It is estimated that one in four individuals will struggle with their mental health at some point in their adult life. While not every mental health challenge is entirely preventable, practising good self-care can help to prevent certain challenges, such as anxiety and depression, from reaching a crisis point.
But what does “self-care” really mean?
The dictionary defines self-care as, “the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own wellbeing and happiness, in particular during periods of stress.” In simple terms, self-care is caring for yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually. In doing so, we protect our overall health, wellbeing, and sense of happiness.
So what does it look like?
Self-care practices can vary depending on individual preferences. However, a good self-care routine will incorporate elements from the following three areas of health:
- Physical Health: maintaining good hygiene, eating healthily, exercising regularly, and getting the recommended 7-12 hours of sleep each night.
- Mental Health: setting aside time to relax, being creative, and staying aware of your thoughts and emotions.
- Spiritual Health: forgiving others, taking time to reflect on your life and feelings, meditation/prayer, and practising gratitude.
The best part is that the benefits of these activities are intertwined, meaning when we look after one element of our wellbeing other areas of our health will improve. For example, when we get a good night’s sleep, we will be less irritable and able to more effectively cope with stressors.
If you know me, you know that I love an acronym! To help you remember how to self-care, here’s my SELF-CARE acronym with 8 simple steps.
- S for sleep
- E for exercise
- L for listen to your body
- F for forgive
- C for create
- A for affirmations
- R for relaxation
- E for eat right
How to Self-Care: 8 Simple Steps
S for “Sleep”
Sleep is one of the most important elements of our physical and mental health, and adults need around 7-12 hours of sleep each night. Without it, we are at a greater risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke. Not only that, but if we have several sleepless nights, our mental health can begin to suffer.
Ironically, it’s a bit of a catch-22 situation because we need sleep to feel emotionally stable, but when we feel emotionally unstable it can be difficult to sleep. If you find yourself unable to sleep, try making meditation, guided relaxation, or prayer a regular part of your bedtime routine. You should also make sure that your bedroom is a relaxing environment, and try to avoid caffeinated beverages too close to bedtime.
E for “Exercise”
Exercise is not only good for our physical health, but 30 minutes of exercise each day is clinically proven to enhance your overall wellbeing.
If you remember, when we were at school we had to do PE. Now that we are adults though, we have the choice to exercise or not. If you are struggling to find time in your schedule to exercise, maybe it’s time to timetable it back into your life – just like we had to do at school.
The best way to stay consistent with exercise is to find something that you actually enjoy doing. Personally, I find that setting a monthly exercise goal helps me stay focused and motivated.
L for “Listen to your body”
It can be easy to go through the motions of each day without really paying attention to how we are feeling. Regular check-ins with yourself are helpful for tracking your emotions and getting in touch with how you are feeling in the moment.
One way to practically do this is by setting a daily timer. When it goes off, ask yourself:
- How am I right now
- What do I need right now
In doing this and listening to your body, you are able to take stock and figure out what you best need in that moment.
F for “Forgive”
The art of forgiveness is imperative to our emotional wellbeing and self-care routine. Unforgiveness can hold so much power over us. It can weigh us down and hold us back from moving forward.
One way that you can actively practise forgiveness is by writing an anger letter. Take out a piece of paper and write down all of your thoughts and feelings about an individual or situation that has been weighing on your mind. At the end of the page, draw a line underneath your writing and write, “however, I now choose to…”
You then have two choices: to hold onto your unforgiveness, or to let it go.
By choosing to forgive, you will feel much “lighter” and more in control of your emotions.
C for “Create”
Being creative gives you a sense of purpose and achievement. It can also help to distract your mind from worries or stressors.
If it’s been a while since you have been creative, take a moment to think about activities that you enjoy doing. Maybe it’s making a photo album, writing poetry, or creating a music playlist. Or perhaps it’s baking a cake or working in your garden. Whatever the activity is, try to find a time to do it regularly as an act of self-care.
A for “Affirmations”
Keeping a list of affirmations can be really useful for reminding yourself of who you are and what you are pushing for. I often write positive comments that people have said about me on a post-it note or on a list in my phone. I read these affirmations as often as I need to, especially if my mood drops. You can also create affirmations of your own. For example, statements like “I am courageous” or “I am in charge of my own happiness” can help to lift your mood and stay focused on the positive.
R for “Relaxation”
Whether you run yourself a lovely bath or engage in some refreshing breathing techniques, relaxation is an integral part of our self-care routine. Relaxation has a number of physical benefits including lowering your heart rate, reducing blood pressure and muscle tension, and limiting the activity of stress hormones.
In terms of your mental health, regular relaxation allows you to recharge and experience a sense of calm – something that is absolutely essential during periods of stress.
E for “Eat right”
If you’re anything like me, when you’re feeling stressed or you’re under a lot of pressure you can often just eat things that feel comforting rather than the things that your body actually needs. So the next time you are feeling down or stressed, why not try one of the following foods that are clinically provide to alleviate symptoms of anxiety or depression:
- Brazil Nuts
- Chamomile tea
- Sweet potato
To keep track of whether or not your food intake directly correlates to your feelings of anxiety or low mood, try keeping a food diary. By filling in your food diary at the end of each meal, you can see patterns and can make changes where necessary.
Self-care is not something that we only do once or twice a month. It’s something that we have to actively do for ourselves on a daily basis.
If you do not have any regular self-care habits, or maybe you’re really great at one aspect of self-care but not another, why not set a goal for yourself around each of the acronym points? Write them down in a notebook, set a start date, and keep track of your progress.
It might feel like a challenge at first, but over time you’ll find it gets easier and easier!
This blog article is a part of The Lily-Jo Project’s International Weekend of Self-Care campaign which takes place in August. To learn more about this campaign and access additional self-care resources, visit www.thelilyjoproject.com/internationalweekendofselfcare.
Further Resources on Self-Care
If you found this article helpful, check out these other resources on self-care.
- Access Lily-Jo’s free self-care webinar
- Take the free Unstoppable Life Coaching self-care questionnaire
- Read: How to Self-Care When Battling Loneliness: Pete’s Story
- Read: How to Self-Care When Battling Anxiety: Mari’s Story
- Read: How to Self-Care When Battling Depression: Alexis’ Story
About the Author: Lily-Jo
Lily-Jo is a qualified counsellor, counselling supervisor, and senior coach at Unstoppable Life Coaching. She is also the founder of mental health organisation, The Lily-Jo Project, which specialises in online digital wellbeing resources for children, teens and adults of all ages.