When considering self-care actions, keep in mind this is a holistic concept. Do you enjoy life? Are you more overwhelmed than functional? Inside and out, you should have ways to keep yourself emotionally well and physically healthy. Here are 7 ways you can improve your mental and physical health with an enhanced self-care regimen.
Self-care looks different for everybody. When I get off work, I clear my mind by listening to metal and battling it out at the gym. This relaxes me. As Nick Perham explains in his article in Neuroscience News, this is a good way to process heavy emotional states for those who are fans. For others, it increases anxiety.
Some people meditate, go for a walk, enhance their personal appearance, or buy a treat. Self-care improves your mental health, creating tolerance, contentedness, and boosted self-esteem.
- Habits Matter
There are a million ways that people destress, and they’re all different. Some of those methods can potentially kill you, such as the development of addictions. Alcoholism is all the rage right now in the United States. According to National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), 894,000 children ages 12-17 had a diagnosable alcohol use disorder (AUD) in 2021. This same study revealed 28.6 million adults ages 18 and older were diagnosed with AUD.
It takes anywhere from 28 -66 days to make or break habits.
Coping mechanisms are ways that we handle overwhelm. Habits arise out of a need to cope. When events become unmanageable, these are unconscious ways to destress. There are positive and maladaptive ways to cope. It’s what you do that matters.
Maladaptive coping mechanisms worsen mental health outcomes and function, such as avoidance, disengagement, addictions, self-harm, and emotional suppression.
What do you do when you’re stressed out?
Some will go directly to the bar, and others hit the gym.
We all know the dangers of overdoing alcohol, using tobacco, or drugs. Not everyone is aware of behavioral addictions or their impact. Process addictions include unhealthy behaviors such as gambling, shopping, sex, and technology overuse.
The electronics are great. There are so many applications, such as giving parents that time just to catch up or to numb out after stress. It’s a basis for learning and a mode of communication.
However, technology affects the brain when used long-term and in high quantities. Overuse causes anxiety, depression, heightened attention-deficit symptoms, impaired emotional and social intelligence, social isolation, impaired brain development, and disrupted sleep. Social fads like the Tide pod epidemic surface occasionally.
Find those activities that provide mental detachment for a period, don’t add harm, and beware of overdoing.
A good rule of thumb I go by is the too much rule. You have the ability to choose these activities. Moderate everything, even moderation. Find several ways to recharge.
Sleeping is imperative. Humans will die, become psychotic, or hallucinate from sleep deprivation. Naps, or nighttime, we all need to sleep at some point. People’s sleep clocks depend on their genetics. Some can survive off 5-6 hours, while others (me) require 8-4500.
Vyazovskiy and Delogu highlight in a 2014 article that sleep is necessary to regenerate cells and replenish the mind and body. This is the time our brains take the information gathered throughout the day and puts it into appropriate memory reserves. It is where the body forms immunological and neurobehavioral memories. Without sleep, you will decompensate physically and mentally, until death.
Nearly 1/3 of the population is not able to get adequate sleep (Blackwelder, Hoskins, & Huber, 2021). Those with depression, anxiety, and other mental health struggles report more sleep disorders.
What can you do to improve the quality of sleep?
Sleep hygiene refers to the practice of setting yourself up for getting sleepy. Start an hour before bed. Your production of melatonin depends on several physiological aspects, such as the intake of light and stimulus. Tap into your sensations. Smells, sounds, sights, and touch can be used to calm the nervous system.
Dim light settings, eliminate electronic use 1 hour before bed or use a blue light filter, take a shower or hot bath, read a book, and turn off stimuli like the TV or loud music. Essential oils such as lavender are popular for their calming effect. Play music that takes soothes your nervous system.
Binaural beats are also fantastic for manipulating your physiology for sleep time.
Binaural beats tap into the brain’s electrical signal output. Our brains give off signals of activity that can change arousal and cognition. Chaieb, Wilpert, Reber, & Fell, (2015) explain the mechanisms and differences between monaural and binaural beats. You can find them on Youtube, Apple and Google Music, and many other platforms.
For those whose brains solve the world’s problems at bedtime: practice meditation, thought-stopping techniques, and ways to let go of things you cannot solve. The God box concept works wonderfully. Practice more acceptance of the things you cannot change, to change what you can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
3. Hobbies and Entertainment
Being active in hobbies and the community maximizes well-being. Connection, belonging, and contribution increase your self-value and esteem.
Mental and physical activity is essential for well-being. Exercise of the mind and the body lead to delayed age effects such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, memory loss, or chronic pain. When one considers extracurricular activities, options are limitless.
Use your cognitive skills and physical abilities. Crossword puzzles, trivia, or reading exercises your brain. You can discover and try a plethora of hobbies like fishing, skiing, or collecting stamps.
Whatever it is you do, find something you like. Not doing leads to more depression, anxiety, rumination, and declining mental health.
4. Humor, Gratitude, Radical Acceptance, and Letting Go
One event can have 20 different meanings for 20 different people. We all carry our interpretations of the world, filtered through our brains that create stories about events based on the experiences in our lives. No one of these is the same. You can also change it, despite your age or perceived inabilities. It’s never too late.
