Want to boost your over all well-being? These three tools are the foundation to living a better life.
Self-care has been defined as practices that preserve one’s own health, well-being, or happiness. Self-care can look like indulging in treats, fun activities, personal time, and anything else that brings someone comfort or peace. While compassion and leisure are big factors in self-care, there is a side of self-care that may be a little less glamorous but equally, if not more so, important. Self-care also calls on the individual to literally take care of themselves. This looks like all of the tasks that fall to the side during our busy lives. This can be buying groceries, scheduling needed visits to the doctor, or calling a friend when you need help. Three major self-care tools are nutrition, exercise, and sleep. Let’s explore why these tools are so important, and how to increase each one for your well-being!
Nutrition is often the first to suffer when we are busy or struggling with our mental health. We may find ourselves skipping meals to make time for more work or decreasing the priority of food over other activities. This can also be due to diet culture and fasting, which may alter your connection to your body’s hunger cues. Changes in our appetite can be a key indicator of mental distress. The relationship between food and mood is simple: we draw the energy we need to carry out a productive life from the food we eat. Therefore, skipping meals is a sure way to diminish energy and tank your mood. You can combat this by listening to your hunger cues. Everyone feels hungry at different times, and you may not need to eat the same meals at the same times of those around you. Listen to what your body needs and choose to honor it, not stifle it. If listening to your hunger cues is difficult, try keeping a food journal or setting reminders on your phone to keep track of when you eat. And don’t work through your lunch!
Exercise has been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression over time. This is due to the release of dopamine and serotonin we experience during physical activity. Exercise can be difficult to maintain for two big reasons: time and motivation. Like nutrition, we tend to skip exercise when we have busier schedules. Our priorities are often work or family oriented, which leaves very little room to work out. Also, exercise doesn’t always feel fun. Sometimes we hold ourselves to the expectation that our workout should look like what we see on social media, which leads to feelings of obligation instead of excitement. To help with motivation, find 2-3 exercises that look fun or enjoyable for you. Try dance, yoga, walking, biking, skating, or something completely random. Exercise does not have to be confined to a gym routine! Finding time may be difficult, but push to prioritize daily movement as you would with any other part of your routine. Maybe 15-30 minutes of stretching is all you can afford, but this small shift can make a huge difference.
Sleep disturbances have long been tied to different mental health ailments. Sleep is so important because it’s the body’s way of repairing itself. Sleep has been shown to improve our immune systems, speed recovery during times of illness, and is needed for optimal cognitive function. Like nutrition and exercise, sleep needs differ from person to person. However, most teens and adults need around 7-8 hours of sleep each night. There are steps you can take to improve your sleep. For starters, maintain a consistent nighttime routine. Spend the time before bed caring for yourself in ways that relax you – brush your teeth, wash your face, maybe read a calming book. Avoid spending time scrolling social media before bed, because this causes your brain to re-engage and is more distracting than it is calming. A relaxing routine free from overstimulation is key in good sleep hygiene.
The Fun Side of Self-Care
There is still fun to be had with self-care! Remember that you are not only worthy of the care you provide yourself with nutrition, exercise, and sleep, but you are also worthy of fun! Here are some other self-care ideas:
- Take yourself out for dinner once a month.
- Give yourself a weekend to binge watch your favorite television shows.
- Find a new hobby to explore or a new book to fall into.
- Create a reward system that helps you push through when life feels overwhelming.
- Block off mandatory YOU time, and keep to it as you would your job or study time.
It’s easy to feel like these things aren’t important, but self-care is how you replenish your energy. Have fun, and take care!
Written by Imani Crawford, MSW, LCSWA