Self-Care for Mental Health: Find Ways that Work for You
Thursday, May 17 2018 Emily Roberts MA, LPC
For years you’ve heard that self-care for your mental health is essential, but many people find the concept hard to implement in their lives. Professionals and people who love you likely give you self-care for mental health ideas to try but they don’t understand that adding in something to your life is a challenge, especially when struggling with a mental health condition.
For a long time, I thought self-care for mental health was a luxury I couldn’t afford (You Can Practice Self-Care on a Budget). I didn’t have the time or the money for fancy spa treatments or even the desire to go. I thought that self-care implied scheduling time to pamper my body or do something out of my comfort zone. I just wanted to get my work done, feel better and sleep. What I didn’t realize is that just acknowledging what I needed was an act of self-care for my mental health. Taking a moment to say, "Yeah this massage that magazines suggest to lower my stress makes me so anxious thinking about it, that I’ll be worse off if I book it.”
That is self-care for mental health. Why? Because the more we practice listening to our bodies the more we learn to hear what we really need to improve our mental health.
The Danger of Self-Care for Mental Health Myths
The myth of a massage as an essential self-care activity--or anything that makes you more anxious--isn’t helpful for your mental health. I didn’t listen to my body the first time I booked a massage and guess what? It was so triggering to my body I couldn’t even finish it.
If you are struggling with trauma or have been so stuck due to symptoms of a mental health condition your muscles and nerves are sensitive to touch, a massage may not work for you. I started to cry and couldn’t compose myself 10 minutes into the appointment. I was embarrassed and confused. I thought, “This stuff works for all the people in the magazines. What is wrong with me?"
I learned my body was trying to get me to do something that was soothing for me, not for the masses or the writer of the article who likely didn’t have a background in mental health. I decided that booking an extra appointment with my therapist and having a date with my best friend was more helpful as self-care for my mental health than pushing myself to practice self-care in the way the media was telling me to.
How to Discover the Best Self-Care for Your Mental Health
Take time to notice your negative self-talk. Learn how to recognize when your negative self-talk is starting to consume your mind. We can’t do this when we neglect self-care for our mental health. We push it away and attempt to distract, but it is a trigger that you need to tune in and talk back to.
For example, one time I found myself thinking, “I should have known better, why did I do that, ugh I’m such an idiot,” when I was putting off a deadline. When I noticed that this negative self-talk was taking control, I was able to pause and take a break from my task and tune into what was really going on in my body and mind, which helped me gain some control over my mood. I got up from my desk and did some breathing. Did it magically make me happy? No, but it gave me a second to slow down and what I realized was I had been sitting there at my desk for over two hours with barely any motivation.
My body needed to move around and my mind deserved that too. I took a walk and called a friend. Less than 30 minutes later I was almost done with my piece. Why? I took a break from my fear-based thoughts and did something that my body needed. I didn’t shut down the computer and binge on Netflix or chocolate, I tried to get mindful and realigned with what was best for me.
When you think of self-care as a mindful minute or two, versus an indulgence that you can’t afford, it does wonders for your self-awareness and ability to recognize that you need to manage your emotions.
How can you begin to make self-care for your mental health essential to your journey? Is it spending more time with a book versus your social media feeds? Is it drinking more water or tea versus caffeine if you notice that your anxiety is higher than usual or taking a nap when you’ve had a difficult week? Try to breathe or take a break today and know that your body wants to take care of you and your mind.