8 Self-Care Tips to Strengthen Your Mental & Emotional Health

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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:

Brain Dumps

  • 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.

Gratitude Lists

  • 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.

Meditation 

  • 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.

Highlight Lists/Jars

  • 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).

Journaling

  • 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.

Affirmations

  • 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.

Thought Challenging

  • 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!

The 5 Fundamental Aspects of Self-Love & How to Actively Practice Each One

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Self-love is a concept we hear a lot nowadays, but what does it really mean? What does it mean to ‘love yourself’ or to practice self-love? And why is it important?

I asked you to tell me what self-love means to you & here are some of your responses:

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“Fully accepting and being comfortable with your strengths AND your flaws.”

“Knowing you are worthy of all the love, dreams, and desires!! Loving yourself enough that you don’t need to seek validation from other people. Accepting your imperfections!”

“Self love is showing yourself the love that you give to others. Caring enough about yourself to treat yourself as if you were treating someone else. Knowing you’re worth more, knowing you deserve it, knowing you’re good enough for YOU, not anyone else. Gifting/treating yourself to show your own self kindness and love.”

“Doing something just for me, like doing my nails or taking a nice long bubble bath!”

“Feeling confident, happy + inspired”

“Candle, weighted blanket, and some weird Netflix show (and an ample hills pint)”

“To learn not to judge myself or others and approach my days with only kindness”

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While you each touched on different aspects of self-love, I couldn’t agree more with these sentiments as a reflection of what loving ourselves looks like in practice. Self-love is entirely internal. It is not something that can be gained from another person or any other external factor. And despite the simpler ways in which we can practice self-love, there is much work involved in loving ourselves on a fuller, deeper and more authentic level. However, when we do love ourselves and act from a place of self-love, it significantly impacts every aspect of our lives – from the relationships we find ourselves in to our ability to cope with our problems to the energy we give off in the workplace and elsewhere.

Here are what I believe to be the 5 fundamental aspects of self-love & ways that we can actively practice each one:

  1. Self-Acceptance – Self-love means true acceptance of who we’ve been, who we are and who we want to be. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t things we want to change/improve, but it means we embrace those things while simultaneously striving to change them if we desire to. It also means making sure our desire to change/improve isn’t based on someone else’s opinion or belief about who we should be. Self-love means meeting and accepting ourselves wherever we currently are – even if it’s not exactly where we want to be just yet. Self-love means accepting that we’re going to fail and fall short sometimes and embracing ourselves despite it. Try this: Guided Meditation for Self-Acceptance
  2. Self-Awareness – Self-love means acknowledgement of both our strengths and our shortcomings. Self-love is taking an honest look at our lives, giving ourselves credit for where we’re thriving and being real with ourselves about where we’re not. Self- love is the balance between calling ourselves out on where we could be better without criticizing or berating ourselves about it. It’s acknowledging the excuses, thoughts, patterns and habits that may not be serving us, accepting that they exist and taking active, loving steps to change them. Try this: Do a self-inventory of the areas you’re thriving in and the things you’d like to work on (and make sure they’re things that are important to you). Once you’ve established the things you want to change/improve, work with a therapist or share them with a friend you can check in with to stay accountable, focused and committed to this self-growth. 
  3. Self-Forgiveness – Self-love means shedding and forgiving old versions of ourselves. It means looking at our past self with love and respect even if we no longer resonate with his/her choices or behavior. Self-love means knowing that who we once were was just as important a part of our journey as who we are becoming. Self-love means forgiving ourselves and knowing that we are still worthy and enough when we’re imperfect, make a mistake, don’t do our best or fall short of our own expectations. Try this: Write a letter of forgiveness to yourself for anything in your past that you’re holding on to/beating yourself up for. Use this Radical Self Forgiveness Worksheet for guidance. 
  4. Self-Care – Self-love means taking care of ourselves physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. It means asking ourselves in each moment, “What do I need right now?” and taking active steps to give ourselves that. Self-love is recognizing when we need to rest and when we need to push ourselves. It’s putting our own needs first and trusting that it will allow us to show up better in our relationships. Self-love is making and prioritizing time for ourselves amongst our busy lives and our responsibilities to others. It’s believing that we are worth investing time and energy into and making that happen no matter what. Try thisSet aside at least 30-60 minutes a day to focus on your own physical, mental, emotional and spiritual self-care. 
  5. Self-Talk – Self-love means speaking kindly to ourselves and communicating with ourselves in a way that helps and serves us. It means acknowledging when our inner dialogue is self-critical, negative and limiting and replacing it with language that is positive, useful and self-affirming. Self-love is making an active choice to speak to ourselves with compassion, patience, respect and gratitude. Try this: Notice any negative/unhelpful thoughts that come up throughout the day & write them down in a notebook or on your phone. Later, go back and challenge them with an alternative/more helpful thought. Bringing these negative thoughts into conscious awareness and actively replacing them will begin to shift your automatic thought processes over time. 

