When it comes to healing and improving your mental health there isn’t a one size fits all. What worked yesterday might not work tomorrow. What fits for one person doesn’t necessarily gel with another. Therefore, its important to consider a range of factors and things that might work for you. Top Tips for Self Care is designed to outline some useful ideas that people find useful when improving their well-being.
1. Create Space and Time for your healing and well-being
We live in such a frenetic and fast paced world that we often forget to create space and pauses in our day. These times are important to sit, reflect, and see what we are feeling or need. When we are going through any process of change it is important to learn to listen to our internal barometer – that is reactions, thoughts, and emotions to any situation. Any deep work following a therapy session sometimes requires a few hours or day to recover and integrate.
Furthermore, healing and improving your well-being takes time and focus. Sometimes we are talking about years of hard grinding work to connect and process deeply embedded emotions and wounds. Really healing and mental well-being is an ongoing process that we cultivate across the lifespan. There isn’t necessarily a point where we go “aha I’m fixed.” Although, often clients and people do reach a point of greater self-realization, calm, stability, and integration.
Create a value for your healing and commit to it over the long-term. We can feel enlightened one day and back in our defences and old patterns the next. Creating time to be and to contemplate are vital, to notice who we are before trauma, anxiety, and worry.
Also go at your own pace, sometimes friends can talk about the great insights and changes they make. However, each person’s challenges are unique to them.
2. Get Professional Support
We could probably leave it at that. Getting professional support from a trained therapist is perhaps one of the most effective things you can do for your mental health. Professional support can often tap in to core beliefs, emotions, and experiences very effectively. We can sometimes gain insight, shifts in mood, and defences reasonably quickly. Therapy is an effective way for our deepest experience and pain to be heard, recognised, and understood. Also, there are many formats of therapy out there. Do a bit of research and discuss these with your therapist. One might gel more than another. Other alternatives are to find a support group or online forum of people that resonate with your struggles.
3. Read up
There are so many resources out there nowadays. Books and Instagram have a wealth of information. Read judiciously books by trained therapists. How to do the Work by the Holistic Psychologist, The Happiness Trap, Prisoners of Belief, and Reinventing Your Life are other useful books that can provide insightful information. There are literally thousands of books out there. However, in noting this there can be a huge amount of information and at times conflicting information that can overload. Furthermore, remember books are information, knowledge, and concepts and don’t always constitute the emotional processing and healing aspect of therapy.
4. Practice Self-Care and Self-Compassion
This can come in so many formats and is really the essence of this blog. So many of our activities tend to be energy out activities that we forget about energy in activities. Taking walks, burning candles and scents, meditation or yin yoga, having a spa night, going to a park, or being around nature can all be soothing and vitalizing. Listening to music, visiting a quiet cafe, or going to a museum or inspiring public space can all be ways to nurture. Really self-care here is about doing something that calms and feels healing and is restorative for you. Make leisure and contemplation an ongoing practice.
Self-compassion is also useful to cultivate. We often operate from an internal critics point of view. Self-compassion involves a stance of kindness, giving yourself a break, and letting go of the internal battle and arguments. Approaching yourself with gentle kindness may not initially feel natural. However, if you practice bit by bit eventually you can become your own best support.
5. Creativity and Play
Our bodies often tend to tense and armour up, and become rigid with the lives and work we do. Constraint seems to be the name of the game. Here again we can become locked in immobility, freeze, and defended states. As a result, there is often less time to loosen, play, and be creative. If we get the chance practice the art of playing and being creative. It doesn’t need to mean rolling on the ground like a child, but that can sometimes be fun. But its about being imaginative, artistic, and reminding the body to free up. Research a hobby or interest that you have always wanted to do and go for it.
6. Look after Your Physical Body
Exercise, sleep, diet, hygiene, and substance minimization or elimination. If we have been through any form of trauma a consequence is that we often detach or dissociate from the body. This sometimes means that we can keep driving the nervous system even when exhausted and depleted.
With healing we check in to practice eating several meals a day, maintaining hygiene, resting, and creating regular sleep habits. Exercise is vital and is perhaps the best anti-depressant around. Importantly, exercise kicks us out of hypo states (e.g. helplessness, sluggishness, lethargy, immobility, freezing, and low energy). Exercise is a great way to shift energetic states. Again balance is the key! Excessive, rigid, and performance focused exercise can sometimes strain and deplete the body to the point of exhaustion.
Sleep hygiene is vital. When we have poor sleep the consequence is tending to feel rubbish the next day. Take time to unwind after 6 or 7pm, create a regular bedtime habit, and only use the bed for sleep and sex. Where possible minimize screen time in bed.
Diet, if we are filling up on fatty foods, too much sugar or depriving ourselves of nutrients the end result is that we don’t function as well. Eating regular nutritious meals throughout the day helps to balance our blood-sugar levels and energy. Write a list at the start of the week of meals you want to prepare.
