Self-care, doing activities that promote health, happiness, and well-being, might sound time-consuming, but they can pay off with better mental health and a more positive outlook. Too often, people prioritize other things before taking care of themselves.
Actress Doris Day says it best with this quote:
"Nourishing yourself in a way that helps you blossom in the direction you want to go is attainable, and you are worth the effort."
Aren't you worth the investment? Self-care isn't selfish; it's a necessity. Think of self-care as mini-vacations for your mental health. Here are some ways practicing self-care can improve your mental health and your health overall.
Self-Care is a Mood Booster
One of the biggest benefits of investing in self-care is that it's a mood booster. Life is often challenging, and dealing with problem after problem will bring down your mood and lead to loss of self-esteem and confidence. When you give yourself periods of relaxation and scheduled self-care, it provides a mental mood boost that carries over to other aspects of your life.
Self-Care Helps with Stress Management
Stress isn't just uncomfortable from a psychological standpoint; it harms your physical health. Studies show uncontrolled physical and mental stress elevates the stress hormone cortisol. In turn, cortisol triggers mood changes and can worsen sadness and depression.
Need proof? One study of medical students found that those who made time for self-care practices, by doing activities that boost well-being, were more resilient, less prone to distress, and had a more positive attitude.
Certain self-care activities may be better for reining in stress than others. For example, research shows activities like walking in nature, massage, meditation, yoga, playing with a pet, and listening to relaxing music are especially therapeutic for reducing stress. Even reading a book qualifies as self-care, as long as you enjoy reading. One study found that only 6 minutes of reading reduced stress by 68%. Time to order your favorite reading material? If that doesn't bring you bliss, choose a different self-care activity that helps you relax and promotes happiness.
Self-Care Helps Build Better Relationships
When you invest time in yourself, even if it's small things like a daily nature walk or a weekly massage, you'll be more positive and the people you work with, live with, and care about will notice and respond more positively to you. It's easy to let frustrations build up and affect your mood and how you interact with others. Engaging in regular self-care helps break the "bad mood" cycle that can affect your relationships. Make time for self-care and watch your relationships improve. A positive mood is contagious!
Self-Care Helps Boost Mindfulness
Mindfulness is living in the present rather than focusing on the future. It emphasizes savoring each moment rather than worrying about what's to come. Such an approach is better for mental health since it shifts the focus away from future worries and back on the present. Certain self-care activities can make you more mindful. For example, meditation teaches you to center your thoughts on the here and now, which is the key to mindfulness. Taking walks in nature also increases mindfulness since you're immersed in the beauty and wonder of nature rather than on "what ifs."
Self-Care Helps Prevent Burnout
The repetitive, often stressful, activities people do every day without a break are a major cause of burnout and exhaustion. It's no surprise that work ranks near the top of the list. You may not control every aspect of your job, but you can take the time to practice self-care activities. Treating yourself to uplifting activities that soothe the soul breaks up the monotony of life and gives you something to look forward to.
The Bottom Line
Don't think of self-care as an indulgence! It can help every part of your life, including your mental health. Find what brings you happiness and makes you feel content and make more time to do it. Set up your schedule so you get things done but still have time for self-care activities that lift your spirit and boost your mental health. You'll reap greater rewards by doing so, and you'll enjoy a healthier work-life balance.
BMC Med Educ. 2018; 18: 189.Published online 2018 Aug 6. doi: 10.1186/s12909-018-1296-x.
Pharmaceutical-Journal.com. "Encouraging self-care and positive lifestyle changes in patients with depression"
TheTelegraph.co.uk. "Reading Can Help Reduce Stress"