Focussing on mental health is absolutely wonderful, and incredibly important. Subsequently, I thought I’d contribute my views, should this statement be either valuable or (less likely) original.
Remembering to take care of yourself is precious, especially during periods of difficulty, and given the plethora of modern challenges we face. Our brains might be fascinating, but we rarely afford them the appreciation they deserve. As with any functioning organ, we must take care of them, being as susceptible to the afflictions of physical symptoms as any other.
My only intention here is to spread some positivity, conveying how I (sometimes unsuccessfully) attempt to look after myself. Please don’t consider this an all-encompassing guide. I’m not an expert. These are merely the steps I personally take, and trust to improve my mental health, as part of practising self-care.
That step alone is precious. Acknowledge that you deserve to be your own focus. Life, and the external world, is important, but far less so than your internal equilibrium.
It’s not selfish. You’re allowed to prioritise yourself.
Benefits of sleep for mental health
Having heard sleep described as our ‘superpower’, that sentiment has continued to resonate with me. We still have yet to uncover the full mysteries of sleep, but it is the most fundamental step towards taking care of yourself. Don’t jeopardise sleeping time. It’s our time for relaxation, and recovery, for our wonderful bodies to take the initiative and restore a natural equilibrium.
Western societies have adopted a number of toxic cultural attitudes towards sleep, especially praising those who neglect it, in favour of work or socialising. Sleep is unimaginably important. Conversely, sleeping too much can also prove detrimental. It’s a tough balance.
Adults are advised to sleep between seven and nine hours each night. It is a lot of time, especially given the temptation of just one more episode…
Some of the most common issues disrupting healthy sleep are stress, current or past trauma, mental or physical health conditions, or recreational drugs and alcohol. If you’ve been struggling with sleep, check out the support offered by Mind.
Sleep makes us feel better in every sense. We need a balanced circadian rhythm to function healthily. The benefits of sleep all culminate in improved physical health too.
Personally, I really strive for eight hours. Admittedly, I do often struggle. I’m often easily distracted, or resolved to finish projects that day. I’ve also tried to reduce my alcohol and caffeine intake, both of which (besides other associated detriments to health) severely disrupt sleeping cycles, alongside the quality of any sleep we might eventually have as well.
Take care of a good book: Read
Reading not only improves our actual intelligence, but it can be entertaining and relaxing. Carve time out of your day to read, even if it’s only half an hour, or ten minutes.
I often find reading feels like the exact opposite of relaxation. It can be a chore, to strain over words when I’m desperate to think of nothing. It’s certainly not a matter of disliking reading, more that it can require greater effort, and often be less stimulating, than the variety of activities conducted across different screens.
Crucially, reading is not designed to be a challenge. It can be a luxury, where your daily schedule affords the time to absorb Try experimenting with your subject material. One of my 2021 goals was to finish twenty-five books (nothing to some, a realistic ambition for me). Thus far, I’m only slightly behind, on three.
Despite having possessed a lifelong affinity for books, in recent years I’ve become de-incentivised to read. Whilst at University, it’s primary and often sole purpose was for research alone, marring any prospect of further reading.
In re-discovering my love for books, this year I’ve read Willa Cather’s ‘Song of the Lark’, Lee and Andrew Child’s ‘The Sentinel’ and John Grisham’s ‘Guardians’. Much as I enjoyed the former, it was occasionally hard work. Though the prose is unparalleled in its genius and beauty, it was long, and sometimes descriptively dense.
If your books exhibit that problem, read something else. Venture into different genres, try different authors. Try different audiences, if necessary. Young adult fiction is often just as captivating in subject matter, and significantly easier to digest.
Whilst we’re mentioning it, I’ve published several short stories to this site. Since the purpose of this post is promoting positivity, I’ll unashamedly say: They’re pretty good. Try ‘Harmless Escapism’, a light-hearted detective thriller intermingling murder and laughter. It’s a fun read.
Join our hero, Vance Howler, free-lance detective extraordinaire, as he tackles a case like no other.
How exercise can benefit mental health
Focus renewed, with another, fantastically original tip. It remains an important one. Incorporating exercise into your daily routine is integral to appropriately taking care of yourself.
There are countless physical benefits derived from regular exercise, which can contribute to elevated mood. In order to maintain good fitness, at least thirty minutes of sustained activity resulting in increased heart-rate is recommended. Additionally, it’s a crucial part of promoting satisfying sleep – a 2013 study found that 76-83% of participants engaging in regular exercise slept well, compared to 52% of participants who infrequently exercised.
One of the greatest obstacles I’ve faced in staying consistently active is the temporary ceasing of organised sport. Exercising purely for its own sake feels less essential.
A key part of staying motivated for me has been setting realistic goals. Failing to adhere to any schedule, rigorous or otherwise, can be disheartening, defeating the ultimate point of exercising. Know your limitations, and strengths, and work around your capabilities. The routine you settle upon should be challenging, but achievable. Share your targets with others, and deliberate focus on forging positive habits in the early stages.
Each subsequent day will only get easier.
Wandering into the promised land of good times
I was feeling whimsical with this header. If the promised lands prove elusive, keep walking. That’s the real point here: how walking can promote positive mental health.
It’s separate from exercise, owing to the gentler pressure on heart-rate, but walking is an enjoyable way to stay active, whilst applying less pressure to your joints than running. There are also separate benefits of equally worthy note arising from walking.
I love walking, for the fresh air, and opportunity to leisurely explore new areas (or those more familiar currently). Capitalising upon any wooded areas, or even open, grassy parks, allows us to reconnect with nature, and feel the energy of the living world. More often than not, it also lets our eyes focus on different distances, something not afforded by constantly staring at screens.
These factors all collude to boost mood, an essential part of taking care of yourself. It’s one of the few things we can do sociably right now, too, and offers the chance to enjoy the distanced company of one other (with a projected increased eagerly anticipated).
Alternatively, use the opportunity to listen to music, or discover a new podcast – my top recommendations are Uncivil (brilliant US Civil War coverage), Behind the Bastards (providing a comedic twist on history), or No Such Thing As A Fish (discussing fun and obscure facts).
Stay local, but stay active.
You might enjoy:
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Be a good friend.
Mainly to yourself. Be a good friend to others, but also yourself.
Remember that prioritising your own needs is not selfish, and it’s entirely within your control whether you want to participate or engage with something. Allot some time in your routine for self-care and appreciate yourself.
Don’t place undue or excessive pressure on yourself to complete goals. Challenges should be understood in suitable perspective – missing a small target should not cause devastation. Accept your limitations, as they will ultimately define you alongside any strengths, and know that all you can achieve is your best.
Avoid harmful addictions, like alcohol, or even social media, which can be dangerous when not enjoyed in moderation. Try not to stress over small or arbitrary details.
It’s easy to say, and not especially helpful to hear. Honestly, such phrases don’t really help me. But I’m still trying to be nicer to myself.
Thanks for reading. If even one person’s day was partially brightened, this will have been worth it. Let me know in the comments how you best support your mental health. Be friendly and interact with someone else whilst you’re there too.
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