Drugs, alcohol, and caffeine. Recognise that high quantities can have a significant impact on anxiety, mood, judgement, and coherence of mind. The best recommendation is abstinence followed by harm-minimization and safe use. If using drugs such as MDMA or cocaine etc expect a high. But usually a prolonged comedown and depressed mood ensues. If you do intend to use, use in moderation in safe environments with friends. And have your recovery process sorted. Drugs and alcohol tend to camouflage our emotions and underlying experience.
7. Connect with Supportive Friends, Family, Groups, and Others.
Often a very effective mood regulator is to connect with friends and social groups. By simply interacting and being around others our mood can often improve. It doesn’t always have to be deep and serious interactions. It is often the simple act of going out and doing something with others that undoes our aloneness and isolation. Furthermore, socialising can also break up negative mood states and immobility. Find a social group, hobby group, or gym or spin class that connects you with others.
However, sometimes it can be difficult to bridge the gap to social interactions if we are isolated away. Take small steps to reach out if needed. Also, in some instances boundaries need to get established with people that have a negative impact on our lives.
Spending 15 to 20 minutes per day Journaling can often help to clarify layers of thought, certain patterns, and experiences that reoccur. It can help us to notice what we are stuck in and what we tend to repeatedly feel. The Artists Way by Julia Cameron has useful steps for journaling and exploring/recovering aspects of ourselves. We can use journaling in a free flowing way or to consider what our goals, vision, and values are. Journaling helps to bring greater awareness and reflection to what is going on internally. We are so used to externalising awareness that Journaling can be a great step to getting to know ourselves a bit better.
9. Meditation and Mindfulness
Learn a meditation or mindfulness practice at your local studio. There are plenty of resources that highlight how to create a basic practice. The widespread benefits of meditation and mindfulness have now been well-documented. However, although meditation and mindfulness can bring calm they can also bring up distress. When we sit with ourselves quietly we often start to notice a lot of emotional and cognitive noise. We are essentially taking away distractions and defence patterns to learn to be. This can be discomforting for some people, particularly if levels of arousal are too high or if you have a complex trauma background. Therefore, get guidance from a trained professional to inform your practice, and practice in moderation or at a level that works for you. Sometimes if our distress is too high we simply need to distract with something enjoyable for an hour or day or two.
10. Put Down the Phone and Social Media
Our awareness and attention so often gets diverted to our phones and social media. Having a portable computer to access information, entertainment, and others at any time is great. It acts as a great emotion regulator. However, we can often spiral in to numbness, detachment, negative moods, and anxiety. Comparing ourselves to others or noticing what we lack can be a spiral in to depression. Take time every day or has a larger practice to put the phone down and engage in another activity. Set time limits and breaks.
Conceptualize and consider the boundaries that you have in your life. What protective and supportive boundaries do you have around your physical and emotional body. Also note in what situations people might cross your boundaries. Our reactions such as anger or frustration (and when we start to have an internal argument with someone or with ourselves) can serve as guides to when a boundary or limit has been crossed. If we keep saying yes to requests we might end up feeling perpetually depleted, frustrated, anxious, or depressed.
Learn to listen to your body and what you need in a situation. Take a moment to check in when a request is made. Do we automatically say yes I can do that. We can’t always say no or assert our position, but consider easier boundaries to set first. If we have never set conscious boundaries before this can be difficult and is likely to require further guidance.
Nature is nurture. Being around trees, plants, water, birds and other animals. We often don’t need to go far. Parks can often be an oasis. Pack your towel and a drink and go and enjoy being outside for fresh air. Vitamin D and the suns warmth on a pleasant day can be vitalising.
13. Values and Goals
Consider what your values and goals are. These can change from year to year and depending on life experience. Are your values to have peace and tranquility and/or adventure and exploration. Is your path to study, learn, and become educated and/or to practice intuition, connectedness, and loving-kindness. There are plenty of values charts out there to help guide you with an analysis of what you want for your life. Start to research and get clear. Write down the picture. Then practice taking small achievable steps towards those values and goals.
14. Time Management and Reducing Procrastination
There are moments every day when we can slip in to procrastination and avoidance. Micro-moments where we choose to engage in a rewarding/productive activity or procrastination. Sure you need to make the house tidy. Plan your day or week ahead. What are the big, medium, and small tasks that need completed. Prioritise. If we tackle the most challenging task first thing in the day we gain a sense of achievement. This can set us up for the day. If we move in to procrastination this can be difficult to extract ourselves from. If so try to pause and rest for the task at hand. Build the muscle for sustaining the capacity to work towards your goals and dreams. If you practice bit by bit you will be able to realise what you are dreaming.
14. Summary Top Tips for Self Care
As you can see there are huge number of activities and practices that we can engage in to assist with Healing, Self-Care, and Improving our Mental Health. All of these pieces can play a role at some point. However, some might resonate more than others. Build a repertoire that works for and supports your life. Sometimes we need more assistance with certain aspects of life. During these times its ok to reach out for help with a trained psychologist or counsellor. I hope some of these tips help out.