Self-help includes activities we undertake to take care of our personal needs and well-being. It might sound simple but ironically, it’s something we most often don’t pay heed to.
Self-care should be part of everybody’s routine because it helps us refresh, recharge and rejuvenate. So, what does your self-care routine look like?
Good Sleep • Good Diet • Good intake of water •Exercise • Social Connectedness • Social Service/Volunteering • Recreation • Spirituality
There is so much more to a good night’s sleep. Good sleep is crucial for mental and emotional health. Evidence shows that sleep enables better thinking, learning, and memory and facilitates the brain’s processing of emotional information. A study looking at several countries in Asia revealed that about 5 in 100 Indians (above the age of 50) suffer from sleep disorders.  Sleep- disorders can also be grouped according to behaviours, problems with your natural sleep-wake cycles, breathing problems, difficulty sleeping or how sleepy you feel during the day. It is a fact that there is a bidirectional relationship between mental health and sleep. Sleep disturbances occur as a consequence of many mental health conditions. Poor sleep has also been seen to play a role in the development and progression of different mental health problems. Early intervention and treatment of sleep problems are shown to have demonstrable effects on reducing the risk of depression. People with anxiety tend to experience more sleep disturbances which are induced by hyperarousal.
It is thus very important to address sleep disorders. We can promote sleep hygiene by following a set of simple to follow recommendations
Avoid Caffeine, Alcohol, Nicotine, and other chemicals that interfere with sleep before bedtime • Comfortable noise-free sleep environment • Exercise during daytime • Reduce use of mobile phones before bedtime
There’s a strong connection between the quality of our diet, water intake and brain function. A healthy diet rich in essential vitamins, antioxidants, and other micronutrients nourishes and protects the brain from the oxidative stress of free radicals that can damage the brain cells. We should also drink plenty of plain water for effective health.
Unhealthy diets can also be a signal of poor mental health. Evidence shows considerable remission of moderate-to-severe depression after healthy dietary interventions. Obesity in midlife has been shown to double the risk of developing dementia at a later age.
Persistent eating behaviours that have adverse effects on one’s health could point to eating disorders. Some common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa
There is a growing body of literature that recognizes that regular physical activity can boost our mood, outlook, and mental well-being. It promotes neural growth and reduces inflammation. Exercise through various physiological mechanisms imparts positive effects on mood states such as anxiety, stress and depression. A daily exercise regimen can protect against feelings of distress, enhance psychological well-being and delay the effects of dementia and the cognitive decline associated with ageing.
How much Exercise?
According to the WHO guidelines, the general recommendation is as follows for adults (18-65)- 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity each week.
The exercise regimen can be tailored to our preference and of preferred intensity.
If a person suffers from a serious mental disorder, he/she can gradually incorporate exercise into their daily schedule. What is important is to focus on any form of physical activity rather than exercise per se.
Exercise and mental health outcomes
It is important to start slow and remain motivated in our exercise routine. Try to pick up something we enjoy. Exercise may complement other treatments and be used as a stress management strategy to improve recovery, help prevent recurrences, manage the side effects of some medications, and improve lifestyle practices and overall health.
Yoga and Meditation
The Indian practice of yoga has numerous physical and psychological benefits. There are many distinct styles of yoga (Ashtanga, Hatha etc) and you can choose the form that caters to your requirements. Yoga has documented benefits in reducing anger, anxiety, improving sleep and general upliftment of one’s mood. Yoga having roots in spirituality and religiosity is found to be effective in maintaining emotional wellbeing and peace. Breathing exercises, meditations and various asanas (techniques) in yoga can help in regulating blood circulation, releasing happiness hormones, and relaxing our mind. It helps to regulate body metabolism and acts as a protective factor for various physical and mental health conditions. Through regular practice of yoga, we can increase our attention, concentration, memory power, positive emotions, thoughts and mindfulness. Mindfulness techniques have also proven to have good outcomes in promoting mental health and wellbeing.
Our spiritual beliefs are personal and include practices that are good for body and mind. Spirituality can encourage personal empowerment and foster hope, forgiveness and purpose. These practices help us make meaning of the lives we lead, improve self-esteem and self-control. Mindfulness and self-reflection teach us forgiveness, gratitude, and compassion and coping with challenging situations. Spirituality as a daily practice helps reduce stress and anxiety by establishing structure, predictability, and consistency.
Family, friends and social connectedness
Social connection is a very important component of our self-help technique. – Lack of social connection can be more harmful than obesity, smoking and high blood pressure. Strong social connections and friendships are linked to better immunity and longevity. Low levels of social connection are associated with anxiety and depression. Building a sense of community makes you open to trust and empathy and in turn boosts your social, emotional and physical wellbeing.
Social Service/Volunteering/Supporting the Community
Can helping others help you help yourself? Interestingly research has shown that compassionate and kind people are happier, healthier and live longer lives. In India, we are very familiar with the concept of Seva or selfless service. Volunteering can give us a new perspective and develop a sense of gratitude. It promotes physiological changes linked with happiness. Social connections built this way helps to improve our self-esteem and reduce loneliness and self-isolation. An act of kindness can go a long way and encourage others to follow the lead paving the way to a more positive community.
Recreation is anything we do to relax or have fun or activities that we do for enjoyment. These leisure activities improve positive coping skills and one’s reaction to stress. These could be physical activities like outdoor sport, singing, engaging in musical activities or creative pursuits like painting.
Find an activity that you can immerse yourself!
Creative arts like painting, clay modelling help people deal with trauma and contribute to the reconstruction or maintenance of positive identity. Expressive writing or journaling helps put our daily experiences into perspective and make sense of trauma. Music can have a beneficial effect on brain chemicals such as dopamine and oxytocin and lower levels of the stress hormone. Studies highlight music’s positive effect on emotional well-being, including improving mood, decreasing anxiety, and managing stress. Another way to improve our mental health and wellbeing is to spend more time in nature. A walk in the park or open spaces can help us get our daily dose of happiness, a boost to our self-esteem, improved concentration and physical health benefits.