10 Self Care Must Haves (that aren’t bubble baths) for Mental Health Awareness Month

By: Dani Singer, LCMFT and Founder, Therapy Threads

As most of the GKCMHC community knows, May is a really big deal for Mental Health. Mental health awareness, education, treatment, and preventative care gets the spotlight for an entire 31 days, and there is a lot to cover. One of my favorite topics as it relates to mental health, is self care, because let’s face it, how well we’re doing mentally is very dependent on how well we take care of ourselves physically, emotionally and even spiritually. It’s all connected and it all adds up. If we slack on self care it impacts our mental health, and if we keep letting it slide, it’s how we can hit our lowest lows, and possibly “rock bottom”.

Self care has kind of gotten a reputation for being all about bubble baths, naps and vegging out watching Netflix. The reality is, a lot of it is “adulting” and doing things we don’t necessarily want to do. Isn’t it ironic how all of the “healthy” choices in life are often the more “difficult” choices? Ice cream or veggies … sleep in or go work out … watch TV or read a book … veg out on social media or spend time meditating … you get my point.

I’ve put together a list that includes the more difficult parts of self care. These require conscious effort and lifestyle changes – at the end of the day, it’s a daily practice rather than the occasional bubble bath. Establishing a self care routine can greatly improve and even prevent our mental health from declining.

Going to bed early vs binge watching Netflix

Sometimes after a long day, we want to escape into mindlessness – it’s so much easier to stay up late watching our favorite movies and TV shows. However, this usually negatively impacts our ability to wake up early (or on time) the next day so it’s a vicious cycle. It’s not a unique concept but not getting enough sleep makes us irritable, groggy and unfocused. It’s a really good life skill to be able to nail down a solid sleep routine. Good quality sleep is one of the most crucial elements to optimal health and self care.

Spending money on healthy food vs convenience

I think this is something that hits everyone at different ages. Some people could care less about eating healthy throughout their youth and teens, but get really mindful about what they put in their bodies in their mid-late 20’s. Or, sometimes it doesn’t hit home until a doctor tells us our health is at risk; but, hopefully our mindset shifts at some point. Yes, health food is more expensive, but there are certain things that are worth the extra bucks such as organic / grass fed meat and animal products, choosing organic, minimizing added sugars and chemicals, or completely eliminating processed foods altogether.

Convenience and saving money is the easier choice, and gives us short term gratification for yumminess, but healthy eating is ultimately one of the best preventative forms of self care. That doesn’t mean it’s not okay to indulge in some ice cream, a donut, or french fries every once in a while … but in moderation. Binging will only cause us to feel guilty, shame and physically sick … and most definitely doesn’t fill up that hole inside.

Breathing and calming down to respond vs. reacting  

If I only had a nickel every time I told myself I was going to practice breathing, walking away, taking a time out, or blow off steam in some way before I react. It’s never a good idea to react when our emotions are hot. That is when our sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) gets turned on and our brain is literally unable to think rationally or logically and comes from a place of fear instead of love and calm. It takes some serious personal awareness and control to be able to choose something different than our normal response (and our bodies natural one) when we are upset, triggered, or someone is being a jerk. New choices can include calming ourselves down with deep breathing; choosing a different way to see the situation (out of love and understanding); eliminating negative thinking styles (black and white / all or nothing thinking); or soothing ourselves in some other way before we say or do something. Once we start to practice being more aware of our emotions and triggers, and making a different decision, it increases our confidence and helps us form more positive beliefs such as “I can handle it”, or“I can control my responses” instead of feeling like “I can’t handle it”, or that “It’s out of my control”. Taking care of our emotional responses and triggers by using coping skills is amazing self care and it will improve every relationship around you.

Showing up when you don’t want to

Man are there times I absolutely don’t want to be somewhere! Especially being an introvert and knowing how much social situations suck me dry of energy. There are a million reasons – it’s  a cloudy, rainy cold day, I’m overwhelmed, tired, anxious, feeling depressed or wanting to lay in bed and isolate. It can be one of the most difficult things to show up when you have an obligation -work, meetings, going to the gym, lunch with a friend, happy hour after a long day, family functions, class, therapy, yoga class, etc.-when that’s the last place we want to be. Showing up ultimately helps us practice self care because with so many of those examples, they are obligations that make us a better version of ourselves. Kudos to you for showing up! It’s a bigger accomplishment than you might think but one you will respect yourself for doing.

