Self-Care Is More Than Just Taking a Bath and Pouring a Glass of Wine
Self-care has been a buzzword for a few years now, rising in popularity and usage since 2016. Articles recommending that people go out with their friends for a few drinks and treat themselves to spa days have appeared everywhere from major publications to personal blogs. Millennials especially seemed to latch onto the idea, while their parents and older generations find it baffling.
Partly fueled by the commoditization of self-care, self-care and self-help have become a $10 billion industry. Last year, mental health books overtook diet and exercise books in popularity. This trend, however, has been around for quite some time. Before scented candles and “rosé all day” became the go-to suggestions for people feeling the unhappiness and exhaustion that precedes a “self-care day,” activists and doctors alike sought to put power into the hands of marginalized individuals to take better care of themselves. Holistic fitness lifestyles and “positive health” grew in popularity in the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s.
Then, after 9/11, communities in New York saw the need to include mental health wellness as part of a larger self-care plan.
We believe it’s time to return to these foundations of the “self-care” movement. As delightful as the occasional glass of wine may be, it is no substitute for caring for oneself in a more holistic and consistent way. Self-care isn’t always about doing indulgent activities, provide instant comfort, and feeling good. Sometimes, self-care is challenging and brings up unpleasant feelings in the short-term but may be necessary and supportive in the long term. Today, we’d like to discuss some easy ways you can improve your self-care plan.
Seventy years ago, Americans slept an average of 7.9 hours of sleep per night. Today, adults are lucky to get 6.8 hours. According to the CDC, 35 percent of adults don’t sleep enough. Not only is this lack of sleep negatively impacting our economy, but it can cause significant physical and mental health problems. Sleep deficiency has been linked to heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and stroke. Sleep influences the way your body produces hormones and reacts to insulin, and has an impact on your immune system. Lack of sleep is also closely linked to depressive symptoms and risk-taking behavior.
It can be challenging to get the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep per night. One way to improve your sleep habits is to create a consistent sleep schedule. Go to bed at a designated time every night and make an effort to wake up at the same time every morning. Keep the same schedule on weekends that you follow on weekdays and avoid nicotine and caffeine consumption 8 hours before bed.
An hour before going to bed, turn off all of your electronic devices and take some time to wind down with a good book or a warm shower. Put your smartphone out of arm’s reach or in another room, so you don’t grab for it out of habit while you’re in bed. Also, keep your bedroom cool if at all possible. Cooler temperatures help to promote sleep. If you create a relaxing environment for yourself, you’ll be more likely to fall (and stay) asleep through the night.
Tip: If you’re experiencing consistently disrupted sleep or find yourself unable to fall asleep despite following this advice, consult your therapist or doctor.
Disconnect and log off
We live in an age in which our emails and social connections are always accessible. In 2014, the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health found that young adults who use multiple social media platforms are 3.1 times more likely to report higher levels of depression and anxiety-related symptoms than their counterparts who used less than two social media platforms. Research has also indicated that spending extended time on social media can harm mental health. Though we don’t yet know why this is the case, it is clear that constantly checking and being immersed in social media can result in negative mental health.
Though you don’t have to delete all of your social media accounts, it is wise to limit the time you spend online. Apps like ZenScreen can help you track how much time you spend looking at your phone and which apps you spend the most time on. The app Social Fever can help you limit the usage of any app on your phone and if you want to go even further off-line, the app OFFTIME can help you set up automatic replies to texts, block calls during a specific time of day, and send you alerts in the event you exceed your usage time. Limiting the amount of time you spend being always available can help you create a better state of mind.
Originating in Eastern traditions, meditation has gained popularity in Western cultures over the last several decades. Researchers have found that meditative practices have many uses and benefits, especially mindfulness meditation. As we’ve talked about in our post on Self-Compassion, mindfulness “…involves being fully present, being aware of where you are and what you’re doing, and not being overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around you”.
In other words, it’s a way to develop attentiveness and self-awareness. This method of meditation is not linked to any religion or belief systems inherently. Instead, think of it as a tool to cultivate mental well-being.
Research indicates that practicing mindfulness meditation can improve brain function, especially in the left anterior side of the brain. Increasing activity in this side of the brain may be linked to developing stronger resilience to the effects of stress. Mindfulness, in combination with evidence-based therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, can be highly effective in reducing the symptoms of depression. It can also help to improve the immune system by helping increase antibody production.
When beginning to practice mindfulness meditation, it’s essential to be compassionate with yourself. It may not come quickly at first, and that is absolutely acceptable. First, make sure to set some time aside for your practice. This can be as little as ten minutes to start. Find a comfortable seated position. You don’t need any special equipment to do this. Sit quietly with your eyes closed (or open with a very soft gaze). Take notice of the present moment and how your hands feel, how your feet feel, how your legs feel on the floor, and how deep or shallow your breath is.
Notice when you breathe in and when you exhale. When you have a thought or a judgment, notice it and then let it pass. Observe if you’re feeling frustrated with yourself should a judgmental thought arise and then refocus on your breathing. Just practice noticing when your mind has started being active, and then gently bring it back to taking stock of your breathing and bodily sensations.
At the end of your meditation, take a moment to give yourself gratitude for taking the time to pause. With practice, your meditation sessions will become more effortless and longer-lasting. Just remember, there is no winning when it comes to meditation. The goal is not to be the best; it’s to take time for yourself.
Therapy and mental health management
If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety, or struggles with a relationship, give yourself the gift of finding professional therapy help. Though there is less of a stigma surrounding mental health care today, you may feel hesitant about finding a therapist. The right therapist can help you develop a toolkit to handle stress, emotional problems, and struggles relating to others. In a way, working with a therapist is the best kind of self-care there is.
Self-care may sound like a passing trend. The fact is, it seems to be here to stay, especially when you think of it as regularly caring for your well-being. It’s important to note, though, that true self-care is much more than just treating your stress with the band-aid of a bath and a glass of wine. Though it’s important to treat ourselves kindly and to do the things that bring us comfort and joy, it’s equally (if not more) important to take care of our psychological health and well-being in any way necessary.