The term “self-care” is trending in recent years, and we’ve seen hundreds of products, services, health and fitness experts, and other things promoting self-care. But what is self-care, really, and how does it affect mental health? Can self-care subscription boxes make an impact on your wellbeing, or is there another reason that self-care can affect your mental health?
Our mental health professionals wanted to take the time to discuss what the research says about self-care, and what you can do to take care of yourself.
What Is Self-Care?
Self-care is providing adequate attention to your own psychological and emotional wellbeing. While this may be a bit of a vague description (after all, what is “adequate attention?”), the truth is, self-care doesn’t look the same for any two people.
For extraverted people, being around other people in a social setting may meet their emotional needs. Introverted people may prefer an evening watching a movie with a close friend or significant other to get their social needs met. Some swear by warm bubble baths, facial masks, and quiet music, while others want to hit the gym, take a road trip, drink a coffee, or even take some time to clean their living space thoroughly.
There are practically endless ways to practice self-care, and it all boils down to doing things that you enjoy or need.
While many people tend to think of pampering themselves or indulging in guilty pleasures as self-care, it doesn’t just end there. Self-care also encompasses all the things you need to do to remain healthy, reduce stress, and feel as mentally well as possible.
This means that getting a massage is self-care, but so is cleaning your home to reduce your stress. Enjoying an ice cream on a warm day counts as self-care, but so does attending therapy sessions to address your emotional needs, trauma, or mental illnesses.
What Do Studies Say About Self-Care and Mental Health?
Because self-care is the practice of caring for your physical, emotional, and psychological wellbeing, it shouldn’t be surprising to learn that it does, in fact, have an effect on your mental health.
Self-care relies on increased self-awareness, which can benefit people who are living with a mental illness. Practicing self-awareness can help you to recognize patterns in your emotions, including events or situations that can trigger worsened symptoms. It can also help you to recognize what activities or tasks are necessary of your wellbeing, soothe negative symptoms of a mental illness or stress, or simply bring you pleasure or relaxation.
That doesn’t mean that self-care is the cure for mental or physical illnesses. While self-care can help people with conditions like mental illnesses or chronic illnesses, it also has been found that many people fail to provide adequate self-care in the midst of a flare-up of symptoms.
Many people find it difficult to provide self-care when it is most needed, due to fatigue, feelings of hopelessness or guilt for indulging in something pleasurable, pain, limited mobility, and other factors. People are quick to parrot the benefits of self-care for depression, anxiety, and other mental or physical illnesses, but don’t recognize the amount of labor self-care can require, nor the struggles of people who are trying to provide self-care while also living with their symptoms.
How to Practice Self-Care
That being said, self-care is an incredibly broad term for the practice you may already be doing to feel your best or manage symptoms. Self-care doesn’t need to be elaborate, expensive, or labor-intensive to be effective—you may not even need to go out of your way to practice self-care, just learn to observe how your routine affects your mood and functioning.
Building a list of favorite self-care methods can be especially helpful in identifying what activities make it easier for you to function, improve your mood, or reduce your stress levels. Having a written list can help you quickly determine what to do if you should feel that you’re in need of a little extra care, as well, which can make it easier to provide self-care when you’re feeling low.
Your personal brand of self-care will depend on what works best for you, what you enjoy, and your energy levels, personality, and other factors. However, here are some ideas to help you get started on providing yourself with the attention you deserve.
- Take a quick mental survey of your body. While breathing deeply, scan your whole body, releasing tension as you find it. Check your posture and adjust as necessary. It only takes a few seconds to do but can provide an immediate change.
- Practice healthy sleep habits and listen to your body’s needs. Going to bed at an earlier time, ensuring that your bedroom is comfortable and quiet, and practicing good screen-time habits before bed can help you enjoy a more restful sleep.
- Take care of your health needs. Schedule appointments with your doctor for regular checkups, stay on top of your medications, therapy appointments, chiropractic adjustments, or any other care you require to maintain your physical health.
- Exercise in some form. It’s recommended that you get 30 minutes of moderate exercise daily, but it may not be possible if you are struggling with a mental or physical illness. Instead, focus on getting the exercise you can get, since even a short walk to the mailbox is better than doing nothing.
- Practice healthy eating habits. Eating regularly can help you to feel better, even if you can’t manage a nutrition-packed, home-cooked meal. Eating healthily is obviously a great form of self-care, but so is simply making sure you eat something each day.
- If a beauty or skincare routine helps you, set aside time to pamper yourself regularly. You might be surprised at the difference even a little bit of time to focus on yourself can help.
- Set aside time to talk with your therapist or a trusted friend, read, reflect, journal, or otherwise engage with your thoughts. Self-awareness is an important part of self-care, so don’t neglect your emotions!
Find Help When You Need It
Are you struggling with a mental health condition, such as anxiety, depression, or PTSD? You don’t have to handle your pain alone. At Mission Harbor Behavioral Health, our Santa Barbara mental health clinic is staffed by compassionate professionals who are dedicated to helping you find real solutions to your symptoms and discover how you can enjoy life again.
Schedule an appointment or learn more when you contact our office! Dial (805) 209-4433 to speak to a member of our team.