In addition to any professional treatment you may receive (such as psychotherapy and/or medication) designing and implementing a personal “self-care” plan is essential to your long term mental health.
Self-care refers to activities or practices you engage in on a regular and consistent basis that reduce stress and enhance both short-term and long-term well-being and mental health. This includes your eating habits, exercise patterns, sleep schedule, recreational activities, social relationships, and more.
These “lifestyle habits” have a significant impact and how you feel, how effectively you function, and even how well you respond to your mental health treatment plan.
People with mental health disorders tend to find it more challenging to make health choices. This is amplified during times of stress. That’s why, just like having a fire drill plan before there is a fire, it’s essential to have a “go-to” list of self-care activities ready to go.
Here are 7 basic self-care strategies you can use. My best advice would be to make several of these a daily lifestyle habit.
1) Do The “Basics”
By basics, I’m referring to your nutrition and your sleep.
Stress and overwhelm often lead to grabbing junk food on the go. However, this becomes a downward spiral as the poor nutrition makes you more vulnerable to feeling poorly, which leads to more poor food choices. Instead, take the extra 5 minutes to eat something nutritious. Additionally, be sure to avoid non-prescription drugs and alcohol.
Along those lines, busy schedules and stress can lead to poor sleep habits as well. however, getting (quality) sleep is essential for your emotional and physical wellbeing. Not getting enough sleep (or getting low-quality sleep in front of the TV on the sofa) will negatively impact your ability to handle stress, be productive, and function at a high level. Please don’t underestimate the importance of your “Vitamin ZZZ”!
2) Do Something Physical
It’s so important to get your body moving. It doesn’t have to be “exercise” in the traditional sense (going to the gym). You just need to “get the blood flowing”. Do something enjoyable for you. It could be as simple as a quick 15 minute stroll around the block. Perhaps it’s something more strenuous like running or biking. Maybe it’s yoga or stretching or dancing or hitting a bucket of golf balls. Simply engaging the body is a great stress reducer and it helps you bypass a lot of unhelpful mental chatter.
3) Do Something Social
Connecting with others is a major part of effective self-care. Friends and/or family can pick you up when you’re sad, provide insights when you’re confused, and help you have fun. You might ask a friend to lunch or coffee. Or, simply give someone a call. You might consider joining a group with similar interests if you’re new in town or if you’re looking to expand your social circle as well.
4) Do Something Relaxing
This can take many forms. Perhaps it’s a pampering massage or a candle-lit bubble bath. Maybe it’s spending some time in the garden. Maybe you could make some art. Or, maybe you need to stream a couple movies for the evening. Whatever it is for you, make a list of some “go-to” relaxing activities.
5) Do Something Stabilizing
This might take the form of carving out some time to pay bills and organize your desk and clean your bedroom. I realize to some this probably sounds like torture, but to others blocking off some time to “get organized” is just what’s needed to feel better.
6) Do Something Fun
What do you like to do? What are your hobbies? Do you like to play sports? Walk your dog? Write? Create Art? Read? Do a cross-word puzzle? Whatever you consider fun and joyful, make time in your day or week for this activity. Joy and fun are essential parts of good self-care.
7) Do Something Spiritual
Research shows that in addition to taking care of yourself physically and mentally, it’s important to address your spiritual side as well. For some this could mean prayer or more religious practices. For others, spirituality take the form of meditation or silence. Spiritual practices are very personal, but whatever you choose, take some time to nourish this portion of your life.
Hopefully something above has resonated with you. If not, realize this is just a “starter” list. Please make your own list of self-care activities that you can reference as needed. And, ideally, you can make many of these into daily or weekly habits.
After all, you can’t always control the circumstances that life throws your way, but you can control how well you take care of yourself!
My name is Amanda Itzkoff, MD. I am a New York City based Psychiatrist and Assistant Professor at Mount Sinai Medical Center.
For additional information about crafting a self-care plan, or other mental health issues, please feel free to email our office at Amanda.Itzkoff@gmail.com.
To schedule an appointment, call our offices at 917-609-4990.