The last in our Healing Your Holistic Self blog series is here to focus on mental self-care. I would venture to say that all of us have experienced some mental shifts this past year. We have been living through nearly one year of a pandemic that turned life upside for many and brought with it abrupt changes and adjustments, grief and loss, and hardships of many kinds. Managing our mental health during this time has likely been a challenge for most. In this blog series we have focused on the different kinds of self-care that can help us cope in life, and particularly through some of the chaos we have endured recently both collectively and personally. Below you will find a few tips that might assist in taking care of those mental parts of yourself.
Forming a personalized mantra can be a great way to take care of your mental health. Sometimes having different mantras for different aspects of life can be helpful as well. I think mantras often are best when created through a positive lens and when they are brief enough to repeat or easily meditate on. For example, last year I established a mantra that went like this, “Embrace opportunity with courage.” I was finding myself disengaging in some activities and opportunities due to fear and anxiety and wanted something I could repeat to myself that would positively remind me of a different approach and perspective. It was not fool proof, but it did often remind me of what I wanted to be able to do and it mentally prepped me for certain opportunities I may have otherwise avoided.
Mindfulness is often known as the practice of bringing your awareness to the present moment without judgment. This can be a difficult skill and habit to learn, but with practice it can present new ways of engaging the mental states you find yourself in. Learning and practicing mindful breathing, bringing mindful attention to your relationships and interpersonal behaviors, and identifying sensations in your body are just a few ways to begin practicing mindfulness.
Learning new things such as skills, hobbies, or simply information can be mentally stimulating and add to our mental health. It is easy to get stuck in ruts sometimes and cut ourselves off from new learning. It makes sense that this happens when we are going through difficult times or simply trying to survive the day. When one is able however, it can be helpful to engage the brain in unique and novel activities. Is there something you always wanted to learn more about, learn how to do, or improve the skill set you already have. Mental self-care can sometimes look like engaging the brain in this way! Similarly, even when we are in the midst of difficult times, sometimes on the other end of those things we can take an intentional look at the possible skills and abilities we came out with on the other side. For example, at the beginning of COVID, engaging in telehealth mental health counseling was something I did not like and encouraged feelings of exhaustion and irritability. Over time however, in learning this new skill and adapting to its practices, I have since come to enjoy some of the aspects of telehealth counseling and I have a whole new set of skills I would have otherwise gone without.
Creating a mission statement for your life can be helpful in guiding actions, choices, and mental states. It is something that can be created to reflect your ideals and core values. Often, businesses come up with mission statements to give brief explanations of their purpose and the why of their existence. We can do the same with our individual lives by coming up with a sentence or two that grounds us in our own why.
In Cognitive Behavior Therapy, one intervention often used is called the cognitive triangle. It is a concept regarding the connection between our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It can be helpful to increase awareness of these connections for improved mental health. To learn this skill, one could start in any of these areas, for example with their thoughts, and then take a look at their connected feelings and emotions when having those thoughts, and how this influences their behavior. Sometimes when we are able to learn and identify these patterns, we can then make necessary changes that are more intentional and healthier for our mental states.
It is important to remember we are complex beings with many parts that make up our whole selves.
When it comes to self-care, it can be valuable to know which parts need what kind of care and when they need it. This process is not always easy, but the better we get to know ourselves, the easier it becomes. One thing that helps me personally when it comes to reminding myself to engage in a self-care routine is to remember that engaging in self-care proactively can often protect us from things such as burnout and exhaustion. This is in comparison to engaging in reactive self-care in which we hit our point of depletion first and then are in desperate need of self-care, which can sometimes amplify our feelings of exhaustion and burnout.
To close, I encourage you all to remember that you are allowed to and deserving of caring for your own needs and attending to your physical, emotional, spiritual, social, and mental health in order to lead a more holistic lifestyle.
A few closing suggestions are to:
- Create a personalized self-care plan including all of these areas of self-care.
- Pick activities and practices that feel doable to start. Starting with 1-3 for each category might add to your ability to achieve them. Creating new habits can be tricky, so start small if needed!
- Engage in practices proactively before you are in desperate for them.