According to a report by the Mental Health Foundation, in the past year, 74% of UK people have felt so stressed that they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope. 46% reported overeating or eating unhealthily as coping mechanism, 26% stated they had started drinking or increased their drinking, and 16% said they had started or increased smoking.
High levels of stress can have a severe detrimental impact on a person’s health. Not just mentally, but physically too, with stress being linked to physical health problems like heart disease, insomnia and problems with the immune system.
As such, it’s more important than ever that all of us take time out of our busy lives for self-care. Here’s an in-depth look into why you should be indulging in self-care and how you can do that.
What is Self-Care?
Self-care is different from someone merely taking care of themselves. To take care of yourself means to eat and drink when needed and to get plenty of sleep; it’s the fundamental necessities a person needs to survive.
Self-care, on the other hand, is a bit more complicated. It is a way of taking care of our mental, emotional and physical health in a positive way that helps to improve our mood and reduce anxiety. On paper, it doesn’t sound that difficult, but it can be very easy to overlook.
Getting into a good self-care routine takes time before you can adequately build a rhythm. No one’s self-care routine will be identical; you will need to find what works for you and what you can fit into your busy life. It’s something that needs to be actively planned; it won’t just happen spontaneously, as it needs to be added to your calendar and given the same status as a commitment that you wouldn’t just shrug off. Finally, self-care should be something you are conscious and aware of, something you take note of why you’re doing it, how it feels and what the outcomes are.
Why is Self-Care Important?
The problem with our busy, work-filled lives is that taking time out for ourselves, whether it’s to hang out with friends or actually taking time to eat our lunch, can often feel like we’re slacking off and not being as productive as we should be.
However, not taking that time out for ourselves will affect our work more negatively than if we continuously keep going. Excessive work with no time for self-care will eventually lead to “burnout”. This is when you have pushed yourself to your limit, and you just can’t keep going anymore. You end up performing worse than if you had simply worked less and taken time to relax and re-energise.
Engaging in regular self-care will help to reduce the adverse effects of stress, helping you to refocus, so you’re better equipped to deal with stressful situations at work or in your home life. So, it’s essential to understand that self-care is not wasted time that you could be spending doing something more productive, but rather something to give you the tools needed to handle stress better, so you don’t experience burnout.
Types of Self-Care
Fundamentally, self-care is about feeling good about yourself and integrating self-compassion into your life in a way that helps to prevent you from burning out. When practised regularly, self-care has the potential to offer long-term benefits for the mind and body.
There are typically four critical kinds of self-care, all of which are necessary to a balanced, healthy life: physical, social, mental and emotional. Here’s a look at each of these in more detail, including a few ideas for the types of self-care you can do:
Physical self-care is about making sure your body is well-nourished and happy so that it can function as well as possible. Here are things you can do to take care of your physical self-care:
- Engage in physical activity
Exercise is good for the body, mind and soul. It releases endorphins that make us feel good. It doesn’t even need to be a gym session or a jog; a simple walk outside or even just vacuuming the living room counts as physical activity.
- Eat well
You don’t need to overhaul your eating habits completely but drinking more water and incorporating more leafy greens and fruit into your meals will make a big difference to your nutrition intake. You don’t even have to give up those tasty, unhealthy treats; eating well doesn’t need to be an all-or-nothing mindset.
- Get enough sleep
Sleep is crucial for self-care. Resting allows our bodies to reset and gather enough energy for the new day ahead. You should be aiming for 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night. If you struggle to nod off, consider a technology detox at least an hour before bed, as the blue light from screens can overstimulate the mind and prevent us from falling asleep.
Close connections to other people are crucial to our mental well-being, but it can be easy to neglect this aspect of self-care in our busy lives. Here are some tips for social self-care:
- Make a friend date
Making plans and sticking to them is crucial to ensure you’re getting enough social time. Plan to meet a friend for lunch or have them around for a film night. Make plans and stick to them as rigorously as you would an important work meeting.
- Join an interest group
If you don’t have many close connections where you live, consider joining a local group to meet new people. It could be anything that takes your interest, like tennis or pottery. It’s a great way to learn a new skill and make new connections.
- Reach out to an old friend
Whether it’s by letter, text or email, reaching out to someone you’ve lost touch with can be a great way to rekindle a past connection.
Mental self-care is about focusing on the present moment, taking care of your mental health and filling your mind with things that will influence your psychological well-being. Here are some ideas:
- Focus on the moment
Worrying too much on the future, or dwelling on the past, takes away from our ability to focus on the here and now. Try to enjoy the present moment and reflect on what is currently happening in your life.
- Practice acceptance
Practice accepting what is already happening in your life; let go of the idea of control. Things can’t always go our way, but accepting this fact frees the mind of unnecessary worry.
- Take a break
When we get overwhelmed, sometimes we need to take a step back and take a break. Just because you’re not physically unwell doesn’t mean you can’t have a day off; mental health is just as important as physical. So, if you need to, take a day off to replenish your mental health.
We all need healthy emotional coping mechanisms. While expressing and feeling emotions is essential, it should be done in a healthy way that acknowledges these emotions so that we don’t become overwhelmed.
- Make a date with yourself
This can be anything from going to see a film, wandering around a museum, reading your favourite book or baking some cookies. You should always make time to do something you want to do and stick to that plan; it’s a sure-fire way to feel good about yourself.
- Keep a journal
Writing down your feelings or jotting down some things that happen to you each day or any interesting thoughts you’ve had can be a great way of processing your emotions. It can help you gain clarity and allows you to see how you’re progressing.
- Talk to someone you trust
Speaking to a family member or friend or even a therapist can be a great way to help process any difficult emotions. It’s not good to bottle up how we feel, so try and find time to sit down and talk to someone you trust so you can gain an outsider perspective on the situation.
This World Mental Health Day make it your goal to start practising some daily self-care. Even the smallest, most straightforward act such as going for regular walks or trying to get more sleep can drastically improve your overall well-being.
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