Each of these areas are a crucial piece of the puzzle that makes up self-love. You can practice self-care and still not fully love yourself. You can appear confident to others and still not fully love yourself. You can preach self-love to others and still not fully love yourself. You can tell yourself you love yourself and still not fully love yourself! The work involved in really, truly loving ourselves — not just externally or on a surface level, but internally and on a deeper level, too — can be difficult, uncomfortable and ugly. It isn’t always fun or easy and certainly doesn’t always feel good. Furthermore, it’s a lifelong process. In fact, self-love isn’t a place we arrive to. It’s an ongoing series of decisions and choices that we face each day – and the goal is to make more decisions that reflect our love for ourselves than decisions that do not.

It’s OKAY if you have some work to do in one or all of these areas. We’re all going to have good moments, challenging moments, highs and lows… even when it comes to loving ourselves. And part of loving ourselves is remembering it’s okay if we haven’t been loving ourselves very much lately and figuring out how we can shift that.

Which of these areas of self-love do you find to be most difficult? Did you give one of the exercises a try? How did it go? I’d love to hear your thoughts below!

Finding Time for Self-Care in a Busy Schedule

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Work, chores, errands, and a never-ending to-do list – sometimes it feels impossible to do it all. We run ourselves into the ground while trying to and rarely stop to take a breath. We pile things onto our plate when we have no room left on it because we feel like we can’t say no. We have trouble justifying self-care because we convince ourselves that we just ‘don’t have the time for it’.

What if I told you there was a way that each one of us could add more of it into our lives and that instead of taking time away from us, that it would actually give us MORE time?

Yes, that’s right – taking even as little as 15 minutes a day to practice self-care can, over time, lead to lower stress levels, increased focus and more positive thoughts – thus increasing our productivity levels, which in turn allows us to accomplish our usual tasks in a lesser amount of time.

People often think of self-care as a luxury that only people without kids, without busy jobs or with a lot of down time get to enjoy. The truth is that self-care is an experience available to everyone that is open to prioritizing it, which is where we need to take an honest look at lives.

Many of us don’t prioritize ourselves for a number of reasons. We don’t believe we deserve it, we think we’re being a hero by putting others’ needs before our own, it gives us anxiety to not keep busy or to be alone with ourselves for more than a few seconds, etc. So instead, we keep our plates full with things that help us escape from that and we claim we just ‘don’t have the time’.

If you’ve recognized that you don’t make self-care a priority and have used the excuse that you don’t have the time (and trust me, we’re all guilty of it!), I challenge you to look inward and explore the other reasons that you don’t MAKE the time.

Perhaps you can start by:

  • Setting your alarm 10 minutes earlier & starting the day with a guided meditation
  • Taking some time to sit down & read a book while you enjoy your morning coffee
  • Sitting outside during your lunch break instead of at your desk
  • Listening to an audio book or podcast on your commute to/from work
  • Spending a few extra minutes in the shower doing some deep breathing
  • Jotting down a list of what you’re grateful for
  • Doing a brain-dump when you wake up & before you go to bed to write out your to-do list, daily goals and/or random thoughts
  • Keeping a journal with you throughout the day to write down thoughts/feelings as they arise
  • Taking a walk around the block while listening to music

Are these things you think you could implement once a day? Once a week? Once a month?

Self-care doesn’t have to be all or nothing. It doesn’t have to be a full day at the spa or nothing at all. But we often assume that it does, which is why we usually just throw in the towel on it altogether.

If we can open ourselves up to prioritizing self-care in small ways, it will allow us to see the effects that it can have on our lives and empower us to prioritize it in larger ways, too.

In what ways can you add a little self-care to your life without disrupting your usual routine? What’s holding you back from getting started?

Give yourself permission, start small, and embrace it. And above all else, remember: you deserve to make some time for you.