You can’t be hateful if you’re grateful.
I struggle with negativity. Gifted from trauma, pessimism can sour the best of events. The above saying is something that instantly turns my mood and thought processes around.
Let go of those less important disturbances. Like mentioned in #2, there is only so much you have control over. And, that is yourself and what you choose to do. That is why alcoholics live by the serenity prayer.
I’d still be drunk, resentful, and miserable if I kept focusing on how wrong everybody else is and unjust life can be.
Humor- is my favorite coping mechanism! Those with the most traumatic pasts and intensive jobs tend to have a twisted sense of humor. That’s because you can either take horrible events and let them devastate you, or you can find the little piece of comedy in tragedy. This does not mean laughing at someone’s loss or dismissing your own reactions. In fact, humor can be used as a wall to never experience deep feelings.
It’s more of an art in laughing at the nonsensical parts of life.
5. Priorities and Delegation
Ask for help. If you are anti-dependent, you know how hard this is. Anti-dependency or dependency are learned attachment traits born from developmental trauma of abandonment or enmeshment. If you have problems in either extreme, you will want to reevaluate your belief paradigm.
If you are an addict of any kind, you automatically have problems asking for help. The turning point comes from doing so, and not experiencing the shame or dehumanization of reaching out. Functional adulting comes from the ability to meet most of our own needs and to be able to reach out to trusted sources when we cannot.
Saying this is so much easier than practicing. Going through the journey to sobriety opened my eyes to the need for community in healing.
6. Stay in the Present and Connection
Thoughts in your head are usually driving your bus. If you have practiced meditation for any length of time, you have become able to separate thoughts from reality. Thoughts can cause negative feelings states. Feelings are not facts, but they are often taken as such.
With trauma, triggers will throw you back to the time you were impacted. Trauma has no time, so that focus on the past becomes the driving force for current-day events
Some use physical means, such as movement to stay present. You can’t remain dissociated if you are moving. So, walking, exercising, fidgeting toys, or any other sort of physical activity can help you to stay present. There are mindfulness techniques such as using a rubber band around your wrist to snap, the 1-minute rule, and counting and describing objects in the room to bring you back to now.
This is so important that I created a series of blogs on why we use and how to implement them:
Many mistake boundaries for walls. Boundaries should be open for letting information in to consider but closed enough to let the untrue and unrealistic information slide away. We have physical, emotional, sexual, intellectual, spiritual, and social realms of boundary creation. These areas involve the ability to keep yourself free from taking on the problems or negative input from others that are not trusted sources and being able to take in and consider that from which are. The difference is between a stranger walking down the street who calls you ugly and smelly, versus your partner that asks you to take a shower.
Beware of gaslighting and manipulation. As I learned over a difficult first few decades of life, people don’t always have the best intentions. I began to read behaviors and to question sources directly.
Behavior is telling of a person’s characteristics.
These boundaries saved me from deeply disturbing situations time and again, such as when I worked with an active sex addict in a sexual addiction program who acted atrociously toward patients and staff, psychologically and physically harming both. Said individual was eventually fired. And, I got to move on with my career with an independent venture and work opportunities.
1. Nick Perham. Neuroscience News: “Heavy metal music may have a bad reputation, but it has numerous mental health benefits for fans.” 2019. Accessed 3/15/23 from: https://neurosciencenews.com/heavy-metal-music-mental-health-14642/
2. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) in the United States. Accessed 3/15/2023 from: https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health/alcohol-topics/alcohol-facts-and-statistics/alcohol-use-disorder-aud-united-states
2. Vyazovskiy VV, Delogu A. NREM and REM Sleep: Complementary Roles in Recovery after Wakefulness. Neuroscientist. 2014 Jun;20(3):203-19. doi: 10.1177/1073858413518152. Epub 2014 Mar 4. PMID: 24598308.
4. Algorani EB, Gupta V. Coping Mechanisms. [Updated 2022 Apr 28]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK559031/
5. Small, G. W., Lee, J., Kaufman, A., Jalil, J., Siddarth, P., Gaddipati, H., Moody, T. D., & Bookheimer, S. Y. (2020). Brain health consequences of digital technology use . Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 22(2), 179–187. https://doi.org/10.31887/DCNS.2020.22.2/gsmall
6. How Much Time Do Adults Spend on Health-related Self-care? Results from the American Time Use Survey
7. Daniel E. Jonas, Yoko Ibuka, Louise B. Russell. The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine Jul 2011, 24 (4) 380-390; DOI: 10.3122/jabfm.2011.04.100260
8. Blackwelder A, Hoskins M, Huber L. Effect of Inadequate Sleep on Frequent Mental Distress. Prev Chronic Dis 2021;18:200573. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5888/pcd18.200573external icon.
9. Chaieb, L., Wilpert, E. C., Reber, T. P., & Fell, J. (2015). Auditory beat stimulation and its effects on cognition and mood States. Frontiers in psychiatry, 6, 70. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2015.00070