Self Care: A Worthwhile Investment
Anyone feeling a little more stressed out than usual these days? You’ve heard of self care. You’ve heard of resilience. But what do these terms really mean, in a practical sense? Engaging in regular self care is a proactive approach to wellness and a vital component of a good “mental health maintenance plan” – which in turn builds resilience. Think of self care as an investment in your mental health. The idea is much the same as when we make a financial investment: we invest $1.00 today with the expectation that when you tap into the account at a later date it’ll be worth a little more. If we open an account but never make a deposit, or we regularly withdraw all the funds we’ve put in right after the deposit, we can’t reasonably expect to have much in the account when we suddenly want to take out some cash on a rainy day. Burnout is the mental health equivalent to reaching our overdraft limit. With our stressful life circumstances right now it’s imperative that we’re at least “putting in” as much as we’re “taking out.”
Here are my top 5 tips for caring for getting your Resilience Account on track:
1. Ditch the Guilt
Many people feel guilty about taking time for themselves, as though self care is a luxury or an indulgence. The positive impact consistent self care can have on our mental health is well supported by research. Just as regular physical activity helps to keep our bodies well, routine self care practice is an evidence based way to keep our mental health in tip-top shape. We need to ditch the guilt when it comes to self care, and instead learn to pat ourselves on the back for being proactive about our mental health.
2. A Healthy Brain Needs a Healthy Body
Speaking of physical activity, did you know that for many people regular exercise has been shown to have similar clinical results as low-dose antidepressant medication for treating mild depression and anxiety disorders? Eating right, getting enough sleep and working out regularly are important for our physical health, but these things also positively effect our mood and energy level and promote healthy brain functioning.
3. Be Mindful
Read up on the concept of mindfulness and work on integrating these principles into your daily tasks. Mindfulness is all about being present in each moment. Think of it as deliberately monotasking instead of multitasking. Research tells us — and this probably won’t come as a shock — that attempting to divide your focus among many different ideas and tasks at once can drive up your stress level, impair your ability to complete any of those tasks efficiently and to the best of your ability, and creates a barrier to feeling a sense of satisfaction upon task completion. Mindfulness is a way of training your brain to focus on just one thing at a time. It’s a skill that takes time and practice to develop but it pays off in spades.
4. Get Social (From 6 Feet Away)
The word “social” might conjure ideas of human-to-human contact and that’s certainly an aspect of life that’s changed drastically for most of us over the past few weeks. Now is the time to cozy up to technology. You can still enjoy a chat with your mom, a board game with friends and happy hour with your co-workers – virtually! If you haven’t been capitalizing on programs like Zoom and JackBox, make time to check them out and give them a whirl. Taking time to nurture personal relationships and your connection to the world around you is an important way to restore or maintain our overall health.
5. Just Do It!
Finding the time for self care can be challenging. You might find it hard to prioritize it when it seems there’s always something more important or productive to be done. Much like it takes time to get into the routine of exercising and preparing healthy food when we commit to focusing on improving our physical health, forming a habit of prioritizing self care doesn’t happen overnight. Integrating self care into your day-to-day life is crucial and pretty soon it’ll be second nature. Find a routine that works for you and stick with it. Remember to be gentle and forgiving with yourself, and acknowledge that not every moment of your day has to be spent on what an old-school mind would label as “productive.” Reframe the way you think of self care.
One of the great things about self care is that it’s something different for each of us. Effective self care means finding strategies that work for you. To use my earlier analogy, we typically do a little research before deciding where, when and how much to invest financially. Put on your thinking cap and reflect on the last time your mood, stress level and general mental health were in a good place. Experiment. Schedule it in. In addition to the near-immediate benefits, regular self care contributes to the development of coping strategies that will serve you well in the future – in other words, you’ll have a nice healthy balance when it comes time to make a withdrawal. Once you start to feel the benefits of your self care practice it’ll become easier to make time for it. Let us know how you’re prioritizing your mental health in the comments below.
Wishing each of you a mentally and physically healthy week!
Elizabeth Eldridge is a Psychological Health & Safety Consultant based in southern New Brunswick, Canada. In addition to frequent keynote speaking and corporate training on mental health she is the owner/operator of Arpeggio Health Services, Atlantic Canada’s largest provider of public mental health trainings. Learn more at elizabetheldridge.com, summitcorporatewellness.com and arpeggiohealthservices.com.