We’re coming up upon World Mental Health Day this Sunday, October 10!
Fact: In the United States, the month of October is also national Mental Health Screening Month!
To everyone reading this, I propose a challenge. Let’s start a Self Care Sunday.
Every Sunday during this month, dedicate some time in your day to self care. That’s it! No matter how you’re feeling, everyone should do a weekly check-in on their mental health. Treat it like an annual physical appointment, except instead of tracking your weight, height and blood pressure, you’re doing a little bit of internal assessment.
There is no shame in self care activities, and I’m sure a lot of you may do these things every day without considering them to be “self care.” I personally love to start my day with a bit of yoga, which helps to shake out that achiness after a night’s sleep.
Here are some healthy habits to challenge yourself with, along with some scientific research that explains and evaluates these behaviors.
Note: This post is another submission for my Abnormal Psychology course at Endicott College. Find the previous post here.
1. Practice Gentle Yoga
Yoga is great for the mind, body and soul. Starting out with a simple stretch in the morning can waken your body up for the day.
I like to follow Yoga with Adrienne on YouTube. She posts some great follow-along videos that gear towards certain body parts or pains, such as a stiff neck, or “text neck.”
Besides the obvious benefits to the physical body, yoga generally relieves stress as well. Several studies have shown that yoga practice can alleviate feelings of anxiousness and have a positive impact on those who face anxiety disorders and panic attacks (American Family Physician, 2019). In a 2019 study, participants with anxiety and others with depression, both reported symptom reduction after several weekly 60-minute yoga classes (American Family Physician, 2019). While yoga alone does not act as a significant source of therapy, it has shown to produce only positive effects.
2. Bake Something
Who doesn’t love freshly baked cookies? Pumpkin bread? Cinnamon rolls?
Try out a new seasonal recipe! I’ve been dying to make homemade pumpkin bread with chocolate chips.
While this one doesn’t have any scientific research behind it, who DOESN’T feel happier when eating a cookie? Seriously. That’s your challenge for the month. Make something to give out to family, friends, or finish by yourself while snuggling up to your favorite TV show. Giving the gift of warm baked goods makes you feel warm and kind, too.
3. Talk with a Friend
Especially if you’re feeling down or stressed, talking to someone can be very beneficial. It doesn’t have to be about any issues you’re facing, either. It could be about a new pasta recipe your mom made, or how your favorite artist just released a new album, or even just spill the neighborhood tea because why not! (Pssst… tea equals gossip)
If you are looking to confide in someone about an issue or stressor, talking it out helps a lot. Therapy is not the taboo subject it used to be. Many schools offer on-site therapy sessions, and so many offices provide online sessions for those looking to talk over chat or video call.
Your friends can be pleasant to talk to as well. Many people look to confide in a friend because they’re easier to open to. You may also look for formal therapy because you can channel your energy into one person who will never judge you – it’s their job and their passion to help you.
The plus? You have confidentiality in a therapy session.
Therapists are bound by laws of “privileged communication,” or rather confidentiality (Barlow, 2021, p. 79). This creates a relationship of trust between the client and the therapist, as all communication is kept private. This means that, “even if authorities want the information the therapist has received from the patient, they cannot have access to it without the expressed consent of the patient” (Barlow, 2021, p. 79). However, the exception occurs when information given in the session may indicate potential harm to either the client or another human being. In this case, the therapist is required to disclose this information.
4. Listen to Music
That’s my happy medicine: music.
Listening to happy music can promote elated feelings, just as listening to sad music can intensify sad feelings. Music has even developed into a form of therapy, for both music listeners and music makers.
In Music Therapy in Context: Music, Meaning and Relationship, Mercedes Pavlicevic describes the intersubjective properties of music therapy. She elaborates that music therapy practice is, “complex, multi-faceted, not always logical or linear, and it generates meaning that is not just subjective or objective, but also intersubjective” (Pavlicevic, 2005, p. 16). Music engages with a lot of different feelings and meanings. It can be up to the listener’s interpretation.
Music can also be referential, meaning that it can remind a listener of a similar time they experienced themselves. Feelings of relation can reassure the listener that they are not alone in what they’re feeling. Music making can be its own form of therapy as well, for those who like to write.
Throughout history, humans used to believe that music did not embody feelings or emotions, but it was rather a religious experience. Instrumental music used to be considered sublime, as the purest form of music (Pavlicevic, 2005). In the modern world, many more forms of music have taken prevalence and popularity.
Put on your favorite record, get cozy in a fuzzy blanket or dance around the living room in your socks. That’s therapy to me.
5. Go on an Outdoors Walk
Walking in nature can be a great activity, no matter the season. This fall, you may have the chance to see some beautiful tree coverage of yellows and crimsons.
I’ve found that walking outside can bring about feelings of tranquility, gratefulness and contentedness. The simple act of going on a walk can help to clear your mind and eliminate stress. The exercise component of walking can be enjoyable as well, since it isn’t too intensive but still has some physical benefits.
