Do you ever wonder why that 8am, Saturday morning yoga class is always so busy? Or why the new hot topic of conversation on social media is meditation and having a daily skincare routine? It’s because those are great self care activities that are not only designed to keep your body healthy but your mind too!
The term “self care” has been trending in recent years, and there are hundreds of products, services, and other things promoting self care ideas. Though we are sure that no one would dispute the many benefits of self care, especially in today’s fast-paced, stress-riddled modern society, do you know the science behind how self care affects your mental health?
Understanding Self Care
What is self care and why is self care important? Self care activities aren’t the same for everyone. For an extrovert, being around other people may meet their needs. Introverts may prefer an evening journaling or watching a movie at home. Self care for women is also often different than self care for men.
Psychiatry professor Rima Styra and her colleague Laura Hawryluck, a professor of critical care medicine from the University of Toronto, did research on quarantines during the SARS outbreak. They found that 29% of people who were quarantined showed signs of PTSD, and 31% were showing symptoms of depression after isolation. Their data emphasized that a matter of just two weeks in self-isolation can be linked to mental health issues.
This is a great example of why you should check in with yourself on a regular basis, especially if you have a pre-existing condition.
For self care to be effective, it requires increased self-awareness, which can really benefit people who are struggling with a mental illness. Self-awareness can help you uncover unhealthy patterns in your daily life that can trigger bad symptoms. It can also help you to understand what self care activities or tasks are necessary for your mental health based on your personality type.
That doesn’t mean that self care is the cure for mental or physical illnesses. While self care can help, it has been found that many people fail to provide adequate self care amid chaos when their symptoms start to flare up.
What Self Care Is and Isn’t
Self care is defined as activities that people do as a way to intentionally care for themselves, either emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually or all of the above. Though it seems common sense, it’s actually something that many people tend to struggle with, especially women. However, that’s one of the many lies of our busy society today; we are forced to believe that there is simply “no time” to care for ourselves.
Another lie is that self care for women is somehow selfish or indulgent, or that we should force ourselves to do something we hate in the name of self care. Self care is not only essential in helping us decompress and “unwind.” It is paramount in improving our social interactions and relationships. By designating time for just us during the day, we are able to recharge and be the best version of ourselves. At least that’s what self care should be. If what you’re doing feels more like a drain on your energy than a recharge, it’s definitely not self care.
Self care is all the more important, given the high levels of stress that’s common in society today. We are so focused on the next task at hand that sometimes we don’t realize how stressed we really are until it’s too late and we are burnt out.
Different Forms of Self Care For Mental Health
According to Psychology Today, there are several different forms self care can take:
- Lifestyle medicine, or the self care practices of getting a good night’s rest, eating proper nutrition and hydration, and engaging in a regular exercise habit.
- Community and building healthy relationships, such as having a support system, spending time with friends and family, being involved in places like church or outreach programs.
- Cognitive reframing/restructuring or quieting that toxic inner voice and working on your self-compassion and loving yourself.
- Quiet time, where you escape from distractions, including work or home duties, kid duties, technology ties, and whatever else keeps you distracted.
The Effects of Stress
High stress levels can have serious negative impacts on your body. Chronic stress elevates cortisol levels which can eventually lead to certain mental and physical ailments, such as heart disease or depression. It has been shown that people suffering from depression tend to have higher cortisol levels along with lower levels of serotonin, making for a bad mental cocktail.
Experts say you should take time to identify what causes you stress, then figure out ways to manage that stress in a healthy way. By taking at least 10 minutes out of your day to practice self care, even if it’s just a small moment or activity, you can drastically improve the overall quality of your life and are likely to have fewer physical ailments than those who choose to skip their “me time.” Most women would never pass on investing in their job, family, or hobby if they knew it would have beneficial outcomes. Taking time for self care is taking time to invest in yourself. Your health is your absolute best investment, on all fronts.
