What does ‘self-care’ mean to you? For some, it may conjure up images of bubble baths and massage; for others it might look like a dynamic yoga class and green juice; and for others it may simply look like getting a decent night’s sleep. The phrase ‘self-care’ has made its way firmly into the center of the wellbeing world over the last several years and established itself as an important part of health. Whilst self-care is indeed a vital part of wellbeing, most of it tends to focus upon physical wellbeing in the form of exercise, nutrition or sleep, forgetting that beneath these practices that care for physical health, there’s something much more valuable to care for ; mental health. Self-care isn’t just about what you eat for breakfast or how committed you are to a daily yoga practice; it’s about being kind to yourself even on those days the ‘inner critic’ is especially loud. It’s about learning how to navigate the sometimes murky waters of the mind, and to honor our emotions no matter what. This Mental Health Awareness Week we want to share a three-step practice to help care for your mental health, because true wellbeing starts on the inside. Try these simple tips to show your mind some love this month.
Be With What Is
We all experience sadness, stress, anxiety or darkness to varying degrees – it’s part of the human experience. Emotions are simply the way the body reacts to different stimulus; a poor night’s sleep or work deadline can heighten anxiety levels, whilst a chemical imbalance in the brain can lead to feelings of depression – there’s nothing at all wrong with feeling down, it’s a natural part of life. Hopefully it’s no secret by now that those idealistic and happy images we see of others on social media often aren’t real, and that the person on the other side of the screen is probably experiencing the same nagging anxiety or underlying worry you’re familiar with. Knowing you’re not alone is the first and vital step to mental health self-care, and accepting that feeling not-so-great is sometimes what it feels like to be a human. Breath-awareness is a great way to calm the nervous system and allow us to observe thoughts and feelings in a non-judgemental way. Set yourself up in a gentle supported back bend using the Yogamatters Organic Cotton Bolster and allow yourself to observe without getting caught up in what you find. Tisserand’s Little Box of De-Stress can add therapeutic scents to each breath to help bring you into a state of relaxation too. When we feel emotional discomfort, instead of pushing these feelings away, it’s important to honor them and accept the reality of what we’re experiencing, only then can we work with them and overcome them.
Writing down how we feel might not seem like a profound practice, but it really can shift how we’re feeling in a very short amount of time. When we keep thoughts and emotions locked up, they often cause more harm, and can even manifest as physical symptoms like back pain and headaches. A stream-of-consciousness journaling practice can help transport those thoughts out of your mind and onto the paper in front of you, where you’ll be able to see them from a different perspective. Thoughts seem a lot bigger and more distressing when we can’t see them, but when we write them down on paper and bring them out into the world, we can more objectively look at them, and they have less power over us. The Elizabeth Gilbert You Are Safe journal is a comforting, cloth-covered safe space to write down anything that comes to mind. Many people are afraid of taking this step, because it means accepting how we feel and owning up to difficult emotions, but this is one of the best things you can do to start making a positive difference.
The Three Basics
Whenever I feel down, I always check in with myself to consider whether I’ve covered the three basics; sunlight, food and water. Humans share a lot of our basic needs with plants; we need enough sunlight in order to balance our circadian rhythms and help stimulate dopamine (a neurochemical responsible for motivation), enough water to hydrate our cells and allow the brain to function properly, and enough food (specifically fats and B vitamins in this case) to care for the nervous system and support a stable mood. Caring for your mental health definitely doesn’t have to mean taking on elaborate rituals, just ask yourself; have you been outside today? Are you drinking enough water? Have you eaten well today? Bring the W&P Porter Water Bottle with you to ensure you stay well hydrated throughout the day, and choose recipes from Beauty Water: Everyday Hydration Recipes For Wellness & Self-Care for an extra dose of love in every sip. If there’s an activity you know you enjoy doing, you might also consider whether you’ve engaged with it recently. Do you love gardening, singing, playing football or dancing? When was the last time you did it?
Find Your Tribe
There’s no denying we need community. The last couple of years have shown us how much humans suffer when we’re separated and isolated, and studies show that even in order to sleep properly, our brains need to sense that we’re not lonely and that we have support. Step 4 of self-care for mental health is about talking to someone and sharing how you feel. Much like journaling, this can be a challenging but incredibly powerful step. Speaking to someone else – whether a friend, family member or mental health care provider, gives us the opportunity to shift those thoughts and emotions out of the dark and mysterious mind, and into the world where we can start working with them. Remember that absolutely everyone has moments of mental health difficulty, and that talking to someone about it is something people have done for centuries to support each other. If you feel a friend or family member would benefit from talking, this is also a good opportunity to reach out and offer your support too.
If you’ve practiced the first four steps but still aren’t feeling better – go back to step one and be compassionate towards yourself again, then move through the steps and consider connecting with a professional for more care. If you’ve practiced steps 1-4 and feel better however, I can’t tell you enough how important it is to keep going! If we’ve overcome a physical or mental challenge and start to feel better, it’s common to start letting go of the very practices that helped us in the first place, which can lead to old unhelpful patterns re-emerging again. Just as we might commit to a regular yoga practice or gym class, nutrition plan or sleep schedule for physical self-care, committing to journaling, meditation, therapy, and the three basics are all important parts of mental health self-care, so show yourself some love with this 5-step practice this month.
Emma is a 500hr qualified Yoga teacher, musician, massage therapist, cook, and writer. Having grown up surrounded by Yoga and meditation, Emma began her practice at a young age and has continued to study and develop her understanding of Yoga on a daily basis. Training internationally with inspirational teachers, Emma’s passions her now lie primarily in philosophy and Yoga off the mat. Emma currently teaches regularly in Sussex, co-leading teacher trainings, retreats, workshops and kirtans, and also manages the Brighton Yoga Festival.