For so long, people have neglected their mental health while prioritizing their physical well-being. The reasons for the neglect are vast and often personal, but for many people, addressing their issues feels like an admittance to having problems society often stigmatizes (1).
The truth is, all of us will struggle with our mental health at some point in our lives, and when your mental health suffers, it can manifest in some not-so-pleasant ways. Untreated mental illness can take over your life; it can affect your relationships, career, and physical health.
Taking care of yourself mentally requires a fair bit of self-reflection. You have to observe your emotions and the motivations behind them. From there you can figure out how to nurture yourself and get the attention you need through radical acts of self-care.
Make Sleep a Priority
About 1 percent of the human population is physically capable of running on just a few hours of sleep a night (2). The rest of us need to clock in around eight to nine hours of slumber to fully function physically and mentally. Sleep deprivation is a huge contributor to mental health issues. Yet, because of our busy lifestyles and reliance on artificial light, about 40 percent of us aren’t getting the rest we need every night (3).
Making healthy sleep a priority in your life may seem silly. After all, in a world where time is money, spending it asleep feels like a waste. However, if you aren’t getting enough sleep, you impede your ability to think clearly. Driving while sleep-deprived can be as dangerous as driving while intoxicated. Sleep concerns are often co-occurring with various mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and ADHD. So, as silly as it may seem at first glance, just try out prioritizing your rest and see how much your waking life improves.
Sleeping well at night means performing well the next day. If sleep is an issue for you, start with the mattress. You may not be getting the amount of support you need, which leads to nights full of tossing and turning then back pain in the morning. Find a mattress that complements your sleep style and you’ll likely see an increase in both the quality and time of your sleep.
Other ways you can improve your sleep:
- Have a consistent bedtime and waking time.
- Exercise during the day. Try not to do it too late as to prevent post-workout insomnia.
- Stop drinking caffeinated beverages after 1 pm.
- Turn off electronics and dim the lights before bed to help the mind relax.
- Avoid alcohol before bed. Drink a soothing herbal tea
Say ‘No’ and Mean It
We are inundated with images and marketing campaigns that make it seem like everything needs to be positive all the time. In our quest to be like, many of us grab onto that idea and let it affect how we act toward others, often defaulting to our people-pleasing ways even if it isn’t in our best interests. Saying “no” is an important part of establishing a healthy life. It is one of the simplest ways to honor yourself and your truth.
It establishes healthy boundaries and respect in relationships. Saying “no” isn’t mean or selfish. In fact, when you take on things that you don’t really want to do, it creates feelings of resentment and negativity in your relationships. By being firm and committing to only that which you can do, you prevent future conflict and foster more honest communication.
But perhaps most importantly, saying “no” is a huge part of caring for your mental well-being. It gives you room to tend to your own needs before anyone else’s. It also shows the world that you respect yourself and the value of your time. So instead of overcommitting to projects at work or taking on the bulk of the housework while everyone else lies about, say “no” to the things that are weighing you down and communicate your needs with those around you.
Eat Well and Get Moving
While caring for your physical health shouldn’t be your only focus, a nutritious diet and ample exercise are important factors in a well-rounded self-care routine. According to nutritional psychologists, what you eat can have a profound effect on how you feel (4). That’s partial because 90 percent of serotonin, the body’s natural mood and sleep regulator, is manufactured in the gut. Eating more clean, whole foods and supplementing with probiotics can improve your mood and help reduce the stress that causes anxiety and depression.
When it comes to exercise, you don’t have to overdo it to get the mental health benefits moving your body provides. A simple walk with your pet, afternoon in the garden, or stretching routine can help reduce stress, improve muscle tone, and trigger the release of endorphins that make you happier – both immediately and over time. The goal with physical activity is to find something you love so you’ll be more likely to keep doing it.
Of course, there are plenty of excuses that keep us from prioritizing healthy eating and regular exercise. Usually, it’s time, money, or both. When life gets busy or stressful, it’s important to look for ways to make your healthy lifestyle more convenient. If you don’t have time to go to the grocery store, try a meal delivery service that brings healthy, easy-to-prepare food right to your door.
If you can’t afford a gym membership, hit play on a YouTube video and get your sweat on from your living room, free of charge. No matter what solutions you come up with, one thing is for sure: staying on track will be worth every bit of effort you put into it.
Listen to Your Body
Your mental and physical health are intrinsically related. If one suffers, you’re going to see that suffering manifest in the other. For instance, anxiety often results in physical side effects such as headaches, upset stomach, rapid heartbeat, fatigue, muscle aches, and other pains. It’s important to check in with your body from time to time and listen to what it’s trying to tell you.
Every gut feeling you have is your body trying to tell you something. Slow down and figure out what exactly that feeling means to you. A good way to do that is through meditation. While seated in a comfortable area free from distraction, allow yourself to relax and be still.
Keep a steady and intentional breath that feels comfortable. Notice the physical sensation of simply being in that spot, at that moment. Scan your body for any discomfort. Try to release any physical tension and keep your thoughts on your body scan until you’ve reached the very end.
You don’t have to do a full-on meditation to listen to your body, though. Listening to your body can be as simple as avoiding the person that creeps you out rather than engaging in conversation for the sake of being polite. If your body is telling you something is off, that most likely means something is indeed off. Human intuition is remarkably evolved take advantage of that for the good of your mental health.
Neglecting your mental health can make symptoms so severe that they have a negative impact on your relationships, career, physical health, and your overall happiness. Caring for your mental health shouldn’t come with stigma; it’s an important part of self-care. So, sleep well, set boundaries, take care of your body, and listen to your intuition.
Brad created SelfCaring.info to share his own knowledge and the many great resources he has found on his self-care journey.