How To Use Self Care To Improve Your Mental Health – It’s Not All Blow-Dries & Spa Days
The words ‘self care’ are bandied around a lot these days, so much so that it has become one of the latest buzzwords in the media. However, while much of the coverage surrounding self care links to bubble baths, blow-dries and spa days – activities that may bring physical and mental relaxation in the short term – there is much to be said for exercises that target mental health with the aim of improving wellbeing in the long term.
Everyone can engage in self care for better mental health. However, the type of self care that a person engages in usually corresponds to their health and wellbeing needs and can be dependent on contextual factors such as finances, location, and cultural and social limitations.
Dr Christos Kouimtsidis, Consultant Psychiatrist at The London Psychiatry Centre explains: “Those with an existing mental health condition, or another condition that impacts mental wellbeing, are likely to require greater engagement in self care. If you are suffering with poor mental health, don’t feel bad if you cannot engage in the type of self care that is often portrayed in magazines and on social media. It’s important to do what you can to take care of your wellbeing within your abilities. Furthermore, there are many impactful activities that can be performed at home or in your local area that are free and accessible.”
What Is Self Care?
‘Self care’ refers to the act of actively caring for one’s mind and/or body through an activity or set of activities. Some people may engage in self care infrequently and find that to be a satisfying contribution to their wellbeing; for others, self care is an ongoing process that requires conscious daily effort with the intention of maintaining mental or physical health, or slowly improving these areas over time.
Your needs can change over time, with some people finding that, as their mental health improves, they don’t need to dedicate such a large part of their consciousness to self care – it just becomes a part of their normal routine. However, at whatever stage a person is in their mental health journey, making time for oneself is always important as a preventative measure.
Self Care Is Different For Everyone
There’s no denying the fact that a trip to the hair salon or a relaxing massage might ease your mind and put you in a better mood. However, some people may not have access to these activities, and they may not always result in a positive outcome for everyone. For example, if you are experiencing poor mental health because of severe or prolonged stress at work, you may see a hair appointment as a drain on your time, and instead could have spent that time completing work; this may then add to stress and increase anxiety.
Finding the right method of self care for you is a case of drawing from your experience of what eases your stress or brings you joy, and learning about what other self care strategies could be available to you.
Below, we have created a list of self care activity ideas that target wellbeing from a mental health perspective. You might choose to try one or more of these activities, or even adapt them to fit your preferences – your choice of self care is completely up to you.
Journaling: Writing down your thoughts and feelings in a journal can bring clarity and help you free up mental space. The act of journaling itself is also therapeutic, as it’s a practical task driven by your own motivations, which can take as much or as little time as you require. Some people may wish to share the contents of their journal with a trusted friend or even a support group, while others keep their writing private, and may even destroy the journals after a period of time as a way of ‘moving on’ from a particular mental state or stage of their life.
Tending to relationships: Much like plants in a garden, relationships require care in order to grow. And as some people find gardening to be beneficial for wellbeing, positive social interactions have similar benefits. Self care can mean nourishing relationships with existing friends or family, as well as making new connections. If you do not have supportive relationships, there are many ways to meet like minded people who could bring an element of positivity to your life, such as joining online forums, taking part in a team sport, or attending classes or events in your area.
Engaging with nature: We mentioned gardening above, but if this doesn’t appeal to you, there are many other ways to become more in touch with nature. According to the Mental Health Foundation, ‘throughout the pandemic, nearly half (45%) of people in the UK told us that visiting green spaces, such as parks, helped them to cope’. This could be because being in nature allows us to disconnect from our busy lives and be free from distraction; it could also be due to a boost in vitamin D from the sun, which can improve mood. To engage with nature, you could take a daily walk in a park, sit in an outdoor space such as a garden or balcony for a few minutes each day, or go for a jog or bike ride.
Nurturing a skill: Skill development isn’t something that we should just consider for the benefit of a job or career path. Skills learned from engaging in a hobby, such as painting, cooking or going to the gym, can lead to personal fulfillment as well as the possibility of making new social connections.
Fitness activities, in particular, can trigger endorphin release, which leads to mood improvement. Therefore, you are benefiting from the activity in both the short and long-term.
Seeking professional mental health help: Yes, taking the step of engaging a mental health professional is a form of self care, as is actively participating in treatment. There are many different treatments that correspond to a wide variety of mental health conditions, but some common methods include:
- Talking therapies (including counselling, structured short term therapy or longer psychotherapy) – this involves talking to a therapist about your mental state and the factors that contribute to it. Your therapist may include other therapies in your sessions, such as cognitive behavioural therapy or psychotherapy.
- Medication (such as antidepressants, or other medication depending on diagnosis) – Antidepressants are medicines used to treat clinical depression and some other mental health conditions. They are usually prescribed to treat moderate to severe depression, but it should be noted these medicines can have side effects, ranging from headaches and weight gain to erectile dysfunction (in men), and suicidal thoughts.
- Medication-free biological treatment – Some patients do not find talking therapies or medication-based therapies to be successful in treating their mental health condition, and may turn to treatments such as Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) as an alternative. rTMS is a groundbreaking, painless, non-invasive treatment for adults living with other mental health conditions. Patients who have undergone rTMS have reported significant improvements to their quality of life – and this is not just limited to those with depression. The treatment is also approved for conditions including Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), addictions, and migraines.
If you plan on engaging the help or advice of a mental health professional as part of your self care strategy, please don’t hesitate to book a consultation at The London Psychiatry Centre. We can provide in-person appointments, as well as telephone or video appointments for those unable to visit our London-based clinic. Get in touch with us using the details below: