There’s a lot of talk lately about taking care of your mental health. Sometimes you’re told to take time for yourself, spend time with friends, or pick up some hobbies so you can find some peace.
All of this may sound totally obvious, but it really isn’t! There are so many things you can do to take care of yourself, and it can be helpful to know how your physical and mental health affect you as you embark or continue on a self-care journey.
What exactly is mental health?
Mental health has to do with your cognitive, behavioral, and emotional wellbeing – everything going on in your headspace. These aspects dictate how you think, feel, and act, and all of this has to do with the maintenance of your ability to enjoy life and your quality of life. It’s about how you’re balancing your daily activities and your psychological welfare.
Mental health is important because it affects how you manage stress, interact with others, and make good decisions. You may think that mental health and mental illness are synonymous – this isn’t quite the case. While mental illness can affect someone’s mental health, even those without mental illnesses have to take care of their mental health.
If you have a severe or chronic illness, you’re more likely to face mental health challenges. Your genes and brain chemistry can also play a role, as well as your personal experiences and family history.
What can poor mental health do to your physical health?
Although mental health has a lot to do with your mind, it has a lot to do with your body as well. Poor mental health can lead to some adverse physical effects (and vice versa) and it’s important to catch the warning signs in yourself and your loved ones in order to prevent this.
Research shows there are a few telltale signs that may indicate mental health challenges in you or your loved ones. It’s worth considering if you observe the below feelings or behaviors:
- Excessive or insufficient eating or sleeping.
- Distance from other people and normal activities.
- Having insufficient or no energy.
- Feeling numb or as if nothing matters.
- Feeling unexplainable aches and pains.
- Feeling helpless or hopeless.
- Smoking, drinking and using drugs more than usual.
- Experiencing exceptional confusion, forgetfulness, agitation, apprehension, worry, or fear
- Mood fluctuations that pose challenges in interpersonal relationships.
- Having persistent thoughts and recollections that you can't seem to get out of your head.
- Contemplating killing yourself or others – in this case, please contact a mental health or medical professional.
How can I care for my mental health?
Especially in a challenging headspace, self-care doesn’t always come easy. Sometimes, assessing where you’re at is a gentle way to ease yourself into a self-care routine. Try to check in with yourself regularly. Pause daily to take a few deep breaths, center yourself, and notice how you feel. Try out a new morning or evening routine to get centered.
If you're experiencing one or more of the warning signs above, it’s important to consult a medical professional. While it might feel easier to ignore a persistent issue, intervention may help you avoid future challenges. Even more importantly, it may help you feel better in the moment!
Having a mental health condition doesn’t imply that you’ll inevitably develop a physical health problem. Read on to explore care practices to support general physical and mental wellbeing.
How can I practice self-care daily?
- An apple a day! There’s some truth to the childhood rhyme. A balanced diet with a range of nutrients will support a strong immune system, balanced energy, and overall well being.
- Find something you can enjoy that gets your blood pumping on the regular. Daily movement is important to your health and can even help boost mood in the moment.
- Zzzzz! While sleep may feel like a band-aid fix (and oversleep can even be a warning sign of a mental or physical health challenge), enough sleep is critical to your health and wellbeing.
- Whatever allows you to escape the world around you and find your internal mellow for a few minutes a day, do that! If guided meditation isn’t your thing, consider a pillow and a cup of hot tea.
- Find an outlet! Whether you like a good journal sesh, karaoke in your shower, or an evening run, find a way to process and release your emotions every day.
- Treat yourself to an epsom salt bath. If you don’t have a bathtub, grab a bucket and make it a foot soak! Epsom salts are an incredible (and affordable) way to relieve toxins and support full body wellbeing.
- Get the help you need. There's no shame in asking for support; in fact, it’s the right thing to do. Lean in to your support network when you need them – whether that is your doctor, therapist, psychologist, or close friends.
- Don’t isolate yourself in your moment of need. Instead, ask yourself what you would want a loved one to do if they were struggling. And then, try to follow that example.
When should I seek help?
If you’re suffering signs of any mental health disorder, don’t wait until a crisis to seek help. But if you do, know that you have support.
If you aren’t in a crisis, this might be the best time to find support. Seek out a therapist, doctor, or support system before you anticipate needing it, so it’s easier to lean into your network when you need to. While seeking help may feel intimidating, struggling is normal - and so is needing support. There's no shame in either.
Some people can benefit from healthy eating and physical activity to improve their mental health. Others may require medicine or counseling in order to notice improvements. There's no right or wrong way to feel like your best self, and you may be better able to determine what’s best for you if you work in partnership with a medical professional.
Often, we think of self-care as synonymous with privilege. While this can feel true, know that there are systems in place to support you at any financial level. Look into free mental health services in your state. There are often state offices in place to counsel you in person or on the phone about the services available.
Additional mental health resources
In crisis? Text Leda to 741741 to text confidentially with a trained Crisis Counselor for free, 24/7.