Other than phrases like “unprecedented” and “social distancing,” self-care has to be one of the most frequently used words for the year of 2020. And for good reason!
We are living through a time of unforeseen anxiety, uncertainty, and isolation—and that’s not including the annual stressors of the holiday season.
To maintain strong mental health, experts everywhere recommend practicing consistent self-care. Self-care sounds like a simple concept—caring for oneself. In truth, it takes conscious effort to effectively practice.
According to our partners at Aspen-Pointe, it all begins with self-reflection or mindfulness. Mindfulness means sinking in and observing what it is one is feeling, thinking, and sensing within and around themselves.
For some, finding a quiet space and closing their eyes is enough for practicing mindfulness or self-reflection. But others might require more active ways to utilize this concept.
Aspen-Pointe recommends daily journaling as a possible alternative. This is a great and constructive way to catalogue how one is feeling, what they are grateful for, what brings them joy or pain, what goals one may have and how they intend to achieve them, and allows them the opportunity to keep track of important events in their life.
Journaling does not have to follow a certain standard either—it can be composed of in-depth stories or anecdotes, it can be a mishmash of poems and drawings, scrap-booking or collaging, or it can be a simple list of the day’s events. Re-reading one’s journal also shows how far one has come, what their past challenges were and how the individual has adapted or overcome them.
Another big component of self-care is taking breaks. Because, in a sense, that is what self-care is all about. A moment in one’s day where they can check-in with themselves and do an activity or practice to maintain a healthy state of mind.
Taking breaks is not just in relation to one’s work or day-to-day chores—breaks include limiting news or social media consumption. Though it is always good to be informed and have an understanding to what’s happening in the world, too much time spent in front of the screen or T.V. can actually increase one’s anxiety.
Therefore, unplug and seek out a new hobby or re-engage with a past one. Find a book series to dive into, listen to music, play with a pet, and exercise or stretch for at least 30 minutes a day.
Routine is a big deal for self-care, Give an Hour (a member of HFMN’s partner agency network) urges individuals to pick three favorite self-care activities and purposefully schedule one of them into the day’s calendar. They also advise aiming for consistency, not perfection, when creating or managing one’s routine.
However, it should be noted that a good self-care routine inherently leads into a good sleep routine.
Our partners at Peak View Behavioral Health put it like this, “Odds are, given the extremely busy lives we lead and the various stressors that we are subject to, you are pretty tired right this very minute. It may take you a moment to realize it, since for many of us, ongoing tiredness is just our everyday experience and might fade into the background of our awareness. But if we had to guess, you could use more and/or better sleep. Quality sleep supports mental health…”
To help promote a healthy sleep routine, Peak View provides tips for both day and nighttime. Here are a few:
- Limit one’s caffeine intake.
- Start with one cup of coffee or tea in the morning, and from there, switch to decaf. Too much caffeine can create a negative feedback loop of feeling tired, feeling alert, feeling tired again, getting more caffeine, and then crashing a few hours later. That kind of cycle can severely hamper the ability to get good, sound sleep.
- Set a firm bedtime and wake-up time.
- It may seem harmless to stay up and write that one last email before bed or sleep in an extra two hours on the weekend, but doing so can set up some nasty habits later on. Peak View indicates that coming up with a routine that works will vary by the individual—but in the end, the objective should be determining a way to notify the body and brain that it is time to go to sleep.
- Set the space.
- Along with establishing a timeframe for bed, it is good to instill methods and an environment that will help one fall, and stay, asleep. This could be things like journaling (already a self-care practice in itself, as we mentioned previously!), reading, having a sound machine or soft music playing in the background, comfy blankets and pillows, or using a free sleep aid app like “Calm” or “Sleep Cycle.”
By following these sleep tips, one can gain good mental health and good self-care simultaneously.
Humans are social creatures, which is partially why this era of social distancing is so difficult for us all. It is also why checking in with others and engaging wisely are two of the four healthy habits for emotional well-being, according to Give an Hour.
Give an Hour proposes hosting a game or puzzle night, whether virtual or in-person, with those within one’s household. Video chat or have a phone call with friends or loved ones, join a virtual book club, or return to the long-lost art of letter writing. Send gifts like art and cooking kits, or provide acts of service like raking leaves, delivering meals, or groceries. For more extraverted people, those who gain their energy from being around others, methods such as these can be very helpful to maintain interpersonal connections.
When it comes down to it, the only wrong way to practice self-care is to not do it at all. And in this season of giving, we hope you give yourself some time, some grace, and some good mental health for the remainder of 2020. We also encourage you to share these guidelines with those you think might need it.
For more information about self-care and the organizations mentioned above (as well as other reputable and experienced behavioral health resources in our partner network) and the services they provide—check out the following links:
Peak View Behavioral Health
Give an Hour
Peak Vista Community Health Centers
Family Care Center Colorado Springs
Cedar Springs Hospital