Four Simple (but Smart!) Self-Care Tips for Mental Health Awareness Month
Updated: Jun 7
No question, our emotional resilience has taken a hit from this ongoing pandemic and everything it has thrown at us—feelings of fear, grief, isolation, disrupted routines, cabin fever, stressed relationships, loss of work, and income, and worst of all, loss of beloved family and friends. In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, we want to remind you (and ourselves!) that while much of life extends beyond our control, there are many things that are within our control. Self-care, for example, allows us to take control of our well-being by easing distress. Engaging in an act of self-care doesn’t have to be some grand, elaborate gesture. Instead, it can be small and simple. We’d like to offer a few simple (but smart!) tips for ways to boost your self-care:
Tip #1: Catch up on Sleep
Yeah, yeah, we know. Easier said than done. But let’s remember the basics of sleep hygiene. Perhaps you have already heard them a million times, but let’s go over them again, for old time’s sake:
Unplug from electronics and minimize the use of blue light devices before going to bed--This means not watching TV or checking your phone too late at night. Blue light blocks the release of the sleep hormone melatonin.
Keep blue light-emitting devices out of the bedroom. If you can’t remove them, you can cover them with a hand towel or turn them away from view. These are things like a clock, a cable box, a computer… you get the picture.
And while you’re at it, something as simple as a comfortable sleep mask or installing room-darkening shades can make a huge difference for some.
Avoid alcohol before bed. Ah yes, the proverbial nightcap may seem like it helps you to fall asleep, and it probably does, but alcohol typically wakes you up about 2 hours later and causes all sorts of disruptions to your sleep cycle.
Keep a consistent bedtime routine, like brushing your teeth, putting on pajamas, and going to bed at the same time each night (even on the weekends!). This will help to train the mind and reinforce when it’s time for bed.
Try methods of relaxation. Rather than focusing on falling asleep as your primary goal, it’s often easier to focus on relaxation. Listening to guided meditation or ambient music can help settle the busy mind and relax the body. If you can’t fall asleep after 20 minutes or so, don’t stay in bed. Get up, read a book, journal, or do something else that will help calm the mind and body (don’t reach for the blue light-emitting devices!). Speaking of relaxation...
Tip #2: Rebuild Some Routine for the Sake of… Well, Having a Routine
Humans are creatures of habit. Most of us find stability and reassurance in doing what we always do. For most of us, the pandemic has disrupted our daily habits and routines, creating a certain degree of internal mayhem or unease, even if we didn’t fully realize it. So, it can be really helpful to create new, even simple, routines and stick to them. For example, pick certain times to eat, do your work, or stop doing your work. It doesn’t so much matter what exactly the routine is, but that you become regular with it.
Tip #3: Included Regular Self-Care
While we’re talking about routines, make sure that part of your daily routine includes self-care. Pick some easy, non-demanding, soul-nourishing things to do and commit to doing them. You know – things like gardening, taking a bath, dancing, watching a favorite movie, painting, yoga, walking the dog… This is meant to be something more than another obligatory thing on the to-do list. Rather, this is time devoted to rewarding yourself for a productive day, well spent (or, alternatively, for a lousy day you withstood with honor!). You can give yourself that self-caring thing that supports and refreshes you, naming it as a reward as you do it.
Tip #4 Be Kind to Yourself
Self-care is self-kindness. A little self-compassion can go a long, long way. Don’t beat yourself up for feeling cranky, depressed, or anxious. No need to agonize over letting your guard down and letting snarky comments escape your lips. Remember, all of us are little nuts these days, and for good reason. The last thing you need is to stew in the pot of self-criticism. Yes, acknowledge if you haven’t been your best self, or had a rough day, but choose to set your mind on trying to do better, and leave it there.
In recognition of the first annual Mental Health Action Day, check out this Aila Health guided meditation dedicated to an experience that invites us to check in with ourselves.
These might seem like small, simple changes, but they are changes. Behavioral science tells us it’s the little things done regularly that add up to big
change. In fact, these small changes can be downright transformative on mood, energy, productivity, relationships, immune system, and self-esteem.
So, you may want to give some of these the old college try. What the heck? It won’t hurt and it could actually help!
Article written by: Shannon Sims, PhD
Shannon Sims, PhD, is an integrative wellness coach and mind-body specialist with Aila Health where she focuses on supporting Long Covid and other chronic illness warriors in their journey to greater wellness. Dr. Sims is also a professor at Saybrook University’s College of Integrative Medicine and Health Sciences in the department of Mind-Body Medicine.