There’s all this talk of “self-care” in the mental health community these days, but what does it actually consist of and look like and why is it so important?
For starters, the emphasis on self-care has become increasingly present as a result of many people neglecting themselves due to the glorification of being busy and the belief that putting other peoples’ needs before our own somehow makes us more worthy, important, valuable and/or lovable. This commonly results in an increase in burnout, stress, anxiety and low self-esteem, which leaves many people asking “how do I fix this?”. When we don’t have outlets or consistent tools in place for taking care of our mental/emotional health, we are left with two dangerous options: 1) numb these symptoms via unhealthy means or 2) depend on other people to take care of/fix us. As you can imagine, neither of these options are sustainable.
So how do we know which self-care techniques are right for us and will actually help to alleviate our symptoms/benefit our mental health in a productive way? This takes some trial and error. Much like figuring out which type of exercise you prefer to do or which doctor is the best fit to help with your physical health goals, it takes some time to determine which activities you enjoy and find effective for your mental/emotional health, too.
Below are some of my personal favorite self-care techniques & my suggestions for how to start implementing them to follow:
- Goal: to gain mental clarity and have an outlet for your thoughts/feelings
- Good for the person who: has a lot on their mind, is constantly busy and/or has a long to-do list, is short on time, struggles to fall asleep at night, is easily distracted, struggles to be present, overthinks/analyzes
- How to do it: Take out a piece of paper & write down, in list form, anything on your mind – things you need to do, a feeling/thought you have, a frustrating thing that happened, etc. Allow whatever comes up to come up and ‘dump’ it down onto paper to release it from your brain so you can move forward with a clean slate.
- Goal: to be more present & gain appreciation for the simple things
- Good for the person who: is pessimistic/negative-minded, worries a lot about the future/past, has trouble being present
- How to do it: At the beginning or end of each day, list 3 specific things that you’re grateful for. It’s very important that they be specific and that they be different each day. This forces you to pay closer attention to positive details throughout the day in search of things you can add to your list & therefore makes you more aware of all the awesome stuff you have to be grateful for.
Personal Development Books & Podcasts
- Goal: to gain self-awareness & promote self-growth and to fill your mind with positive, self-serving words and thoughts
- Good for the person who: has low-self esteem/lacks confidence, wants to gain self-awareness, is lacking motivation
- How to do it: Choose a book or podcast that reflects an area that you specifically need support with, whether that be confidence, productivity, perfectionism, etc. (feel free to reach out to me for recommendations). Set aside as little as 10 minutes per day to read or listen, even if it’s on your commute, and take a couple minutes afterward to write down your biggest takeaways. You’ll slowly start to notice the impact that this encouragement can have on your motivation levels and self-confidence and you’ll be left with your written takeaways to reflect on at any given time.
- Goal: to be more present & grounded and to slow down
- Good for the person who: overthinks/analyzes, has trouble slowing down, struggles to live in the moment, wants to be more in touch with their emotions, has anxiety, struggles to fall asleep
- How to do it: I recommended starting with a guided meditation that will walk you through the process until you become more familiar with it and can actively implement it on your own. Start with 3-5 minutes in the morning or evening and slowly increase over time. Keep in mind that this is a skill that takes time & consistency to develop and that it’s okay if you struggle with it at first. App recommendations for guided meditations: Headspace & Calm.
- Goal: to pay more attention to the feel-good stuff
- Good for the person who: is pessimistic/negative-minded, lacks confidence, worries a lot, is hard on themselves
- How to do it: Before going to bed, list 3 specific highlights/good things that happened that day – whether it be an accomplishment, positive memory, good conversation, something you learned, etc. Another spin on this is to write down your highlights on a piece of paper and put them in a jar to read at the end of the year (or whenever you’re needing a little pick-me-up).
- Goal: to untangle and process your thoughts/feelings about a situation and to keep track of thought/behavior patterns over time
- Good for the person who: has a lot on their mind, is struggling to make a decision, is uncertain about how they feel, is feeling disconnected from their emotions and/or is overwhelmed by their thoughts, enjoys writing
- How to do it: Set aside 10-20 minutes to just free-flow write without analyzing or judging what goes down on the paper. Doing this consistently for 3-4 days can be helpful in processing a difficult situation or gaining clarity on your thoughts/feelings about something. Trying to do this every single day may start to feel more like a chore, so if you do want to journal every day I suggest having some type of prompts or system in place to make this less overwhelming.
- Goal: to be more intentional & connected to your goals and values
- Good for the person who: struggles to stay committed to their goals, has self-critical thoughts and/or limiting beliefs
- How to do it: Write down a list of affirmations/statements that both resonate with you and connect to your goals and values (there are tons of examples on Google if you need help getting started) & read them out loud daily. You can also purchase affirmation cards on Amazon if you want some guidance and/or are struggling to come up with self-affirming thoughts.
- Goal: to be more positive-minded and less self-critical
- Good for the person who: is negative-minded and/or self-critical, has limiting beliefs, lacks self-confidence, is often hard on themselves
- How to do it: Recognize any negative/limiting thoughts that come up throughout the day that do not serve you. Write them down and actively challenge them by also writing down the alternative/opposite/more helpful thought (even if you don’t believe it or connect with it yet). Tangibly writing out this thought process will start to bring more awareness to your negative/limiting thoughts and will help you start to challenge them more subconsciously over time.
I’m a firm believer that everyone needs a consistent self-care routine, whether you are currently going through a crisis/rough time or not, as it keeps you well-connected to yourself and your values and can help to keep you more grounded when/if a crisis should occur. I recommend choosing a few strategies that resonate with you and setting aside 30-60 minutes per day to put them into practice. If you feel like you ‘don’t have the time for that’, I strongly urge you to review your schedule & see where you can make the time. You deserve to make yourself a priority and you will quickly recognize the positive impact this small shift in your routine can have on your mental health.
I’d love to hear all about your favorite self-care strategies in the comments below!