How Self Care Improves Mental Health
Though there are many physical benefits to self care in mitigating the effects of stress, the real beauty of self care lies in the mental and emotional benefits. Practicing good self care can:
- Reduce feelings of anxiety and anger (so you don’t kill anyone in quarantine!)
- Reduce instances and feelings of depression
- Improve your thought life and direct it to more positive things
- Increase your sense of optimism and hopefulness
- Reduce negative thoughts and feelings (#quarantinebluesgotmelike)
- Change your mood from bad to good
- Help you build stronger connections with yourself and others
- Increase your self-awareness and ability to self-reflect
- Helps you respond better to challenges (let’s face it, who’s not frustrated with their kids or spouse right now?)
- Increase your patience and tamp down on a short fuse
- Increase your focus and productivity (so you can do all the things!)
Ways to Make Self Care a Habit
It’s easy to neglect your self care goals, especially when life gets busy or during the COVID 19 pandemic. However, if you work to make it a part of your daily routine, you’ll be able to reap all of the benefits. You’re going to ask yourself why you didn’t start this new healthy habit journey sooner!
Don’t forget to set aside time to talk with yourself, a therapist, or a trusted friend for your mental health needs. It’s easy to neglect our emotions, but it’s also easy to be mindful of them. Engage with your thoughts by speaking your feelings aloud or writing them in a journal to reflect.
For your physical health needs, remember to schedule appointments with your doctors for regular checkups. Take your medication, get your body adjusted, don’t skip out on therapy, or anything else that adds to your physical health. Your physical and mental health are intertwined. If you aren’t healthy physically it will affect you mentally.
Planning is Everything
By changing your day-to-day habits in small ways, you can incorporate DIY self care without feeling overwhelmed by the concept. It helps to schedule your self care activities and consider them “non negotiables,” something that you can’t give up. You wouldn’t bail on a coffee date with your sister unless it was a dire emergency, so don’t bail on yourself when it comes to a self care activity you’ve scheduled. After all, the time is already blocked out anyway; you may as well use it for your own good.
If you are unsure what type of self care for mental health you want to practice first, we recommend starting with a daily skincare routine. Even if you opt-out of wearing makeup, properly caring for your skin is essential! In the morning, wash your face, apply hydration, and top off with a great SPF. In the evening, repeat the process, but skip the SPF. Bonus points if you use products that perform double duty, like a tinted SPF cream. If you want to feel extra luxurious, work in a face mask, it makes any home care routine feel like a spa day.
Get Plenty of Sleep
It’s vital that you give your body the time it needs to properly recharge itself for the next day. In order to make sure that you can give 100% to your day always, it starts with a good night's sleep. More than plenty of sleep, get a good night’s sleep. It does no good for your mental or physical health to get 10 hours of sleep, but 75% was spent tossing and turning. REM sleep is extremely important as well, as REM sleep is where our dreams come from. Dreams may help you to process the emotions of the day, and if you aren’t getting quality sleep, you may never enter the REM state required for dreaming. There really is something to be said for the physical and spiritual benefits of a snack and a nap!
It’s Okay to Love Yourself
Although the saying, ‘You can’t love someone until you know how to love yourself’ is a total cliche, it’s completely true. By practicing self love and doing things that make you happy, you will begin to notice the effect that it has on the people and relationships around you. By not being stressed out, anxious, or upset, you will have more of yourself to give and a better understanding of who you are as a person. So do yourself a favor, give yourself permission to love yourself without judgment.
Accept support. Whether it be in person support, or social distancing support, having a strong support system is scientifically proven to improve your health and your outlook on life. When you build meaningful connections with other people, your brain produces oxytocin. Oxytocin is a hormone that helps calm your nerves and prevents your stress hormones from rapidly increasing. Asking for help and accepting help from others can be difficult, but you need that support for your mental sanity.
Now that you understand the science behind what affects your mental health and the importance of self care, make sure your self care activities are a reflection of you! They should bring you joy and enable you to detach from the world around you. For more tips on how to promote healthy living, check out our In The Glow blogs!