For decades, the primary focus of self-care was the health and well-being of your physical body. Hygiene, nutrition, being able—and willing—to seek medical care when needed were all held up as hallmarks of good self-care. Preventive care and being able to manage acute or chronic illness were also key indicators of not only good health, but a person’s ability to practice self-care.
This strictly clinical definition of self-care, however, has broadened over the years, first to include a person’s interaction with their health care providers and then to embrace a more whole-person perspective, combining both physical and mental health care.
Some current definitions are purposely simple and straightforward, giving people space to explore what makes them feel their best, like when Marni Amsellem, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist in Trumbull, CT, told Everyday Health: “Self-care is anything that you do for yourself that feels nourishing.”
Along with the physical self-care you understand as important because you spend so much time helping clients regain and maintain their own health are the emotional and mental health care that sometimes fall to the bottom of a person’s priority list.
Following are some easy tips to help you keep your mental health care in shape and top of mind.
Create a simple morning ritual. Don’t feel like getting up an hour early is necessary in order to create some quick, easy and routine ways to get your days started right. You might commit to sitting on the edge of your bed upon waking up and taking five deep breaths. Or, find a quick, seated stretching routine you can do before brushing your teeth or jumping in the shower. Looking for a regular way to practice more gratitude? When you wake up, take a few extra minutes to lay quietly and name five things you are grateful for before your feet touch the floor.
Forget the “to-do” list and make a “done” list instead. Especially if you’re feeling down or unproductive, creating a “done list” can help you see—and celebrate—everything you have been able to accomplish in a day or a week. Consider adding every small task that’s accomplished to the list, like brushing your teeth and taking your medication or vitamins, but don’t pressure yourself to catalog every last thing if that starts to feel overwhelming. Having a visual reminder of all you do get done in a day, however, can be just what you need to remind yourself you are doing the best you can and sometimes that needs to be good enough.
Make a “downtime” list. For some people, free time is at a premium, so the few moments we have that aren’t scheduled can sometimes leave us mentally reviewing the tasks we need to get done and feeling like we shouldn’t be taking this time for ourselves at all. To help make the most of the downtime you build into your schedule (and you should build relaxation and free time into your schedule), create a “downtime” list of activities you enjoy. Books you want to read, recipes you want to try or podcasts you want to listen to can all be part of the list. Have a project you want to get done around the house or flowers you want planted? Add them to your “downtime” list. Because decision-making power is a limited resource and decision fatigue is real, this list is a ready-made way to help you get the most out of your free time.