Why It’s Important to Practice Self-Care for Good Mental Health
Posted on July 13th, 2020
Practicing self-care is essential to leading a long, healthy life, and practicing mental self-care can help you lead a fulfilling life. Taking the time to focus on your mental health isn't just for those struggling with mental health, but is something that we should all practice.
Unfortunately, mental self-care is something that most of us neglect. This can lead to more stress, lower self-esteem, reduced moods, and lower expectations for ourselves.
While closely related to emotional health, it is not the same thing. Mental health deals with how you process information and often impacts how we react to different situations in our life, while emotional health is your ability to feel and express how you feel. These two areas of health often overlap, with one impacting the other.
Taking care of your own psychological wellbeing is just as important as taking care of your physical health.
8 Steps to Better Mental Health
Chances are, you are familiar with how to take care of your physical health – and if you need a refresher, check out our physical self-care blog. However, what people forget to take care of is their mental health, which is just as important. In fact, the two often intertwine.
When people think of mental health, they immediately associate it with mental illness; however, mental health is crucial, whether you have a mental illness or not.
The World Health Organization defines mental health as "...a state of wellbeing in which every individual realizes his or her potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and can make contributions to his or her community."
When you make your mental health a priority, your overall health and quality of life improve tremendously.
Here are some ways you can start taking care of your mental health...
Just like your physical health, your mental health can be greatly affected by what you eat. Eating a diet of whole foods can have positive effects on your mental health, while a diet full of sugar and processed foods has been heavily linked to mental illness and cognitive decline. A healthy, nutrient-rich diet can help:
- Improve brain development
- Increase connections between brain cells
- Decrease inflammation, which has a major impact on mental cognition and mood
- Increase serotonin levels, improving mood
On the other hand, diets high in refined sugar and saturated fats have been shown to have a negative impact on brain proteins. And if you deal with mental illness, a poor diet can make dealing with it more difficult. For instance, some studies show that refined sugar can worsen schizophrenia symptoms.
A diet of processed foods can also lead to cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases that cross with mental health, such as Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia.
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Keep Moving and Stay Active
Exercise can keep you physically healthy, but it can also help you maintain your psychological health. In fact, the rate of mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety is highest amongst those that live sedentary lives.
When you exercise, your brain is directly affected, as regular exercise increases the blood flow, oxygen, and nutrients to your brain. This can lead to better cognitive function and better emotion regulation.
Exercising regularly also releases endorphins (the feel-good hormone), relieves stress, help you feel more confident, become more social, and it can help you better cope with your emotions.
Stay in Touch with Those You Care About
One part of staying mentally healthy is building good relationships, but to do so, you have to put the work in.
Life gets busy, and sometimes we forget to stay in touch with the people that matter the most. Be sure you are making time for the people around you, and you are building strong relationships.
Building a foundation of friends and family members helps provide a sense of security and social dynamic that we all need. By building these relationships, you are less likely to experience depression and anxiety, and when you do, you are more likely to have the tools you need to overcome it.
Ask for Help When You Need It
Just like how we are taught to conceal our emotions, we are often taught that asking for help is a weakness.
We all struggle at times, and it is ok to ask for health. part of a good strategy for caring for yourself mentally, means knowing when to reach out and ask for help. When you break a bone, you reach out to a doctor to help heal it. The same should go for your mental health. When something isn't working for you, reach out to someone that can help you fix it.
If you are struggling to overcome something psychological, reach out to a friend, family member, or trusted professional to give you support and the tools you need to cope better with what you are experiencing.
Be Open About Your Emotions
Your emotions are intertwined with your psychological health, so practicing good psychological health means you need to practice good emotional health.
Growing up, we are often taught to conceal our emotions and not let people in on what we are really feeling. We hide them away to prevent others from judging us, or we are afraid that being too emotional, we may be labeled as “crazy.”
At one point or another, we have all put on a mask to show those around us that everything is ok, when in reality, it may not be.
Instead of pushing down your emotions, learn to embrace them. Allow yourself to feel and experience your emotions. This will help you process them as they come in, instead of storing them away.
If you are sad, let yourself be sad. If you are happy, let yourself express it. You shouldn't ignore or try to avoid feeling. When you refuse to let the information process, it can cause the emotions to bottle up; eventually, they will become too much for us to handle and they will boil over, just like putting a lid on a pot of boiling water.
Don’t be afraid of your emotions. Find someone to share them with and allow yourself to experience and process what is going on inside.
Do Something You Enjoy
Life is busy, and most of us work more than we would like, and when we are not working, we are focused on taking care of others.
If you want to take care of your mental health, you need to give yourself some away from responsibilities and just allow yourself to do something you enjoy – a hobby.
A hobby is a great way to unwind from your busy life, whether that hobby is learning something new, playing a sport, reading, or doing something creative.
When you spend time on something you enjoy, your psychological health and overall wellbeing improve. Studies show that people who take the time to do activities they enjoy, experience less stress, better moods, and are less likely to suffer depression and anxiety.
You need to learn to accept yourself. Accept the things you’ve done and the flaws you have. Too many people get caught up worrying about the things they’ve done in their past, or how they are not good enough. They worry that they may not be as successful or good looking as the people on TV, or that next to their siblings, they fall short.
Learn to love who you are, flaws and all.
When you spend too much time worrying about what you're not or what isn't perfect, it can cause stress to build, and your self-esteem drops. This can then begin to affect your overall health and quality of life.
Stop comparing yourself to others and learn to accept yourself.
If you want to help yourself, you must first start with helping others. Research has shown that when you serve others, it can have a positive impact on your own mental health.
Typically, when you do something good for someone else, you will get a positive feeling. This feeling is thought to stem from being "pro-social," an activity that reinforces a sense of feeling connected to another person. By serving others, we are also fulfilling one of our most basic psychological needs.
Research shows us that serving others, such as volunteering, can decrease depression while giving you a sense of purpose. The act of generosity has been strongly linked to a neural response that results in happiness.
Take Control of Your Mental Health for A Happy, Healthy Life
Learning how to care for yourself mentally is just as important as taking care of your physical health, whether or not you struggle with mental health issues. Just like your physical health, you shouldn’t wait until you are sick to start taking care of yourself.
We all hit periods in our life where we struggle, and taking care of your mental health now will help you become more resilient and get through those struggles with more ease. Practicing self-care for your mental health is like going to the gym to keep your body in top shape. No matter what self-care area you are focusing on, the goal should always be to improve and maintain optimal health for a long, healthy, and happy life.
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