Intentional Self-Care Why is it Great for Our Mental Health
Everybody is talking about self-care, right? With mental health being a booming subject since the onset of the pandemic. Every expert and non-expert is highlighting self-care as a key way to building good mental health, managing depression and many other stressors that we face in our daily lives. But, what is self-care? How do we self-care? And why is it so important? Well, these questions are what this post seeks to clarify, and Yes, I happen to be one of those people who echo the same sentiments. Some days I wish I had a town crier to drive the point home to individuals about the benefits of self-care. I want to do this NOT because of some book I read or for just echoing purposes only, but because of active things that I have personally done and how I have seen my own life improve because of my intentional self-care habits.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines self-care 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 healthcare provider[i]. This definition sums up the big picture nicely. Personally, I see self-care as an intentional act of doing activities that will benefit our well-being. There is a proverb that says, “you cannot pour from an empty cup”, and logically it makes plenty of sense. If our cups are empty, how will we be able to give to others? When we think about self-care, understanding that it will vary from person to person and from situation to situation is also essential. Self-care will not look the same way for me as my friends. In the same way, my self-care approach now may not be my self-care approach next year. So like any system or process, self-care needs periodic revision to see if it is working and serving its purpose.
Self-care can be carried out by performing various activities such as; exercising, going to the spa to get a massage or nourishing our spirituality through praise and worship. Personally, my list includes:
Exercising at least three (3) times per week
Incorporating healthier choices in my meals, such as fruits and vegetables and eliminating juices(sugar) from my diet, I take multivitamins daily to boost my energy.
Performing daily devotions in the morning before starting my day (I read a bible verse, then pray)
I use grounding techniques when my anxiety checks in; this includes deep breathing and practicing mindfulness.
I read to increase my knowledge in areas I find interesting.
I practice maintaining a good sleep hygiene. I go to bed by 10 pm at night and sometimes incorporate sleeping sounds to help me fall asleep faster. I occasionally have a cup of chamomile or sleepy time tea an hour before bed and put my phone away at least an hour before bed.
I detach from social media a few times per month by deleting Instagram and disabling my Facebook account. These are my two go-to social media accounts.
I identified the people in my life who supports me and talk to those people as often as possible and manage the other relationships that are not so supportive (this includes leaving unhealthy relationships)
To some reading this, I know my personal list may look long or short or even very difficult to consider trying. Please remember that self-care for everyone isn’t identical, and these are some general things that I do. Your personalized list may differ, and I cannot stress patience enough, especially if you are just starting. It is also imperative to be consistent. Truth be told, I do not consistently achieve all the things I have on my list daily. But I’d say 85%-90% of the time I do. Some days I struggle. I attribute my success here to have developed a strong mindset. Let me tell you, I know oh too well about family obligations, work obligations, school obligations, obligations on top of obligations. But remember the title of this post, “Intentional Self-Care”. Acting purposefully here is the key; you ought to prioritize yourself. Remember the saying, “you cannot pour from an empty cup”, this is where it applies. Obligations will always be around, and many of us keep moving from one thing to the next, caring for everyone else and paying attention to everything else except ourselves. This is where over time, our own care slips away. The weight gain comes, poor sleep becomes a thing, we develop somatic symptoms due to stress. We develop anxiety; we start finding unhealthy coping methods, and very soon, operating without self-care is deemed normal. Yeah, this was my reality, and it remains the reality for many people. I had no idea that understanding and implementing this seemingly simple term, self-care, could be life-changing.
To be 100% transparent, I struggled with anxiety from age 27 to about a year ago when I actively started addressing it. I was overweight. My highest weight outside of pregnancy was 185 pounds. I frequently felt out of balance with feelings of anger, sadness, confusion and inability to concentrate. I was not sleeping; I would wake up feeling tired because my mind would constantly wonder about many things. I remember looking at a picture of myself and burst into tears because I could not recognize the person I was looking at. All these descriptions were the pre-self-care me. One of my biggest self-care acts occurred in 2019 when I took control of my weight. Two years later, in 2021, I am maintaining my goal weight at 160 pounds. Today, I can boldly say my anxiety has reduced significantly; my concentration is much better. I feel energized, and I can go through my daily life managing all the stressors that this pandemic has brought. I manage mom life, work-life and school life. As I said, some days I struggle; we all do at some point. However, intentional self-care has for sure played a huge role in coping.
Self-care is not selfish; it is essential to life; it is to us like gas is to a car. It is essential because it eliminates the need to resort to unhealthy coping habits such as; using recreational drugs, drinking, and gambling. Self-care helps us to function at our best in all areas of our lives. It keeps certain illnesses away. It keeps us on track to living healthier and happier lives.
I hope you found this post useful.
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Tracy Reid is a student member of Jampsych pursuing a masters degree in trauma studies and integrative counselling at UTECH Jamaica. She is also an intern at the UHWI Department of Psychiatry. Her journey to psychology and counselling came out of her passion to positively impact the lives of others and to self actualize. Her long term goal as a developing mental health professional is to promote well-being through self care advocacy and to create awareness about and help to guide victims of various forms of Intimate Partner Voilence (IPV). She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org