It’s Mental Health Day! A day when we are supposed to focus on our mental health and well-being. Except, for most of us, that’s not really possible. We can’t just stop what we’re doing and take a break. We can’t just unplug and unwind. We can’t just take it easy.
Or can we?
Self-care is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. You’re probably familiar with the phrase “self-care.” It’s become a popular term in recent years, as more and more people are starting to realize the importance of taking care of themselves. But what does self-care actually mean?
Self-care is the act of taking care of yourself, both physically and mentally. It’s about taking the time to do things that make you feel good and that help you relax and rejuvenate. It’s not about neglecting your responsibilities or indulging in unhealthy habits. Rather, it’s about finding a balance between work and play, between taking care of yourself and taking care of others.
There are a lot of different ways to practice self-care. Some people might enjoy taking a relaxing bath, while others might prefer going for a walk outdoors. Some might find journaling to be helpful, while others take their aggression and negative energy out on an intense workout.
Grab a Beer?
It’s the end of a long day. You’re tired and stressed, and all you want to do is relax with a cold beer. But before you reach for the fridge, consider this: self-care is not a beer after work.
Sure, beer can be part of a healthy self-care routine. But it’s not the only (or even the most effective) way to unwind after a long day. There are plenty of other things you can do to take care of yourself, both physically and mentally. So before you crack open a cold one, consider these other self-care ideas.
Get enough sleep: Most adults need 7-8 hours of sleep per night. That’s not 7-8 hours in bed, that’s actual snoozing. If you’re not getting enough shut-eye, you’re not giving your body the time it needs to recover from the previous day, nor will you have nearly enough energy to be your best self the following day. Want better sleep? Create a space that is cool, dark, and quiet. Go to bed at the same time every night to train your brain. Turn off electronics at least an hour before you go to bed.
Eat healthy: Eating nutritious foods helps your body to function at its best. We’ve all heard the term “you are what you eat.” No, you won’t turn into a cow if you eat a hamburger, but heavily processed junk food does turn our energy into, well, junk. Sugar is inflammatory, which increases the risks of cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Plus, it reacts in your brain like addictive drugs, meaning you eat more to get that dopamine hit. Plant-based whole foods, sustainably and ethically sourced meats, and locally sourced foods are proven to help us stay healthy, and improve our mood. So, when we’re feeling like we’re in a slump, fix a hearty soup or stir-fry and let food be thy medicine.
Exercise: A moderate amount of exercise is good for your overall health and well-being. It doesn’t have to be balls-to-the-wall, dripping in sweat, rocking yourself on the mat because you are sore all over. It doesn’t NOT have to be that either. What excites you? Is it a spin or Zumba class at your local gym? Or a quiet yoga session? Perhaps it’s tuning the world out, listening to your jams while you take to the trails– running, walking, or biking. The best exercise is one that energizes you, and you can’t wait to do again!
Take breaks: When you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed, take a few minutes to relax and rejuvenate. I interviewed Kimberly Pope-Robinson, author of The Unspoken Life, and she mentions her favorite self-care activity when she’s at work is called a “Bubble Break.” Take 2 minutes to blow some bubbles. It’s so cathartic! You are focusing (without overthinking) on your breath and your mind is off whatever stressors are triggering you. Try it, and see how a small “time-out” for yourself can reframe your mind.
Meditate: Meditation can help to reduce stress and improve focus and concentration. And no, it doesn’t have to be thirty minutes, or sitting on a pillow cross-legged for an hour, thinking of nothing. Need some ideas for how to get started meditating? Check out some meditation apps like Calm and Headspace, or check out Optimize for more wisdom on training your brain.
Get out in nature: Spend time in nature and appreciate the beauty around you. I call this Experiencing Nature, and it’s proven to double the benefits of exercise and therapy. Maybe it’s the fresh air, or the act of getting out of the stressful situation, but nature is a fantastic therapist and friend. Whether it’s a city park, a huge mountain, or your local zoo, connect to Mother Nature and let her embrace soothe you.
Connect with loved ones: Spending time with loved ones can help to reduce stress and improve your mood. Studies show that while we may be D-O-N-E with Zoom and Google Team meetings, they do still work in making the human connections our minds crave (just be careful of “zooming out” or hopping from one virtual meeting to another). Are you in need of a loved one? Adopt a furry friend, and save more than one life. Being with pets has been proven to release oxytocin, the love hormone, which helps us feel grounded and connected.
Do something you love: Make time for hobbies, interests, and activities that make you happy. And honestly, if that’s having a beer once in a while, by all means, go for it. Just make sure you are refilling your gas tank with rejuvenation. Try new things (and I don’t mean the new beer). Attend a local Halloween event in your town (if you need ideas, check out your local zoo for when they are giving pumpkins to their animals– it’s a hoot and doubles as the nature connection). Stop by the library and check out something you have always wanted to read. Just enjoy yourself.
Self-care- Today, Tomorrow, and Forever
Self-care is not a one-time event. It’s a lifestyle. And it starts with making small changes in your daily routine. If you’re looking for a way to jumpstart your self-care journey, check out ZooFit Safari. For five weeks, you’ll get meal plans, workouts, and healthy habits all in one place.
So happy Mental Health Day, everyone. Make sure that you do something for yourself today. Something that will help you relax, rejuvenate, and unwind. Something that will help you remember that taking care of yourself is not selfish – it’s essential.