Being productive or present vs spending time scrolling on social media

It is so darn difficult not to let “time suckers” such as scrolling endlessly on social media, playing games, watching videos on youtube, etc. drag you down. If you have lot to do or have a history of procrastinating these things just increase your stress levels. Choosing to read a book, write in a journal, work on homework, study, clean the house, do laundry, pay bills, take the dog on a walk, go to the grocery store … vs. social media is always a victory in my book. Then maybe at the end of the day, once you’ve checked off that to-do list, try to moderate your time on social media. (For example to no more than ____ minutes). Just like that dessert, let yourself have one serving, then say, “that’s enough” and do something else. In addition to wasting time and causing more stress in other areas, social media causes us to compare ourselves to others which can lead to depression, anxiety, low self esteem, envy.It’s just not a helpful, positive way to spend our precious time and energy.

Exercising or going to yoga vs see #1 above (binge watching Netflix)  

If you’re like the majority of people, exercising can seem like a chore. It’s something we typically can’t wait to get over and done with; however, it gives us so many short and long term benefits that are undeniable. So again, instead of binging on Netflix, set a workout goal. I’m going to work out ___ times per week for an hour, or whatever is a good fit for you. I personally like to do something physically active every day. If it’s not a workout, then I’ll go to yoga. If it’s not yoga, then I’ll go on a walk or horseback riding. THEN reward yourself with some Netflix and chill with the feel good endorphins that come from exercise.

Personal development vs staying “stuck”

This is something that is so telling of where you’re at in life. There have been many times in my life when I wasn’t ready or willing to make changes, even if they were for the better. Personal development is a mental and emotional choice that can often come from hitting rock bottom or some of our lowest lows. When we are ready, willing and able to embark on the journey of change; of personal development and improvement, it is a moment of spiritual healing. This practice can be draining, exhausting, and painful. We have to be willing to be really honest with ourselves, and experience things that are “USA”- Uncomfortable, Scary and Awkward. That is where growth lies. If we are unwilling to experience USA things, we are more likely to stay stuck. Either way, it’s uncomfortable. It’s more about which uncomfort we choose to experience. One of those uncomfortables will get us a step closer to happiness and our goals, and the other won’t.  

Nurturing and growing relationships vs hiding out

Another USA moment. Relationships are tough and challenge us to look at ourselves, our character traits, habits, and the things we say or do – under a microscope – to be scrutinized and studied. They challenge us to take personal responsibility for how we contribute to the relationship which isn’t always fun, and can lead us to avoid difficult or intimate conversations. One way that I’ve nurtured and grown my relationships this year is planning more one on one time with loved ones. Group and family get-togethers can be such fun, but you often miss out on moments of deep connection and intimacy which is something all humans are wired for. We need connection and belonging whether we are able to admit it or not. And if we are isolating and hiding out, that can be a red flag for depression, addiction, or another mental health condition that is producing shame. Shame tells us that “there is something wrong with us” – and tells us to hide. Reach out to someone and connect!

Allowing yourself to be vulnerable and having meaningful conversations vs. staying in the superficial

Part of achieving number eight above is vulnerability. It has the power to grow intimacy and connection greatly within ourselves and with others. It gives us permission to be open, honest, and to be our true selves despite our flaws. Vulnerability is liberating and increases self esteem dramatically. Vulnerability tells us to dig deep instead of staying in superficial discussions like traditional small talk (i.e. weather, day to day activities, etc). However, it is extremely scary and difficult to be vulnerable. Especially if we deal with perfectionism. It’s why so many people struggle with feeling their emotions, interpersonal relationships, humility, apologizing, forgiveness, grief, criticism, admitting when they’re wrong, owning up to their  mistakes, accepting personal responsibility and being soft in a world that often pushes us to be hard and tough. Being vulnerable is the first step to changing not only ourselves but transforming the relationships with others and the world around us. It takes courage to be vulnerable, but it’s the next step towards deeper meaning and connection. Check out this Brene Brown video about the power of vulnerability.

Being kind and compassionate to yourself vs. criticizing and beating yourself upThis one may be one of the more difficult things to overcome on this list. It doesn’t matter how well you take care of yourself physically if you are constantly kicking yourself with judgement, saying unkind things, and criticizing your every move, thought, and appearance. The mind is conditioned to be based in fear out of survival and it takes a lot of practice and a conscious effort to change habits that are decades old. One of the best ways I’ve started to shift my own mindset from fear and scarcity to love and abundance is through the book: May Cause Miracles by Gabrielle Bernstein. She guides  you to make mental and spiritual shifts throughout a 40 day practice. One of my favorite affirmations from the book is, “I choose to see this differently. I choose to see love instead of this.”

After you’ve established a self care practice … feel free to watch Netflix with a bowl of ice cream while in a bubble bath. There is no need to binge … unless you’re watching Stranger Things, then everyone will understand.

Want more self care tips, incentives and resources? Join the Therapy Threads Self Care Club today.