6. Practice a Skincare Routine
Taking better care of yourself and your body is always a fantastic form of self care.
This can be as simple as remembering to take off your makeup before bed. Celebrate those little wins.
The more healthy habits you get into, the more you’ll see a difference. If you enjoy doing facial masks like mud masks or peel-off sheets, try them with friends! Or instead, enjoy a night-in with a hot bubble bath and face mask before bed. Intimacy with yourself is a great practice.
Physical acts of self care such as skincare can even alleviate feelings of depression. In a 2008 study, “The relationship between self-care and depression in patients undergoing hemodialysis,” a negative relationship was found between acts of self care and depressive feelings, meaning that when one rises, the other decreases (Sajjadi et al, 2008).
This 2008 cross-sectional study included random 60 patients undergoing hemodialysis treatment from hospitals in and around Iran (Sajjadi et al, 2008). The mean age of the patients was 42.6 and approximately 63.3% of the population was male (Sajjadi et al, 2008). Findings concluded that participants felt more independent and more accepting towards their treatment while practicing acts of self care, or hobbies and habits that they enjoy doing in their free time. According to this study, as participants focused more on self care, they felt fewer symptoms of depression while undergoing their treatments.
While washing your face at night may feel simple, it does count as an act of self care. It can have a much bigger impact on your mental health than you may believe.
Sugar scrub and chocolate cookies, anyone?
7. Write Words of Affirmation
What’s that? You know when you look in the mirror and say to yourself, “damn, I look good today,” and do that happy little twirl to show off your new top? It’s essentially the same thing.
Words of affirmation are spoken or written phrases that are meant to uplift you. It’s even considered one of the five love languages, along with physical touch, gift-giving, quality time and acts of service.
While it’s wonderful to say kind words to others, don’t forget about yourself! Telling yourself that you are strong, kind, beautiful, smart, and anything else that you connect with can help you to truly believe it. Repeat after me!
Some people like to write down their own words of affirmation. Others like to repeat the same few phrases every morning when they wake up, or maybe when they’re feeling stressed, or before they get in the car to go to work.
Whatever makes the most sense for you, try to incorporate a few words of affirmation into your day.
Meditation is so beneficial for the mind and body. A lot of scientific study has gone into meditation, how it affects the brain, consciousness and emotional regulation, and the benefits are evidently endless.
Tapping into the calming powers of meditation can even aid stress disorders. As discussed in Abnormal Psychology: An Integrative Approach, some psychological signs that you’re in distress can include trouble sleeping or oversleeping, feeling unmotivated, trouble with memory or concentration, as well as racing thoughts (Barlow, 2021).
Causes of anxiety and other stress-related disorders can vary. There can even be biological contributions. Increasing evidence shows that we can, “inherit a tendency to tense, uptight, and anxious,” as well as the tendency to panic (Barlow, 2021). However, no single gene can be attributed to these emotional and psychological traits, but rather a combination of genes (Barlow, 2021).
9. Watch or Read Something You Enjoy
Whether it’s a new movie or the same TV show that’s been growing on you, relaxing into the cinematic world can be largely positive.
Rewatching your favorite movie can be comforting as well, especially for those who feel stress in unfamiliar situations. Rewatching movies can be calming in this way, but also, who doesn’t love seeing a comedy over again?
If you like to read, this is a great activity to get into. Not only does it keep up your vocabulary and knowledge, but it’s also an enjoyable, personal activity. Sitting down with a good book, a candle burning and a yummy snack is 200% self care.
10. Go Social Media-less
For however long you feel comfortable, taking social media out of your daily life can have more positive impacts than not.
Whether it’s for a day, a week, or just eliminating use during the morning hours or right before bed, try to take some time away from the world of the web.
While it can be fun to tap through Instagram stories or scroll through TikTok, think of all the time you mindlessly waste. What else could you have done with that time? Maybe it’s an around-the-house project, finally getting around to painting your nails, or giving the dog a walk that he’s been looking forward to.
Get rid of temptations like those pesky Facebook notifications. The world will continue to turn when you aren’t viewing everyone’s profile statuses for a day or two.
Happy (Almost) Self-Care Sunday!
Tomorrow marks World Mental Health Day. How will you celebrate?
Barlow, D. H., Durand, V. M., Lalumiere, M. L., & Hofmann, S. G. (2021). Abnormal psychology: An integrative approach. Nelson Education Ltd.
Pavlicevic, M., & Trevarthen, C. (2005). Music therapy in context: Music, meaning and relationship. Jesica Kingsly.
Saeed, S. A., Cunningham, K., & Bloch, R. M. (2019, May 15). Depression and anxiety disorders: Benefits of exercise, yoga, and meditation. American Family Physician.
Sajjadi, M., Akbari, A., Kianmehr, M., & Atarodi, A. R. (2008, April 10). The relationship between self-care and depression in patients undergoing hemodialysis. The Horizon of Medical Sciences.