May is Mental Health Awareness Month
Would you leave the house without brushing your teeth, Margo?
For most people, likely not. What if we thought of caring for our mental health the same way? Especially as many of us are caring for others, self-care sounds like something nice to do, if we only had time.
The Self-Care Mind Shift
Years ago I was at a health fair, and I saw a woman who was incredibly fit. She was easily ten years older than me, and, I had to admit, in much better shape. “Pardon me for asking, how do you do it?” I asked.
“I make exercise a priority,” she said. “I treat it like hygiene. Something you must do every day.” Thinking of work and family and the myriad of things that fill my days, I thought, “Well, how do you do THAT?”
But in truth, this was more about a mind shift.
What if you looked at self-care as non-negotiable?
We often think of self-care as something that takes lots of time or we must schedule in advance: A trip to a spa or an appointment with a therapist. While I highly recommend seeing a therapist, taking time to reduce stress might look like stopping for three minutes just to pause and breathe. It could be leaving your house five minutes earlier so that you’re not stressed in traffic. Or it might mean preparing some things the night before so that you don’t have to rush the next day.
It starts with making a commitment to yourself. Say it out loud and be specific. “I’m going to listen to the Calm App for five minutes a day.” “I’m going to look out the window and just relax.” “I’m going to get comfortable in my chair and let my muscles sink for a moment.” “I’m going to call a friend.”
Study Stays…Prevention Makes a Difference
Whatever you do, the data says the more you can do on the front end to care for your mental health, the far less likely you are to slide into bouts of anxiety or depression.
One study on illness prevention showed that “managing daily life stress and helping recovery from adversity are important for mental health promotion.” (Min et al, 2013) Another study looked at preventing major depression and referenced behavioral techniques, such as breathing and relaxation exercises. (Muñoz et al, 2015)
Shift Your Mindset from “If I Have Time” to “I’ll Make Time.”
The mind shift is looking at things we can do to care for our mental health just like anything we would do for our physical well-being. We brush our teeth to prevent cavities. We build a daily practice of mindfulness to protect against depression and anxiety.
It’s shifting your mindset from “if I have time I will get to taking care of my mental health” to “I’m going to make time every day because it’s a real priority.”