Many of us take care of our physical health without thinking twice about it: We eat and we exercise; we stretch and relax; we moisturize dry skin and apply sunscreen; and we consult a doctor when we feel physically ill or hurt. But when it comes to our mental and emotional health, many of us drag our feet. While there’s no great reason for this, it boils down to a couple of factors. Sometimes, it’s the failure to understand how important our mental health is. And sometimes, it’s the failure to understand how to take care of it.
You don’t have to make extreme changes. You should simply incorporate self-care into your daily routine. Self-care is any activity you engage in to take care of your overall health and wellbeing. For those who are new to the world of self-care, Ginger Poag, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker of 20 years, is going to help us understand a few self-care practices that can help us combat daily stress and anxiety:
1) Meditation: Focus the mind.
Some people are intimidated by the practice of mindfulness because they have this false idea that it requires this or that. In reality, you can practice meditation anytime and anywhere. “Meditation can seem intimidating to many because the only frame of reference many people have is what they have seen in the movies,” Poag explains, “but it is amazing in decreasing stress and anxiety.” You don’t have to sit on a mat, surrounded by candles, with your eyes closed for hours, as you may have seen on TV (unless you want to, of course.) Instead, you can set aside a few minutes out of your day to re-center your mind.
If you need a little extra guidance, a YouTube video or even an app can help. Poag instructs her clients to use an app that picks the perfect guided meditation for how they’re feeling. “This app will ask the client to enter in how they are feeling and then suggest a guided meditation for them,” she explains. “The guided meditations vary in length, some are 4 minutes and some are 15 minutes. What I like about this approach to meditation is that it can be done anywhere, and it does not require hours of work. Meditating just 4 minutes a day can greatly improve your mental wellbeing,” she explains.
2) Good sleep hygiene—quality and quantity are important.
Do you know what sleep hygiene is? It’s simply setting yourself up for a good night’s rest, every night. “Sleep hygiene is another vital form of self-care that I recommend to my clients,” says Poag. “The body needs sleep to process the day’s events, heal our bodies, and replenish us.” While recommendations vary with age, most of us need at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night to function properly. Unfortunately, however, more than a third of American adults aren’t getting enough sleep, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Oftentimes, my clients report only getting 4-5 hours of sleep,” Poag says. This isn’t nearly enough, and so she advises her clients to begin fixing this problem by putting a simple measure in place: “Going to bed 1 hour earlier than before is a great way to start to improve your sleep hygiene. My clients see the benefits immediately after working on their sleep hygiene and report a decrease in anxiety, depression, and stress.”
3) Saying no to others and yes to you.
Are you a people-pleaser? Even if you aren’t, there are surely instances in which you say “yes” when you really want to say “no.” It’s time to pivot and start saying no to others so you can say yes to you. “Learning to say no is another great self-care technique. This technique can be hard for many because they are used to putting others first and making sacrifices,” Poag explains. Still, it’s important to take the necessary steps to feel more comfortable and confident saying no, so as to create healthy boundaries and that necessary time with oneself—despite how difficult that might be.
“Oftentimes, individuals who have a hard time saying no struggle with anxiety, stress, and depression,” she says. “The individual is suppressing their own needs to make someone else feel happy. This can be a very toxic pattern for some. By learning to say no, the individual is creating more time for themselves and a less hectic schedule. I often encourage my clients to practice saying no with me in the office, and then encourage them to say no at least one time before the next session. Eventually, the individual’s self-confidence will increase and they will be able to say no more often.”
Making a self-care commitment is making a commitment to you: A commitment to maintain your mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing. Start by prioritizing the above practices, and see what benefits you experience. Then, consider working some other self-care practices into your routine, too!