There are always a handful of roles that each of us are juggling. If you are a parent, a student, an employee, a caretaker, someone struggling with a mental health concern, or are just feeling overwhelmed with the responsibilities of day-to-day life, the idea of taking time for yourself may seem unimaginable. Sometimes it can be difficult to even take basic care of ourselves—but there are small things that can be done to make taking time for our overall well-being a little bit easier. We refer to these actions as "self-care".
What Is Self-Care?
According to the World Health Organization, self-care is defined as: “the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a health worker.”
However, most behavioral health professionals simply refer to it as any activity that we do intentionally to take care of our mental, emotional and physical health. For example, it can be something as simple as taking a few minutes for ourselves each day to relax and de-stress, or it can be more involved, like seeking therapy or counseling.
Self-care is especially important in today's world where we are constantly bombarded with stressors from all directions. When we don't take the time to take care of ourselves, our mental health and well-being suffers, and over time this can lead to bigger issues like anxiety, depression, and even chronic illnesses.
7 Self-Care Strategies
If you or someone you know struggles to take time for themselves and it is affecting their mental health, Mental Health America and the mental health professionals at Dakota Family Services offer the following self-care tips.
1) Accept yourself as you are.
Remember that you are running your own race. Try not to compare your life and what it looks like right now to anyone else's. When you start comparing yourself to others, it's easy to feel inadequate, which makes it hard to even take the very first step in self-care. Instead, try your best to accept the person that you are and where you are in life right now.
Learn some exercises for accepting reality.
2) Focus on the basics.
Sometimes being an adult is not easy and it can feel impossible to get even the littlest things done. Taking time for yourself doesn't necessarily mean treating yourself to special things.
One of the most important things you can do is focus on steps to ensure you're living a healthy lifestyle. Showering and brushing your teeth every day, eating nutrient-rich foods, moving your body, and getting good sleep are all building blocks of good self-care.
3) Find what makes you happy.
If you're caught up in taking care of all of your responsibilities—rather than taking care of yourself—you may not even really know what kind of self-care you need. What works for someone else may not work for you.
Take time to think about what things you can do to make yourself feel happy or accomplished and include them in building the self-care routine that makes the most sense for you, your schedule, and your health overall.
4) Practice mindfulness.
"Mindfulness" refers to being aware of, and accepting, your thoughts and feelings as they are, rather than trying to change them.
Mindfulness exercises are one of the best ways to make the most out of any amount of time that you do have to care for yourself.
Take a few slow, deep breaths, focus on each of your senses, and try to be fully present in whatever you're doing. Try these breathing exercises.
Other common mindfulness exercises include:
Not only does mindfulness reduce stress, but it also has the power to help you slow down and really take care of yourself—even in the midst of all of life's challenges and responsibilities.
5) Make small goals.
Unfortunately, taking time for yourself doesn't just happen overnight, so try to be patient. Instead of putting pressure on yourself to immediately have the perfect self-care routine established, set small goals that you want to accomplish for yourself.
Focus on small, daily tasks like wanting to take a 15-minute walk outside each day, or journaling for 10 minutes every night—rather than a complete overhaul of your life, all at once.
6) Set some boundaries.
Sometimes, the only way to really be able to make time for self-care is to lessen the amount of time or energy that you are giving away to other people.
Having the sometimes tough conversations with people that set boundaries around your time, your emotions, your things, your other relationships, your health, and your opinions can give you an opportunity to devote more time and effort to yourself and your own mental health.
Learn how to set clear and healthy boundaries (podcast episode).
7) Remember that you are not alone.
Everyone struggles to take time for themselves, so try not to get down on yourself for not having everything perfectly balanced all of the time. As circumstances change, you'll probably have to rethink your routines and how you use your time many times throughout your life.
There will always be people that understand where you're coming from and are willing to help. Ask your friends and family for help when you need to take some time for your mental health. They may even be able to offer you some guidance on how they manage self-care and take time for their own well-being.