Self-care can play an important role in maintaining your mental health - it is something that we can all do, every day, with simple activities that help us feel like we can better cope with life.
Self-care means taking the time to do things that help you live well and improve both your physical health and mental health. When it comes to your mental health, self-care can help you manage stress, lower your risk of illness, and increase your energy. Even small acts of self-care in your daily life can have a big impact.
Here are some tips on how to take action to protect your mental wellbeing:
- You could start by asking yourself:
What does self-care mean to me? What are my core needs and values and to what degree are they met or attended to? Are there things that are overlooked? What needs to change?
- You need to plan self-care; it won’t just happen
Once you begin to understand what self-care means to you, you can start to draw up a plan. By creating a self-care plan you will be able to identify activities that you can use to support your wellbeing, that work for you. Make plans to regularly engage in activities that refuel rather than take from you.
- Be aware of early warning signs
Increase observation of yourself and be aware of your emotions, needs, limits and resources. Try to be sensitive to how you're feeling and watch out for any signals that you might be becoming unwell. These will be individual to you, but it can be useful to reflect on what these may be so you can get support as soon as possible.
- Express your feelings
Suppressing painful feelings does more harm than good. Let yourself feel whatever you feel and express your thoughts and feelings in a way that you prefer to do to release the emotional burden you’re carrying. By doing this regularly you’ll be able to make more sense of what’s going on in your life – helping to build your resilience and have a stronger relationship with yourself and others.
- Employ a growth mindset view
Consider seeing challenges as opportunities to grow rather than failures or impossible obstacles.
- Express gratitude
There is strength in recognising and appreciating what we do have, right now.
- Have realistic expectations
We often give ourselves a set of high expectations – and expect others to meet them as well. The gap between expectation and reality is often a factor in mental health issues such as depression (you feel hopeless at not achieving those expectations) and anxiety (you’re super-stressed because people aren’t doing what you want/need them to do). Think ‘realistic’ rather than ‘perfect’. High expectations just put way too much pressure on yourself and set you up to 'fail'.
- Give yourself permission to rest and relax, be still or do nothing
Try relaxation techniques, get enough sleep, take time away from technology etc.
- Attend to your physical needs
Think about your diet, try to be do some physical activity, spend time outside, hydrate and replenish.
- Play and be creative
Ensure that you do something fun or engage in activities that bring you joy and help you to reconnect with that part of yourself. It is important to do this regularly.
- Cultivate adaptive coping
Recreational drugs and alcohol or throwing yourself into work can actually be distractions from feelings or things that need confronting and addressing. Be mindful of isolating yourself and strive to reach out to others even if it you may find it difficult.
- Maintain good balance & boundaries
It can be difficult to step away from your work when you know it’s not finished; the impulse to believe you need to be working every single minute of the day until everything is done is a hard one to override. But it’s not only OK to step away for a minute every now and again, but it can also help you be more productive in the long run. Constantly saying yes to loved ones or co-workers when you don't have the capacity to help them can lead to anxiety, stress and eventually burn-out.
- Use your vacation time proactively and take regular breaks
Everyone needs to recharge every now and again; without it, burnout can strike hard.
- Talk to someone and ask for help
Connect to yourself as well as others. Talk to your co-workers, reach out to peers to debrief, speak to family and friends, see your GP or talk to your employer and/or OH and explore options for support if it all starts to feel too much.
If you feel that you are not coping with your mental health and need information and advice, the following resources are available:
Mental Health Foundation
World Health Organisation
Call 116 123 to speak to someone 24 hours a day, or you can also talk to someone online: www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help/contact-samaritan
Written by Dr Anna Wachowska, Counselling Psychologist for Psych Health, a Health Partners company.