The basics of self-care are your first line of defense against mental maladies. Before you call in an expert or get a prescription, ask this simple question: Are you taking care of yourself? If this sounds like your Grandma talking, good. We’re starting at the level of chicken soup and sometimes we busy, important adults need to be spoon fed some common sense.
We’re living in a time of high stress. If you’re anywhere near the Bay Area, where I practice psychotherapy, this is all the more true. Unless you won the San Francisco Dream Home Raffle, you probably work too hard, spend more than you can afford and spread yourself too thin. We do this for the privilege of living here. Or we move. The good news is, if you do reside in Northern California, you have a plethora of pleasant ways to take the edge off, if you can carve out the time. Tennis, anyone?
Regardless of where you live, your daily habits have a huge impact on your mental health. Allow me to state the obvious, a la Granny, because chances are, you need to hear it again.
Sleep Enough: Do you feel a little rough around the edges when you don’t get enough shut-eye? Of course. Do you make a habit of not getting enough sleep? Our culture has a messed up relationship with sleep. We minimize it’s importance, placing more weight on productivity, yet we are less productive when we’re running low on sleep. Somewhere in the ballpark of 8 hours, give or take an hour, is a good amount for most of us. How often do you rip yourself off from your body’s ultimate repair time? Rest isn’t lazy. It’s restoration. Revival. Required. Take a tip from our teens and see if more zzz’s improve your outlook, energy and immunity.
Move Often: How much movement do you fit in daily? Research shows that the health benefits of short term movement every 30 minutes or so, throughout the day, is more beneficial than sitting at a desk all day and squeezing in an hour workout. Put simply, too much sitting is not good for you. Ideally, you’re getting up to stretch frequently and standing or walking between sits, in addition to taking an hour or so to focus on your fitness. If you want to change your psychological state, shake it up–literally. The boost from your endorphins will give you a lift, too. Motivation comes from enjoying yourself- so pick the type of movement that suits you best.
Eat Well: Everything you ingest has an impact on your state. Think of food as a drug. Would you take just any pill without considering the risks and side effects? No way. And yet, we casually make allowances for nutritionally devoid and harmful foods. If you’re munching out of a bag that lists a paragraph of ingredients, most of which sound like a chemical compound, stop. Realize you’re worthy of the finest fuel available and don’t settle for less. Take your food choices somewhat seriously–almost every time. (No Hostess Twinkie, but antioxidant rich dark chocolate gets the green light.) Like it or not, what you eat impacts you on a mental and physical level. Insist on real, high-quality, nutrient rich food and see how much better you feel.
There. I told you what you already know. Hopefully it was a good reminder to treat yourself well.
Recently, I was interviewed by the wonderful folks at The Native Society and asked what makes me the best version of myself. I realized that what sets me up to be my optimized self isn’t unique– it’s a short list of bases to cover that are common to us all. It may be perfunctory, but it’s the most important and honest thing I could share. Take a look at the Interview. I hope it reminds you to take the simple steps that create a solid foundation from which you can fly.