Self-care refers to the practice of actively engaging in activities that protect and promote our overall health and well-being.
It is essential to our survival.
Self-care, however, does not have one concrete definition. It is uniques to everyone. Some may find gardening meditative while others may find it tedious. The great thing about self-care is that it is entirely catered to your own personal physical, mental, and emotional needs and, in turn, builds our resilience towards stressors in our lives.
While we encourage everyone to do what is best for them, we have gathered some practices which have proven mental health benefits as a result:
Spending time with pets has an incredible effect on our mental health.
Even the most basic interaction, sitting beside or petting an animal, can bring feelings of calmness and relaxation. They act as a companion. They reduce feelings of loneliness, encourage playfulness/physical activity, offer comfort, and give us a sense of purpose and stability.
Article: Pets and Mental Health
- Reduces Stress by slowing heart rate, regularizing breathing, relaxing muscles, and decreasing blood pressure
- Allows us to address emotions and issues through powerful non-verbal communication
- Help people suffering from anxiety
- Raises our levels of serotonin and dopamine (the hormones that calm and relax the nervous system)
- Reduces levels of cortisol (the stress hormone)
- Increases the release of oxytocin (a chemical in the body that reduces stress naturally)
- Studies have shown that dogs can help calm hyperactive or aggressive children
- Pets have a beneficial effect on childhood stress and anxiety
- Caring for another living thing gives us a sense of purpose and meaning, reducing loneliness and depression
- Pet owners have been shown to have improved self-esteem, and physical fitness
- Pets make us more conscientious, mindful, and extroverted
- Pets make us less preoccupied and fearful
- Help in the recovery of sever mental illnesses
- Caring for a pet gives owners a feeling of being in control, a sense of security, and routine
Physical, emotional, and digital organization helps to decrease levels of stress and anxiety. Clutter weighs on our mood, so taking control of our thoughts and environment brings a sense of satisfaction. In addition, decluttering naturally stops our brains from multitasking, and our focus improves.
- Reducing the clutter in our lives allows us to tackle stressors head-on
- Clutter can also cause feelings of stress, fatigue and depression
- Stress can contribute to poor sleep, poor eating habits and general poor health
- If it makes us feel bad, it’s clutter
- Keeping your bedroom decluttered is a method that can help with sleep
Article: Cleaning for Mental Health
- Decreases anxiety and stress levels
- Vigorous cleaning is an outlet for negative emotions thanks to the energy your burn while scrubbing away
- A benefit to a clean home is a lack of allergens
- Regular cleaning your home is an excellent way to relieve stress, stay active, and feel your best by removing the pesky elements lingering in the air
As Elle Woods would say, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy.” (Legally Blonde, 2001)
Endorphins are chemicals that the body naturally releases that increase euphoria and reduce our perception of pain. This alone can ease some of the symptoms of depression. It can also prevent cognitive decline by sharpening our memory through producing cells in the hippocampus region of our brains. Just getting your body moving can have significant benefits to both your physical and mental health.
- Inactivity is a key factor in depression and anxiety
- Exercise stimulates the production of endorphins and enkephalins, the body’s natural feel-good hormones, which makes problems seem more manageable
- Helps us focus
- Can be used to treat chronic mental illness
- Regular exercise increases the volume of certain brain regions
- Better blood supply to brain improves neuronal health by improving the delivery of oxygen and nutrients
- Increase in neurotrophic factors and neurohormones that support neuron signaling, growth, and connections
- 3 or more sessions per week of aerobic exercise or resistance training, for 45 to 60 minutes per session, can help treat even chronic depression
- Effects tend to be noticed over 4 weeks
- Should be continued for at least 10-12 weeks
- Even small improvements in exercise levels or diet create a positive upward spiral that increases the sensitivity of the dopamine (receptors that signal reward)
A recent study found that practising gratitude writing (writing letters of gratitude, list of things you’re grateful for, etc) improved the mental health of its participants. Creating a habit of recognizing what you are grateful for is a good way to gain appreciations for the things we have rather than the things we don’t. This method may not work for eveyone but actively acknowledging the things that make us grateful helps us have a clearer, more optimistic view on life’s challenges.
Other components of self-care include: letting go of stress and negativity in your life, to a certain degree. Some things we simply cannot control, but making it a habit to evaluate what you truly need is an incredible skill. For instance, if your job is wreaking havoc on your health, take some time to look at what jobs are available in your area. It might get you thinking about other options.
Opposite of letting go, opening yourself up to accepting what you need can mean reaching out for help when needed, and accepting help when it is offered to you. We cannot do everything alone!
You may by default put self-care on the back burner, that is because our society has inappropriately glorified unnecessary and potentially harmful situations (working 80+ hour weeks, being a super-parent, being ‘too busy’). The “I don’t know how they do it” mentality can be devastating, especially in an era of social media and constant comparison. Self-care is necessary now, and beyond the current pandemic.
Prioritizing self-care is not synonymous with narcissism or self-obsession. Self-care simply means finding activities, habits, and methods that help you recharge your battery, cope with your emotions, and allow you to live a balanced life. Remember, sometimes the best way to help others is to help yourself.