Welcome to 2023! As we near the start of the 4th year of the pandemic, health goals are top of mind and a focus this time of year.
What does that mean for you? Deciding to go back to the gym, or finally getting started on that new diet?
For most people, the goals and resolutions set for the New Year quickly burden the already crowded ‘to-do’ list. We feel behind before we start, leaving us unmotivated and more frustrated than when we began.
Instead of trying to add things to our already full schedules, we need to re-evaluate what we already do and decide if this supports our well-being. A person cannot be well, if he or she is not healthy in mind and body.
Mental health is health. And self-care is a part of quality mental health. Someone struggling with mental health issues is at higher risk for heart disease, diabetes, lung conditions and GI disorders.
To take care of your body, you must also take care of your mind.
Reframing the Idea of Self-Care
Self-care for your mental health isn’t just another New Year’s resolution. The last few years have been very hard for many people, and mental health issues have been rising because of changes in the economy and the COVID-19 pandemic. We are all exhausted, over-stressed, under-slept and our brains are overloaded. Just because these feelings are common, does not mean they are normal.
The sneaky truth is that most things we do to bring us ease and escape are false comforts. They leave us feeling more tired, depressed and anxious; and less available to live the life we imagine for ourselves.
It is time to reframe the idea of self-care.
Self-care is not selfish. Self care is restorative and energy giving. Selfishness is transactional (getting more so someone has less) and energy taking. Self-care is essential for us to be our healthiest, and it does not have to be one more thing to do. Rather, it is often taking something off the list.
Small Changes with Big Impact
What priority do you want to be in your life? Often, we get into patterns of choice (habits) that are unintentional and not representative of what we would consciously choose for ourselves. When we invest our time doing things not representative of our priorities, we increase our risk of mental distress.
Here are a few tips to help you prioritize your mental and physical health:
Write down every task or activity you do during the day. Be honest about how much time you spend on each thing.
Evaluate the top 5 things you spend the most time on. Is this reflective of your priorities? If you are not sure, write a separate list with your top 5 priorities. Are there things on the time list that do not support any of the things on the priority list? This is where you can make a big impact by decreasing time on something you do not truly value and make space for something more purposeful.
Screens are part of our life. Perform the exercise above and actively decide if you like how much time you are investing watching a screen. If you want to cut down, remove the apps from your phone that you use to ‘space-out’ or ‘numb’ uncomfortable feelings. Silence the constant distraction of alerts and turn off the 24 hour news cycle, opting to read your news, instead of watch it. And for a bonus, stop using the phone an hour before bed to improve your sleep quality and settle your mind.
Replace the glasses of wine at night with herbal tea. Alcohol may help you fall asleep, but not stay asleep and it disrupts healthy brain wave patterns.
If you are constantly feeling drained or more anxious and depressed after interacting with someone it is likely there are not healthy boundaries in place.
These small steps add nothing to the to-do list. They create space in our lives that supports positive mental well-being and sleep quality, easing feelings of anxiety, and depression.
Evaluating Your Mental Health
We all have good days and bad days, but you may need to focus more on self-care if your down days extend into down weeks. Ask yourself a few questions:
- Am I using alcohol or drugs to decompress at the end of the day more than three times
- Are there relationships at home, work, or school that make me feel sad, mad, or
- Do I have more than three nights each week with less than six hours of sleep?
- Have I had more depressed days than good days in the last two weeks?
If you answered “yes” to two or more of these questions, consider taking a quick test online. The GAD-7 and PHQ-9 tests were created to help providers determine the best individualized treatment for mental health issues. It’s key to answer each question honestly. Just like the results of a blood test, your answers can help guide your Holston Medical Group providers on the best approach to treat your mind and body.
Talk to Your Provider
There’s a common misconception that a primary care provider doesn’t deal with mental health, but that’s not true. We are here to care for all of you – physical and mental health combined. We’re here through it all, and we can help you understand what your answers on these tests mean.
Your primary care provider can share mental health resources in your area and tips to make self-care part of your daily routine. They can explain how to make it a normal part of life—not just another thing to add to your to-do list!
Still, many people are nervous talking about mental health, even with their trusted provider. So, here are a few easy ways to start the conversation:
- Say, “I took this online test, and here are my results. What do they mean?”
- Talk about certain symptoms you’ve noticed, like not sleeping or eating well.
- Tell your provider how your daily routine has changed and how you feel.
If you don’t have a trusted provider yet, call to schedule an appointment at HMG today. I often tell people to compare self-care to their hearts. Your heart keeps your entire body nourished with the blood it pumps. But before it can do that critical act to keep the body alive, it first has to pump blood to itself.
Just like your heart, caring for yourself is a generous act that allows you to then go into the world and help others. As your health partner for life, we’re here to help you make this a priority.