Mental health is a hot topic – and I’m not complaining about it. Through most of human history, discussions of wellbeing have revolved entirely around what goes on with the physical body, with mental and emotional stability being dismissed or, in many cases, outright tabooed. As such, the abundant chatter about mental health – articles, books, interviews, online movements – are making up for lost time, undoing years of damage. And, in tandem with the increased interest around mental health, another topic has charged its way to the forefront: self-care.
Everywhere you look, there’s talk of self-care. Periodicals are sharing self-care tips. People are posting their rituals and regimes on Instagram, hashtaging them #selfcare. The importance of caring for you is being emphasized like never before. This is a very, very good thing… but there’s a gap in the conversation.
Rifling through the inundation of self-care expertise, a lot of it tends to be pleasant and relaxing and fluffy. Naps, downtime, spa days, bath bombs, and similar things make up the central themes of self-care discussions. These things are valid – we need pampering. However, there’s more to self-care than that. There are gritty aspects. And there are self-care practices that, at first glance, look a lot more like work than they do acts of care. Nevertheless, they are important to our maintaining a healthy mind. Without further adieu, here are the bits of self-care that go under-addressed.
One of the most common signs of depression is apathy. People who are feeling depressed struggle to find the motivation to do the most basic acts of daily upkeep, like cooking, cleaning, and sorting the mail. We all miss a day sometimes and end up ordering take-out; but left unchecked, these things tend to snowball. And the more daunting the task, the harder it is to find the motivation to catch up. So, yes, chores are part of self-care. Cooking meals, making sure your house is clean, and checking the banal things off your to-do list is a way of building yourself a comfortable nest. So do the chores! Do them for you. Create an organized environment and be prepared to outwit the stinky thought that ” it will take too much effort, too much time”. Often the task requires much less than we think!
Planning and Preparation
Similar to chores, you’ve got to have your life in order. Know your schedule so you can make the appropriate preparations. Big meeting tomorrow? Make sure your favourite professional-chic outfit is laundered so you feel your best when you get there. Busy day with little room to grab lunch? Pack a meal in advance so your body has fuel. Make a list of your projects and engagements so they don’t cause you undue stress by letting them sneak up on you. As much as we want to live in the present, we also need to anticipate what’s coming so we can plan accordingly.
Saying No, Without the Apology
This is one of the most difficult skills to develop. Most of us are people-pleasers to a greater or lesser degree, because almost nobody enjoys conflict, contention, or the feeling that someone is disappointed in them. In many instances where we’ve pushed ourselves past our natural limits, we’ve done it because someone asked us to. This is counter-productive, because all it does is drain our energies and foster resentment. Saying no, and being okay with saying no, is vital to building appropriate boundaries.
Real down time. Time for in which the synapses firing in your brain can reduce their activity to a dull roar. TV and phone games do not qualify for this category – there’s a hell of a lot of stimulation that comes from gadgets. This is for practices that are relaxing on a neurological level. Meditation, naps, leisurely walks – these things are necessary for our brain’s health. Find a place to play, REGULARLY,whatever that is for you – sports, art, book clubs, etc. So do them. Even if you don’t want to. Even if you think they’re boring. even if you think you don’t have the time, Do them.
Diet and Exercise
A treat stops being a treat if you have it every day. Lots of self-care lists emphasize the importance of treating yourself – and they’re not wrong! But make sure it’s actually a treat. Otherwise, it’s just an unhealthy habit. The rest of the time, we need to give our body what it needs. Be a little strict with yourself so you feel healthier… and so the indulgences actually mean something. Follow the 80/20 rule for food; 80% compliant on healthy foods, 20% “treats” , ( about 2 servings/week). Make sure you are doing the bare minimum for exercise ( at least a 20 minimum outdoor walk/day), or even better a 30 minute cardio or muscle strengthening work out! …EVERY DAY
Mental Health Check-Ups
We know an annual physical is necessary, but how many of us make yearly appointments with a mental health professional? Most people wait until things have gotten pretty difficult before consulting a therapist, but we can all afford to check in even when life’s going fine, as a preventative and validating measure. Have your mental health professional’s number at the ready. Are you ready to make YOUR mental health a priority this year?