Putting Yourself First: Self-Care
Self-care is about caring what happens to you. It means doing something that is creative, fun or good for you. In other words, purposefully making your needs a priority. Self-care may mean exercising and eating well to maintain physical fitness and good mental health. It can also mean spoiling yourself a bit—something as simple as indulging in a piece of your favorite candy or playing the guitar for an hour. Anything that helps you be you and stay you is considered self-care.
So who needs to practice self-care? EVERYONE! And for people with mental health challenges, it is essential that you practice self-care. For some people, even so-called “simple tasks” can be very difficult and exhausting. Self-care is what re-charges your batteries when you’re running low. It will help you to be your best self and increase your ability to bounce back from difficult situations. Being able to care for yourself increases mental and physical wellness and promotes independence.
Self-care has a bad reputation for being overindulgent and selfish, but that is not so! Self-care is simply finding a balance in your life so that you can live it to the fullest. So as you begin your journey of self-care, try your best to do so without feeling bad about it. Everyone deserves a fulfilling life!
Where Do You Start?
Many people find that taking care of their hygiene and physical wellness is a good first step toward mental wellness. Think about the basics. Is there anything that you put off doing when it comes to caring for your physical needs? Some people may skip meals, avoid showering or brushing their teeth. Others may have difficulty eating nourishing foods and getting exercise. These activities can be demanding at first, but the more you practice it, the easier it becomes.
More Self-Care Activities
There are plenty of others things that you can do to take care of yourself, too! It could be as simple as spending an hour doing something you enjoy, like going to a movie, spending time with friends, or reading a good book. Even 5 minutes of deep breathing or stretching could be helpful, especially in times of stress. Look for things in your everyday life that you can enjoy. Spending some time in the sun, going to a park to take in the beauty around you, or cuddling up with a soft blanket are all forms of self-care.
Think of self-care as a journey to finding things that make you feel good. Different things work for different people. So if you’re not sure where to begin, try out some new activities and see what works best for you.
Here are some activities that many people find to be helpful when it comes to self-care:
Relaxation Exercises and Meditation: Meditation and purposeful relaxation are proven to have mental and physical benefits. By practicing these activities, your brain waves and heart-rate slow down, reducing anxiety or stress. With practice, they can train your mind to stay in the moment, rather than worrying about the past or present – even when you’re not doing the activity!
Socializing: Seeking out people who support you and spending time with them is an essential part of self-care. These people should be the ones that make you feel good. Groups are a fantastic source for socialization. Spending time around people who you feel comfortable talking to, learning with, and working toward wellness is proven to be helpful for people who want to work on a goal or need support. Going to a group may be challenging at first, but dedicating yourself to a group may help you blossom. You may also choose to spend time around people you care about such as significant others, family, friends, or even pets! Remember, when you socialize, your goal is to spend time with those who make you happy. For people who have social anxiety or tend to need a lot of time to themselves, spending time around others may be difficult, but learning how to balance socialization and alone time can boost your self-confidence and make you feel good.
Giving Back: Volunteering and helping out others in need can boost your self-esteem. There are plenty of places that you can spend your time at, helping and supporting others. If you’re passionate about animals, consider donating your time to your local animal shelter. If you are religious, you may want to spend time with a religious group who gives back to the community. Even a smile can make someone else feel good, and in turn, you feel good too!
Creative Expression: You don’t have to be artistic to express yourself in a creative way. If you’re interested in painting, but are afraid that you’re not good enough, try your hand at doing abstract art. Use colors, lines, and shapes to express how you’re feeling. Writing in a journal is another form of creative expression. Journaling is just for you. You don’t need to worry about spelling errors or grammar. Focus instead on letting out your inner emotions on the page. If you’re not sure what to write about, your mental health professional(s) may have some suggestions, and you can always seek out journal prompts online. Maybe writing poems or song lyrics are better suited to you. Give it a shot!
Overcoming the Challenge
Self-care is an active choice that you make, and at times it can be hard to stick to it. Especially in the beginning. Commitment and practice is required to reach your goals. Planning out a routine that you wish to do every day and talking to your supports about your plans can increase your commitment to self-care activities. Avoid trying to do too many things at once and focus on a few goals that you think you can do. Try to complete your routine for 15 days and see how you feel before and after.
There will be days that you have to push yourself, and that’s okay. Some days you will feel like you just can’t do it. And that’s okay too. There will be challenges along the way that may make it difficult to keep going but don’t give up on yourself. Try to take it slow and avoid beating yourself up if these new activities are tough for you when they may seem easy for others. Remember, everyone is different!
Talk with your mental health provider(s) about other self-care ideas and support in keeping up on your self-care routine.