Self-care strategies for our new-normal
It’s a bit of an unknown quantity, but we’ve been reading a number of reports from health experts and community organisations warning that everyone’s mental health is likely to be pushed to the limit as the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic continue to play out.
Even in the best of times, LGBTQ people tend to be grappling with a few more mental health risk factors than most. It makes sense that we should all be prepared for things to get tougher and more stressful in the months ahead.
What is mental health?
The term ‘Mental Health’ is such a broad category that it can tend to get a bit meaningless. In simple terms, mental health is distinct from physical health. You can see a broken bone on an x-ray, but something like depression is a bit harder to put your finger on.
We’re getting better at talking about mental health. There’s still some stigma that we need to work on, but mental health is not the taboo topic that it perhaps used to be. We’ve all got mental health issues of one sort or another – most of the time we’re able to manage our mental health challenges, but sometimes we need medication or counselling or other treatments in order to keep ourselves on track.
Is self-care the solution for mental health problems?
Sometimes, but not always.
Self-care is all about taking some steps to preserve or improve your own health. It’s things that you can do, without having to get assistance from pharmaceuticals or trained experts.
As a general rule, one of the main triggers for a deterioration in your mental health is stress of some sort. That stress can be caused by all sorts of different things, some easier to fix than others. But whatever the stress, a good starting point is to try and get some head-space so you can put things in perspective and figure out a plan of action. That’s often what people are referring to when they talk about self-care.
Obviously, some mental health challenges are so debilitating that they’re not going to be helped by a scented candle, some breathing exercises, or chamomile tea. If you think you need medical or professional help, don’t hesitate to get the help you need.
What is Self-care Sunday?
We’re not totally sure when or how this started, or who gets to claim the credit for it, but it’s definitely a thing.
Check out the hashtag #SelfCareSunday on Insta, and you’ll see what we’re talking about.
There’s over 900K posts of people sharing selfies and quotes and advice all celebrating the importance of taking some time out for yourself, to focus on your needs, and to make sure you’re not compromising your health by pushing yourself too hard.
Obviously, self-care is not a one-day-a-week job, but it’s nice to have a reminder to put some time aside and put yourself first.
Five easy self-care steps
Assess what you can do to try and improve your sleep. If you’re not getting quality sleep, this will directly impact how you’re feeling.
Options to think about include:
- Develop a sleep routine so that you’re going to bed and waking up at similar times each day.
- Make sure that your bed is comfortable. Do you need to upgrade your mattress or bedding? Do you need to reduce light or noise in your bedroom?
- Try and keep the bed just for sleeping (and sex, obviously). Try not to eat in bed, or watch TV in bed, or work in bed. If your bed is solely associated with sleep that’s going to help your sleep routine.
Your diet plays a huge role in how you’re feeling each day. You don’t need to rush into a new fad diet, but just be a bit conscious of what and when you’re eating.
Options to think about include:
- Keep a food diary to help you get some perspective on what your diet looks like throughout the day.
- Try and reduce the amount of processed foods you’re eating.
- Try and reduce the amount of sugar that you’re eating.
- Try and reduce the amount of alcohol you’re drinking.
- Try and increase the amount of water that you’re drinking.
The benefits of exercise go beyond just getting that beach body ready for the summer. A bit of exercise of some sort each day will help you to feel better in all sorts of ways.
Options to think about include:
- Try and include some exercise of some sort into each day. It could be as simple as going for a walk around the block. A walk around the block is exercise.
- Try and set yourself some exercise goals. That can be anything from walk further, to walk faster, to lift more, or do more classes. Setting goals will help you to feel like you’re making progress and achieving small victories.
- Link rewards to your exercise goals. For example, if you hit your exercise goals for the week then treat yourself to a new t-shirt (or whatever is meaningful to you).
Communicating helps. Talking helps. If you’ve got something that’s worrying you, or even if you can’t put your finger on what’s stressing you out, talking about it with someone is a good strategy to get some perspective on what’s troubling you.
Find a friend or a family member to talk with. It’s okay to be up-front and tell them that you’ve got something to talk over and you need a sounding-board to help make sense of it. You could do this face-to-face, over the phone, or using an online message service of some kind.
If you don’t have anyone that you can talk to, look at community-based help-lines. Generally these are staffed by volunteers and they’re a good starting point for some help in knowing where to start with whatever is worrying you.
If you’re not yet ready to talk to anyone about your issue, or you’re not sure how to talk about it, try writing it down. Writing down what you’re feeling and describing the emotions that you’re grappling with can help you to get a handle on things. Keeping a journal of some kind is a really useful self-care strategy.
It sounds so stupid, obviously we all breathe all the time – it happens without us having to remember to do it. But breathing exercises are a really powerful way to help you relax and bring some calmness whenever you’re feeling stressed.
There’s online guided breathing techniques and meditation classes you can follow. Sitting quietly by yourself, concentrating and focusing on your breathing is a great way to clear your mind and re-centre yourself so that you’re ready to tackle whatever life throws at you.
Take part in an event or activity
The disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has meant that many of us have struggled to maintain connections with our family, friends, and community – essential support networks that are often a lifeline when we need it most.
We’re all having to adapt, and find new ways to connect with each other and support each other.
Finding online solutions is one option in the new-normal of our post lock-down world. We’re also seeing the return of some real-world events that enable us to boost our resilience while maintaining the necessary physical distance.