The new year is upon us and with it comes a myriad of resolutions to make this year our best. I posted a blog about a week ago about effective goal-setting and some of the issues that come with these types of sometimes overzealous hopes for the year ahead. That being said, undoubtedly many of us will set our sights on changes we can make and positive steps we can take this year. Indeed January is a busy time for therapists. There is never a bad time to get serious about our mental and emotional health so if you've decided to get serious about feeling better this year here are some tips to get you started. One of the best ways to improve your mental health any time of year is to focus on self-care. Simply put, self-care refers to engagement in any activity or practice that helps to balance one's emotions. This will look different for everyone but if you're feeling stuck on where to start here are a few ideas.
1. Make sure to take time for yourself each day, even if it's just a few minutes.
Take a walk, read a book, practice some yoga or meditation, or do something creative like painting or writing. There are plenty of activities and hobbies to choose from. What's important is that we're setting aside intentional time, away from our devices, to do something that brings us joy. Remember to stay present during these activities and notice the impact they have on your mood. When we remain present in our feelings we gain better control of them.
2. Practice healthy habits such as eating nutritious meals, getting enough sleep, and staying active.
These are the sometimes less fun practices of self-care. Trust me, I don't like telling clients to set a regular bedtime anymore than they like hearing it. Heck, I don't like sticking to a regular bedtime. Mental health and physical health are integrated and when one suffers so does the other. This doesn't mean we have to become vegan or run a marathon, but making sure to drink water, have a balanced diet, and move our bodies helps us to feel more emotionally regulated.
3. Find ways to manage stress, such as deep breathing or mindfulness.
Stress management is a huge part of a successful self-care routine. I tend to think of emotional well-being like a bank account. There are times when we are able to make plenty of deposits, and other times we need to make significant withdrawals. Stress management techniques allow us to protect our emotional savings from becoming overdrawn. A great place to start is with meditation and mindfulness apps, or even free meditations available on YouTube. My only caveat for stress management - keep it healthy. Lean on deep breathing, meditation, exercise, and journaling rather than drinking, smoking any herbs, or shopping which can all become problematic in the future.
4. Finally, don't forget to connect with friends and family, and talk to a mental health professional if you need extra support.
One of the first questions I ask new clients is about their support system. Strong support systems mean better and more stable mental health. We don't have to share everything with everyone, but finding a few trustworthy people to listen can make a huge difference in dealing with challenges. There will always be people willing to lend an ear or shoulder if we look.
This is only the beginning, but with these strategies, you can make the New Year a time of growth and self-care. However we choose to care for ourselves let's remember that our self-care directly supports the people we love. The kinder we are to ourselves the better prepared we are to be loving siblings, parents, partners, parents, coworkers, and friends. If you find yourself needing a bit more direction on this path, please feel free to reach out!