Practicing Self-Care to Improve Your Mental Health: 10 Helpful Tips

Self-care is a popular buzzword, but it is also meaningful. To practice good self-care means to take time to manage, protect, and improve your physical, mental, emotional, and social health. Some people equate self-care with being selfish, but it doesn’t have to be. To care for others, you must care for yourself first. If you are unwell, you cannot love your partner fully, give your kids the best examples, or be a good friend. Practice self-care with these important tips.

The rise in self-care has been attributed to the millennial generation, but this philosophy for living well has been around much longer than that.

Whether you are struggling with your own mental health symptoms or you have someone in your life living with a mental illness that impacts your own wellness, self-care can help.

What Is Self-Care and How Does it Improve Mental Health?

According to the International Self-Care Foundation (ISF), self-care can be defined in many different ways. The ISF cites the World Health Organization, which says that self-care is what individuals do for themselves to become or stay healthy. Both groups believe that this encompasses a lot of areas:

  • Physical health and medical care
  • Awareness of one’s own health
  • Nutrition, diet, and exercise
  • Lifestyle
  • Environmental factors
  • Risk avoidance

These organizations tend to focus on physical health, but self-care also encompasses mental, emotional, and social health. It includes anything you do deliberately in order to improve these health measures. Self-care may be taking a bath at the end of a long day, going to the doctor when you’re sick, having coffee with friends to vent, or anything else that you do to improve or maintain your wellness.

How to Practice Self-Care the Right Way

The only correct way to engage in self-care is however it works for you. Self-care is highly independent as long as the actions you take benefit your physical, mental, emotional, and social health.

1. Do It Your Way.

The most important thing to keep in mind about self-care is that it is truly about you. If meditating makes you squirm, go for a run instead. If exercise at the gym isn’t your thing, go for a walk outside. Choose the self-care practices that make you happy, not just those that are trending or that are supposed to be good for you.

2. Do It Even When You Don’t Want To.

We tend to think of self-care as a series of indulgences, activities we truly enjoy. That’s not always how it works, though. Sometimes you have to do things you don’t enjoy—like getting that yearly mammogram—because you know it is right for your health and wellness. Remember that self-care is not always fun and keep the focus on the activities that are best for your overall health.

3. Always Choose Balance.

An important aspect of self-care is balance. You can’t always do what you want or what’s best for your needs, but you can balance these self-care activities with responsibilities. To be the healthiest, best mom or partner, for instance, you can’t give all of yourself to your child or spouse. Balance what you give them with what you give yourself. You have to go to work and earn a living, but a job doesn’t have to take over your life and prevent you from doing things you enjoy. Balance takes time and effort, but it is possible.

4. Find What You Truly Enjoy.

Good self-care always includes balance and sometimes doing things that aren’t much fun. It should also include activities that bring you joy. Find things you really like to do, that make you happy. These are the activities that will improve your wellness, whether it’s being outside, knitting, or writing short stories you don’t think anyone else will ever read. It doesn’t matter what other people think; if you enjoy it, the activity is self-care.

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5. Get Creative.

Everyone benefits from taking time to be creative as part of a self-care routine, but it can be highly individualized. You don’t have to be a painter or a musician to get the benefits or creative activities, which include reduced stress and anxiety and a boost in mood. Creativity can take all kinds of forms: cooking, writing, scrapbooking, coloring, or sewing, just to name a few activities.

6. Try Mindfulness

Mindfulness is often described as meditation, but it really means just focusing on the present moment. It means recognizing your feelings, emotions, and physical sensations, in the moment and accepting them. The regular practice of being mindful is a part of self-care that anyone can try:

  • Watch meditation videos and then give it a try.
  • Take a walk and pay attention to what you see, smell, hear, and touch.
  • Practice deep breathing and focusing only on your breath.
  • In moments of difficult emotions, stop for a minute and name those feelings. Then let them go.

Benefits of being mindful include reduced blood pressure, less chronic pain, better sleep, and improvements in mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and eating disorders.

7. Be Aware of and Manage Stress Triggers.

You can’t eliminate all stress from your life, and you shouldn’t. Some stress pushes you to achieve things and to be successful. But stress can become overwhelming and damage your mental and physical health. Start a stress journal to record the events, situations, people, and feelings that spike your stress. With greater awareness, you can make small changes to eliminate triggers and manage those that you can’t truly get rid of in your life.

8. Take Care of Your Physical Health.

This often comes last, especially for busy moms. When your physical health is optimal, your mental health will be better and your family benefits. Prioritize health for the whole family to make this easier. Set routine bedtimes so you all get enough sleep; make healthier meals and avoid junk food; go for family walks or bike rides. What you do today affects your physical health now and for the long-term. Put in the investment of time and effort so it will pay off later.

9. Make Time to Socialize.

Social interactions and connections are proven to be linked with better overall health, both mental and physical. Being busy makes it difficult to prioritize, but time spent with friends and family, even co-workers over lunch, is good for self-care. To maximize your time, consider combining socializing with other self-care activities. Go for a walk with friends, for instance, or have a night out at a painting class together.

10. Get Mental Health Treatment

People too often neglect their mental health. It still carries a stigma, and it’s not easy to admit to needing or to ask for professional help. It’s easier to go to a doctor for pain or the flu than to see a therapist for anxiety or depression.

Self-care extends to all areas of health. If you’ve tried to engage in some of these positive, affirming activities and still struggle with mental health symptoms, talk to a professional about treatment. Therapy, residential treatment, or even medication may help you.

Beware Too Much Self-Care

There can almost always be too much of a good thing. Many people, especially busy women and mothers, can almost always use more time devoted to their own needs. But in some cases, self-care goes too far or simply doesn’t work and even adds to stress and anxiety.

American adults tend to prize and glamorize the state of being busy and stressed. We see it as a status symbol. This has been proven in research. We can now add self-care to the list of things that keep us busy and stressed, additional chores that we feel compelled to do. Many trending self-care activities cost money too, and if you can’t afford them you may feel additional stress.

Self-care should make you feel better, not worse. If the thought of trying to squeeze in ten minutes of meditation or count your steps for the day starts to trigger anxiety, it’s no longer good self-care. One of the most important tenets of self-care is self-awareness. Recognize when these tasks are starting to cause you more harm than good. Don’t engage in self-care simply because you are supposed to. Do it if and when it makes you feel better, more relaxed, and more whole.

Self-care is more than just a millennial trend; it’s an important aspect of living well and being healthy. Take time to take care of you. It isn’t selfish or indulgent. It is necessary.

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