The Mental Health Benefits of Self-Care
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There’s a quote from The Great Gatsby that goes, “There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired.” When you become an adult, it seems like the whole world falls into the last two categories. Anybody with a job, a family, or a mortgage is busy and definitely tired.
A survey from 2015 found that two-fifths of US Americans are tired most of the day and that few of us are getting the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep a night. Even amid the chaos of all your obligations, it’s vital that you practice self-care. Think of self-care as applying the Golden Rule to yourself: Cultivating the right habits to rest and be at peace will give you the mental calmness to perform well at your job, raise your family and pay your mortgage.
Getting Enough Sleep
In a results-based society like ours, sleep is often seen as a blank space fit in between bouts of work. But the quickest way to ruin your health is to not get enough sleep. Just some of the benefits of sleep include sharper memory, improved grades, reduced inflammation, and greater athletic and, yes, work performance. Sleep also regulates our metabolism and keeps us attentive, which can help prevent us from getting into car accidents. Most statistics indicate that we spend one-third of our lives asleep, so don’t spare expenses when it comes to your bedroom. Buy fluffy pillows, a deep comforter, and a comfortable mattress to make your sleep as soothing and restful as possible. If you think you don’t have the budget to upgrade your bedding, think again: a full mattress is significantly cheaper than a king- or queen-sized one, and a sheet and comforter set to make it cozy are also less expensive for this size.
Taking Time to Relax (Reducing Stress)
By global standards, the United States is a workaholic society. As a recent ABC News report stated, Americans work more than any other Western, industrialized nation. Americans have such a reputation for overworking that some of our workplace habits amaze other countries. These include eating at our desk, never taking family leave, never going on vacation, sending emails after work, or putting in 47+ hours per week at the office. All that dedication may sound exemplary, but studies have found that people who overwork are at greater risk of stroke and heart attack. So, relax. Some ways to reduce your stress include exercising, doing yoga, drinking herbal tea, reducing your caffeine intake, and being around people whose company you enjoy.
Another cornerstone of strong mental health is exercise. Many studies have shown that exercise acts as a mild antidepressant, helping to alleviate stress, anxiety, and depression. A regular fitness regimen is also beneficial for people who are recovering from an addiction to drugs and alcohol. Drugs stimulate the release of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and endorphins – the “feel-good” chemicals associated with joy, elation, and euphoria. The problem is that when you come down from them, you feel depleted and washed out.
Exercise supplements those same chemicals, only in natural doses. In effect, then, working out helps wean you off drugs at a time when your body’s still craving the rush of illicit substances. Some of the best exercises for mental health include meditation and yoga, which has been shown to alleviate stress, ease muscle pain and calm your nervous system.
Another idea is to take up a hobby like knitting, gardening, journaling your thoughts or drawing in adult coloring books – anything that helps you feel focused and centered.
One basic but overlooked habit of cultivating mental wellness is simply to say no. Think about how often a lousy offer comes our way. We’re constantly being bombarded with robocalls, job offers to pay us under market price, or advertisements for things we don’t want. Turning down deals, offers and proposals is a time-management technique, allowing you to focus on what you truly want. When you have to say no, though, there’s no need to burn a bridge. Politely, but firmly, explain your decision, but consider also offering an alternative that suits you better. Sometimes, the answer’s just no, however, and when you need to refuse, do so without feeling bad. It’s really OK. The point is that you set boundaries that you’re comfortable with in order to cultivate what’s really important: Your mental health.
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