How to Take Care of Your Mental Health

As #SelfcareSeptember has just passed and it’s the beginning of a new school year, it’s important to remember to take care of ourselves and our mental health. It’s easy to focus ourselves on doing well and achieving goals too much, that we ultimately forget to take care of our mental health and overwork ourselves. For many people, it’s their first year of college and thus they are encountering new challenges. Self-care is an important tool, not only for these incoming freshmen, but for anyone!

Photo via campfire.org/blog/article/self-care-is-far-from-selfish/ 

 

What is Self-Care and why is it important? 

According to the Oxford dictionary, self-care is defined as, “The practice of taking an active role in protecting one's own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress.” Self-care is basically dedicating time to yourself. It’s not a selfish act, as caring for yourself helps you protect your own wellbeing. 

Self-care is honestly so important! Studies have shown many long-term effects of chronic stress including: anxiety, depression, digestive problems, headaches, heart disease, sleep problems, weight gain, and memory and concentration impairment. Although stress is an unavoidable part of life, self-care is a way to lower the risk of these effects occurring. Here are some examples to practice self-care with!          

 Journaling 

Whether you want to try bullet journaling or just keeping a daily journal, studies have shown that journaling has a lot of physical benefits. University of Texas at Austin psychologist and researcher James Pennebaker says “that writing about stressful events helps you come to terms with them, acting as a stress management tool, thus reducing the impact of these stressors on your physical health.” By writing about painful emotions such as anger or sadness you reduce the intensity of these emotions. This helps you feel calmer and at ease. 

Listen to music

Listening to music is a great way to de-stress! Listening to your favorite songs is proven to make you feel happier. When you listen to a song you like your brain releases dopamine, a “feel good” neurotransmitter. Another way music affects the brain is by reducing levels cortisol, the stress hormone. Lastly, music helps you sleep better, which is another way to self-care. 

Sleeping

Now this one may seem a little out of reach as a college student, but it is one of the most important on this list. According to Amherst College, “just one or two nights of poor sleep can lead to irritability, fatigue, and decreased motivation, optimism and sociability.” While getting more sleep is the most optimal thing, it’s not that easy. So, improving quality of sleep is also a good solution. To improve quality of sleep: try to develop a sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, reduce technology use before bed as the glow from the screen affects levels of melatonin (the sleep hormone), and avoid caffeine and alcohol a few hours before bed as they are both stimulants

Exercise 

 Moderate exercise is a great way to practice self-care. Exercise releases endorphins in the brain which help with stress relief and managing depression. Also, it helps lower cortisol levels in the brain. Research has shown that even minimal exercise is better than none, such as going for walks. Some other examples of easy ways to start exercising include: cycling, jogging, Zumba, swimming, and dancing!            

Hanging with friends and family 

 

Spending time with friends and family have many unexpected benefits. When around loved ones, you are more likely to make healthier choices. Research shows that adolescents that spend more time with family are less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. Also, talking about your problems is a way to easy worry and stress caused by these problems (which is also why therapy is good self-care too)! An important thing to note here, is that while spending time with friends and family is a form of self-care, knowing when you need alone time is very important. You don’t want to overextend yourself and spend time with people knowing it isn’t what you need to do. Sometimes telling your loved ones that you need to rest or study is okay. You also don’t want to neglect relationships and close yourself off. Trying to find the right balance is the best form of self-care! Don’t ever be afraid to ask for help from those who care about you. They will never think you’re weak if you can’t do everything on your own. 

This is only a short list of the many ways to practice self-care. The main goal of self-care is to do things that make you feel happy and healthy. As the semester goes along and things become more stressful don’t forget to take care of yourself! Sleep, eat healthy, drink water, talk to friends, or anything on this list.