higher intensity cardiovascular exercise weekly (e.g. running, swimming, stair-climbing). But let’s be realistic, life often impedes our attempts at a consistent exercise schedule, especially if we work a demanding job or have children. It may feel like we don’t have time in our day to commit to even 30 minutes of brisk walking, but here is the unavoidable truth: we have to make time. It may not pay the bills, but self-care is just as vital a part of our day as clocking in at work. If our bodies aren’t well maintained, everything else suffers.
Ways to Be More Active:
AEROBIC ACTIVITIES (high cardio-intensive)
Running/Jogging, Spinning, Biking, Stair-climbing, Boxing/Kickboxing, Swimming, Surfing, Soccer, Basketball, Hockey, Tennis, Cardio classes, Challenging Hikes
DAILY ACTIVITIES (low-moderate cardio intensity)
Long Walks, Light Hiking, Stretching, Playing with a pet, Go to the park, Light exercise
MUSCLE ACTIVITIES (targets large muscle groups)
Weight-lifting, Rock climbing, Yoga, Pilates, Surfing, Stair-climbing, Jungle gym, Boxing/Kickboxing, Cross-fit, Rowing, Gymnastics
A Word on Proper Diet and Sleep
As I am a Marriage and Family Therapist and not a nutritionist, dietician, or sleep specialist, I cannot tell you what to eat or how to sleep to be healthy. These factors depend heavily on age, lifestyle, personal physical health, and resource limitations. However, a properly balanced diet and consistent sleep patterns are not only essential to sustaining physical energy throughout the day, but to how well the mind works. If you are curious about appropriate diet and eating habits, please consult your doctor or a licensed dietician. For information about proper sleep hygiene, contact your doctor or a sleep study specialist.
Higher brain function, or executive functioning, involves the complex thought processes we use countless times every day. Think of it like a muscle that needs regular exercise. Relying on routine daily activities to stay mentally sharp is like using the same weight in the same direction every time you work out in order to get into shape. Your mind, like your body, is an adapting machine that will quickly adjust to the amount of effort it needs to generate to get the job done. However, the brain, like skeletal muscles, needs to be regularly challenged in order to strengthen and grow. Stimulating the mind helps to build new neural pathways, allowing us to think faster, more clearly, and make better choices.
Puzzles, Strategy games, Reading, Start a personal project, Exercise, Plan a trip, Join a hobby club, Visit an “escape room,” Write, Be crafty, Drawing/Art, Come up with jokes, Play sports
Few of us need to be reminded that relaxing is an important component of a healthy mind. Yet the reason many people neglect relaxation is similar to those who neglect exercise—it gets de-prioritized due to a busy lifestyle. Arguably, those who live fast-paced, stress-laiden existences have the greatest need for “pencilling-in” down time. This is especially true of parents where the risk of burnout is high. Feeling burned out is when a demanding, repetitive obligation causes irritability and exhaustion that shrinks our patience and increases emotional reactivity. Taking time for ourselves to slow down can help curb burnout significantly.
Ways to Relax
Listen to music, Go for a walk, Visit nature, Watch a funny movie, Laugh, Light exercise, Read a book for pleasure, Play a game, Meditate, Deep breathing, Find a quiet space, Catch up with friends. In essence: DO WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY (so long as it’s safe).
Last, but certainly not least, is the care we take to nurture our own spirit. The human soul is our essence, our persona, that which makes each and every one of us unique. As with any priceless artifact, it needs regular care and attention to remain intact. Feeding the soul is a challenging concept to categorize as it varies so widely from person to person. However, the best advice I could possibly give is to connect with whatever makes your heart feel full. Here are some broad areas where you might begin to look…
Whether or not you identify with a specific religion or faith, connecting with a ‘higher power’ can be a wonderful source of strength, inspiration, and comfort. People frequently turn to some version of spirituality in their darkest hours, praying to whomever or whatever may be out there listening for support and guidance. To be clear, by faith I’m not referring solely to organized religion, but to anything that can be classified as ‘greater than ourselves.’ Here are some ways to connect with the spiritual world:
Visit your place of worship. Visit someone else’s place of worship. Speak to a spiritual elder or authority. Re-invest yourself in your faith. Contemplate your personal religious or spiritual beliefs. Read religious texts. Explore new faiths. Find something uplifting to believe in.
The old saying goes, “There are but two guarantees in life: death and taxes.” However, I would propose a third certainty—that people need people. As human beings we are biologically driven to be social and rarely survive, let alone thrive, outside of a community of support. Ironically, when we are at our most vulnerable (depressed, anxious, etc…) we tend to isolate ourselves from others, effectively cutting ourselves off from those very people who can help us feel safe and cared for. Reconnecting with others can be powerful medicine to shepherd us through difficult times. There are countless ways to do so, but here are a few ideas:
Call an old friend. Make a new friend. Help someone in need. Random acts of kindness. Volunteer for community service. Visit with family. Visit with a neighbor. Join a community. Strike up a conversation. Ask someone you trust for help. Resolve conflict with a friend or family member. Tell someone how much they mean to you.