It’s no secret that 2020 has been a doozy of a year – with each month bringing new surprises, anxieties, and traumas. Even those who’ve never stepped foot into a therapist’s office would agree that coping with the stresses from this year is sure to be on the forefront of everyone’s mind.
Recently Healio Psychiatry conducted an online survey to determine how true that statement is, and measure Americans’ mental health experiences and self-care practices during the pandemic. Of the 2,051 U.S adults who participated in the survey, 46% reported struggling to find ways to maintain their physical, mental and spiritual health, 30% reported a lack of energy and 29% reported difficulty sleeping. Most reported being focused on their mental health now more than ever; yet results showed that 80% of participants intended to more mindful about regular self-care practices after the pandemic.
While this survey was only a small pool of individuals, it is an indication of how Americans are feeling. However, as our new normal evolves, it’s important to keep a focus on mindfulness now, and find new ways to reduce stress and boost spirits.
Myth: Self-care can wait until after you’ve taken care of everyone & everything else.
Truth: The longer you wait to take care of yourself, the sooner you are going to burn out.
Taking care of yourself, your body, health and mental well-being is so important to not just feel better but also to perform better in the long run. Self-care, as defined by licensed counseling psychologist Raphailia Michael of PsychCentral, is “any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health.”
Anything that makes you feel good is usually a means of self-care
“There’s no limit to what routines or rituals could be considered self-care. That can include getting enough sleep, taking the time to exercise, or getting proper nutrition.” explains Patricia Normand, psychiatrist and director of integrated health and wellness at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
Because self-care can often be a process of trial and error, and of discovering what reduces your stress and makes you feel happy; below is a list of self-care acts – from small to big – to try:
Besides aiding in our physical health (by regulating body temperature, aiding in digestion and ridding body of toxins), drinking water can have a positive impact on mood – decreasing the risk of both depression and anxiety in adults. Additionally, drinking water can increase energy and reduce fatigue, assist with weight loss, improve complexion and reduce headaches.
EAT BALANCED MEALS
By definition, nutrition means nourishment. Self-care by another name is nourishment. Putting yourself first by taking the time to provide yourself with a balanced and nourishing meal is the ultimate form of self-advocacy. When looking to balance your life, start by trying to balance your meals with all the food groups. Different foods have different properties and do different jobs in the body – some provide energy, some boost mood and some help regulate sleep. Taking the time to add a nutrition boost to your meals will leave less room for cravings and more fulfillment.
Cuddling is helpful in the aspect of creating a conducive sleep environment for you and your loved one. With the bountiful benefits of oxytocin, spooning before sleep can help slow your heart rate down and relieve you of any form of pain. All of these together will make you feel less anxious and more ready for the slumber ahead.
In fact, hugging another person – or even a pillow! – releases oxytocin, too.
Develop a bedtime routine. “The most important thing is to have a transition to sleep,” says self-described ‘sleep evangelist’ Arianna Huffington in a 2016 article for Canadian Living. “I think the biggest mistake we make in modern life is we have no transition. We can be on our smartphones, answering emails, texting until the last moment, and then turn off the light and go to sleep. That doesn’t work.” Huffington’s ritual starts 30 minutes before she wants to go to sleep. That’s when she powers down her phone, tablet and laptop, turns off all the lights and has a hot bath. “If 30 minutes feels like too much time, start with five.”
Replace normal with now
You’ve probably heard the term “new normal” over and over— but trauma specialist Dr. Laurie Nadel recommends thinking of a rough period (like the pandemic) as your “new now” instead.
“This isn’t normal—and we shouldn’t expect that it’s normal,” she says. “Telling yourself you have to fully accept this as your new status quo causes you to live in fear and anger—a toxic cocktail.” On the flip side, if you think of this time as the new now, you become more accepting that circumstances are ever-changing and not permanent.
As sappy as it sounds, scientific research supports the notion that we are happy because we smile… not that we smile because we are happy.
There’s a reason adult coloring books have become so trendy – art therapy has proven health benefits. The British Psychological Society’s academic journal found being creative helped people with mental health issues like depression or anxiety relax, express themselves and feel empowered, among other benefits.
Incorporate a skincare routine
It can be hard to commit to “me” time but taking time out of your day – morning and night – to care for your skin is one way to engage in soothing and comforting acts. “When you do a skincare routine, you’re usually alone, in your bathroom or somewhere quiet, and it’s just you and the mirror,” says Rena Jogi, dermatologist and affiliated physician with Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center in Houston, TX. “There’s something slightly meditative about just sitting there and taking that 10 minutes just for you.”
Whether that is gently massaging cream around your eyes or putting your head back and kicking up your feet while a clay mask pulls the guck – dirt and stress from the week – out of your pores; there’s no denying how relaxing and meditative the process of caring for your skin can be.
