The Mental Health Benefits of Self-Care
By many estimates, mental health in the United States is frayed. A recent study found that 18 percent of American adults have a mental health condition. Perhaps most tragically, 56 percent of Americans with a mental illness did not receive treatment, largely because mental health providers are in short supply. More and more, the average American is left to care for his mental health on his own. Here are some tips on how to practice self-care more effectively.
Right now, you might be wondering what self-care means. While it’s a relatively new term, the basic idea is ancient: Be as kind as yourself as you are to other people. Attend to your own mental and emotional needs, and don’t neglect your overall health. Some of the benefits of self-care include boosting your self-esteem, being more productive at work, and building up a stronger resistance to disease and illness, among many others.
Getting Enough Quality Sleep
Perhaps the most essential way to take care of yourself is to get enough sleep. In our culture, we often equate sleep with a blank period of time in which we’re not being productive. But our waking lives suffer immensely if we don’t get enough rest. The full list of benefits that sleep provides is extensive: your skin glows, your stress goes down, you’re in a better mood, and your memory is sharper. You’ll also maintain your weight. The point is, make sure to get between seven and nine hours of sleep a night and that your sleep is quality. If you find yourself regularly waking in the night or waking up with pain, your mattress might not be providing the support you need. For example, if you suffer from back and joint pain and “if you’re currently sleeping on a mattress that doesn’t offer you the proper support or spinal alignment, there’s a good chance it’s actually making your back or joint pain worse.” You might need a mattress that’s specifically tailored for your condition and that will help you improve your sleep.
Taking Time to Relax
Americans also seem to harbor the idea that we always need to be productive, and if we push ourselves, we’ll get more done. However, studies have shown that our health suffers if we don’t take the time to relax. Actually, relaxing heals us while we’re awake in many of the same ways that sleeping does when we’re unconscious. When you relax, your focus improves. Your energy goes up. You recover quicker from working out or from a strain on your body. You’re also more motivated to complete work or home projects after you spend time away from them. Also, relaxing has been shown to fight off infection and lower blood pressure.
While you don’t want to make it a habit of canceling on people, it’s also important to say “no” where appropriate. Studies have even shown that over-committing to a range of obligations is a strong predictor for developing blood clots. Be aware of when it’s best to not overextend yourself. Here are some techniques to turning someone down. Offer a conditional “yes.” (Say that you’d love to, but your schedule won’t allow it.) Or float out a compromise – to meet up at a later time, for instance. Of course, sometimes the answer is simply no, and in certain situations, you just have to set boundaries and expect others to respect them.
A Quiet Space
Our lives are hectic. That’s why it’s important to find or create a quiet space we can retreat into, even for a few minutes a day. That space doesn’t have to be luxurious, but choose it wisely. A guest bedroom no one uses, a limestone bench in the garden, or a nook in the attic with a view onto the yard – if any of these spaces calm you, take a few minutes a day and meditate there. Being still and mindful for just five to 10 minutes a day has been shown to restore your focus and center your world. Afterward, most people find that they’re able to face the duties in their lives with renewed vigor and patience.
The mind is the body’s command center, and if it’s scrambled or frenzied, your life goes haywire. So, stick to a routine. Get enough sleep. Eat well. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Adult life often tosses you around without your control, but taking these measures can steady your course through all the ups and downs that you encounter.