May is Mental Health Awareness Month and this week we have Whitney Young Health’s Behavioral Health Clinician, Elizabeth Seguinot, LMHC, reminding everyone that taking care of your mental health is extremely important and by following these directions, here is how you do it.
To be able to care for the people you love, you must first take care of yourself. It’s like the advice we’re given on airplanes: put on your own oxygen mask before trying to help someone else with theirs. Taking care of yourself is a valid goal on its own, and it helps you support the people you love.
People who pay attention to their own physical and emotional health are better able to handle challenges. They adapt to changes, build strong relationships and recover from setbacks. The ups and downs in your life can have a huge impact on you. Improving your relationship with yourself by maintaining your physical and mental health makes you more resilient, helping you weather hard times and enjoy good ones. Here are some suggestions for starting a self-care strategy.
Understand How Stress Affects You
Stress affects your entire body, physically as well as mentally. Some common physical signs of stress include:
- Low energy
- Upset stomach, including diarrhea, constipation and nausea
- Aches, pains,tense muscles
Begin by identifying how stress feels to you. Then identify what events or situations cause you to feel that way. Once you know which situations causes you stress, you’ll be prepared to avoid it and to cope with it when it happens.
Protect Your Physical Health
Improving your physical wellbeing is one of the most comprehensive ways you can support your mental health. You’ll have an easier time maintaining good mental habits when your body is a strong, resilient foundation.
- Exercise can take many forms, such as taking the stairs whenever possible, walking up escalators, and running and biking rather than driving. Joining a class may help you commit to a schedule, if that works best for you. Daily exercise naturally produces stress-relieving hormones in your body and improves your overall health.
- Eating mainly unprocessed foods like whole grains, vegetables and fresh fruit is key to a healthy body. Eating this way can help lower your risk for chronic diseases, and help stabilize your energy levels and mood.
Get enough sleep:
- Adults generally need between seven and nine hours of sleep. A brief nap—up to 30 minutes—can help you feel alert again during the day. Even 15 minutes of daytime sleep is helpful. To make your nighttime sleep count more, practice good “sleep hygiene,” like avoiding using computers, TV and smartphones before bed.
Avoid alcohol and drugs:
- They don’t actually reduce stress and often worsen it. If you’re struggling with substance use, click here for helpful resources.
Practice relaxation exercises:
- Deep breathing, meditation and progressive muscle relaxation are easy, quick ways to reduce stress. When conflicts come up between you and your family member, these tools can help you feel less controlled by turbulent feelings and give you the space you need to think clearly about what to do next.
Learn to make time for yourself without feeling you’re neglecting others is critical. Any amount of time you take for yourself is important. Being out of “caregiver mode” for as little as five minutes in the middle of a day packed with obligations can be a meaningful reminder of who you are in a larger sense. It can help keep you from becoming consumed by your responsibilities.
Start small: Think about activities you enjoyed before and try to work them back into your life. If you used to enjoy days out with friends, try to schedule a standing monthly lunch with them. The point is not what you do or how often you do it, but that you do take the time to care for yourself. It’s impossible to take good care of anyone else if you’re not taking care of yourself first.
Practice Good Mental Habits
- Try not to feel bad about experiencing negative emotions. When you allow yourself to notice your feelings without judging them as good or bad, you dial down the stress and feel more in control. When you feel less stressed, you’re better able to thoughtfully choose how to act.
Notice the Positive:
- When you take the time to notice positive moments in your day, your experience of that day becomes better. Try writing down one thing each day or week that was good. Even if the positive thing is tiny (“It was a sunny day”), it’s real, it counts and it can start to change your experience of life.
Gather Strength from Others:
- Support groups exist to reassure you that countless other people have faced similar challenges and understand your concerns. Talking about your experiences can help. The idea that you can, or should be able to, “solve” things by yourself is false. Often the people who seem like they know how to do everything are actually frequently asking for help; being willing to accept help is a great life skill.
Focus on the long-term:
- If you can meet up with a friend once a month, or go to a community event at your local library once every two months, it still helps keep you connected. It also gives you the chance to connect with people on multiple levels