GET ENOUGH Vitamin D
Sunlight has been found to have a strong effect on melatonin, the chemical that manages serotonin, which strongly affects our mood. It’s been shown to decrease melatonin and increase serotonin – which has the collective effect of increasing our alertness and mood. Additionally, spending time in a green space can lower levels of stress. In fact, spending time in nature (referred to as shinrin-yoku, which translates to “forest bathing”) has been part of the Japanese government’s government’s preventative health strategy since the 1980’s.
Make your bath or shower that much better
Turn your nightly shower into an impromptu aromatherapy session – try lavender, jasmine or ylang ylang for relaxation and peppermint, citrus or rosemary for an energy boost. Use a luxurious lotion with a scent you love, toss your ratty PJs in favor of soft and cozy new threads—and consider splurging on the fancy face cream!
Treat yo self
It’s important to do something for yourself, for no other reason than you want to, even if it’s just once in a while. Splurge on a professional massage or have a spa night at home. Indulge on that dessert or buy that cute top you’ve been eyeing.
Do the “Boring” stuff
Often, we associate self-care with self-indulgence, however there are mundane tasks that we complete (or put off) each week that can also aid in our wellbeing. Those things can be taking a minute for yourself to drink a cup of tea, tackling that mountain of laundry that needs to be washed and put away, scheduling a doctor’s appointment, going through the mail, or spending a few minutes at the end of the day to prepare for the next day ahead.
When we reframe our task list into things that we do to take care of ourselves, it gives each task more purpose. And when we complete tasks (especially ones we’ve been avoiding), we’re provided with a feeling of satisfaction and decreased anxiety.
Schedule time to NOT do something
Nadel likes to point out that you don’t need more to stress about. “So, take one or two things that you don’t really have to do today—like a customer service phone call that will make you have to sit on the phone for 20 minutes—off your to-do list. Then actively give yourself the instruction not to do it or think about it on a given day when you need a mental break,” she explains.
Guess what? You now just carved out an additional 20 minutes for self-care.
Check in with yourself
Give yourself T.I.M.E: thankfulness, inspiration, mediation, exercise. Using this acronym can help you remember four things that, if incorporated daily, can lead to maintaining a positive headspace. This will aide in decluttering your mind – making it a room you want to spend time in.
“Laughter is the best medicine” isn’t just a saying. Laughing can instantly put you in a better mood. So, find a funny movie, TV show or stand-up comedian and have the first, and last laugh.
Haircare is an investment in your confidence and happiness, and self-haircare is a simple way to repair and refresh. Your hair is an expression of who you are; it’s a record of your life as it grows. And if you were to analyze it under a microscope, it would speak volumes about how you live, how you respond emotionally, and what you eat. To really take care of it is an act of acknowledging your past – metaphorically washing it away – and setting an intention for future growth.
A scalp massage is a great way to ease tension and more. It also boosts blood circulation to your face and head, and to the hair follicles, creating optimal conditions for hair growth.
Take a Mental Health Day
Truth is, we can all benefit from a day (or more) to clear the fog from our heads. “Taking a mental-health day can improve energy, motivation, mood, and one’s ability to manage stress; and time off might actually increase overall productivity rather than decrease it,” says Shannon Byrne, Ph.D., clinical psychologist at Duke University Health System.
So, use those sick days you’ve been hoarding and give yourself a guilt free pass to do whatever you like (including nothing at all).
Sometimes we need an outside force to remind us how important self-care really is.
Make time to check in with your friends and family. Use technology to maintain social connections with your loved ones. Consider a regular check-in schedule to give you something to look forward to.
Reignite your passions. “I think people are happiest when they are in pursuit of a meaningful goal. When we lose that sensation, we feel purposeless and not useful,” says Angela Duckworth, PhD, psychologist behind Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. Her pro advice: Think back to endeavors you felt great doing and ask yourself why. “Did you love working with your hands? Or the sense of teamwork? Then find a different way to the same end.”
One of the most common mental benefits of exercise is stress relief. In fact, researchers found that exercise actually reorganizes the brain to increase resilience to stress. It’s also been shown to improve mood by increasing endorphins.
Bonus: there’s a bilateral connection between exercise and sleep. This means that as you begin to exercise more, the quality of your sleep will improve, and the quality of your workouts will improve as well.
Self-care is about setting aside time to get a handle on our issues, whether that’s taking a break, healing or empowering ourselves. Therapy is a form of self-care. And while therapists aren’t there to solve your problems. They can help you develop tools for dealing with particularly tough emotions, by listening (instead of judging, trying to fix you or sharing their own experiences).
Therapy helps you work to your own conclusions and extinguish the sometimes intrusive thoughts that can play out in our daily lives.