We’ve talked quite a bit lately about what to do when a mental health crisis hits your family. It’s important to have good tools to cope with an emergency. Knowing how to contact your insurance company, what types of care are available, and what questions to ask professionals are all vital to getting people the help they need. However, mental health care doesn’t only mean this kind of intense, professional intervention. You can do a lot for yourself to support and safeguard your own mental health, outside of any crisis situation. Not only will these skills help you in an emergency, they’ll also help you to lead a happier, more fulfilling life.
Our bodies and our minds are connected, so nurturing the health of your mind includes nurturing the health of your body. We’ve all heard these tips many times. Get enough sleep, which means seven to eight hours a night. Eat a variety of healthy foods, especially fruits and vegetables. Exercise regularly.
For many of us, those tips also came with a big dollop of shame-based thinking. What if we changed our thinking about healthy eating, for example? Rather than slogging our way through some hated vegetable in order to “earn” dessert, learn ways to cook veggies that actually make them taste good. Take a cooking class or buy a new cookbook. Learn to select fruit at the height of their flavor and freshness. Treat yourself to a morning at a farmers market. Follow your nose to succulent strawberries, peaches, and melons. Bring along a few close friends and make it a fun outing. Take a trip with friends.
Exercise can also feel like a chore, rather than a method of self-care. It just takes checking in with yourself to find activities you enjoy. Invite a friend to explore a local hiking trail. If you already have a gym membership, make yourself a playlist of your favorite music or download interesting audiobooks to listen to while you work out. If you’re not sure how, ask a tech-savvy friend or grandchild to help you out. Maybe you want to explore classes offered at your local senior center. This is also a great way to meet new friends and feel more connected to your local community.
Spending time with friends and family is another important part of tending our mental health. This was really hard for many people during pandemic lockdowns. As restrictions are loosening, we all have to adjust our thinking about what is safe. Health authorities have said that it is safe for people who have been vaccinated to spend time together both indoors and outdoors. If you, friends, or family members have not been vaccinated, spending time together outdoors is fairly low risk.
“One doesn’t have to be alone to be lonely. More than half of the lonely respondents in the UCSF study lived with a partner. To feel connected to others, it seems, the number of hours spent on relationships is less important than the quality of the relationship itself.” Quartz
There are lots of mental health benefits to being in nature or just close to plants and animals, even in the city. Having a picnic in a park or reading under a tree have measurable positive effects on people’s feeling of well-being.
Finally, try to plan for regular comforting rituals throughout your day. For example, plan to eat your meals with your spouse or partner. If you live alone, schedule regular times to see friends and family. Having people over for a simple meal is a low-stress way to nurture connection. Rather than scrolling through the internet to unwind, have your favorite music playing, read a good book, or watch a movie with someone. Drink a cup of tea out of your favorite mug each evening. Or open a bottle of your favorite wine. The important thing is to have regular moments of pleasure, connection, and fun. These routines help you to maintain your mental and physical health and will sustain you when challenges come up.
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