In our fast-paced world, it’s not often we make time for ourselves. Someone else always needs our time, attention, or resources. Problems always arise when we least expect them to. Things happen at a moment’s notice that require our full attention. We go to bed tired, stressed, and worried, and we certainly don’t get enough sleep.
Through all of the madness, there’s one truth that rings true: we must take care of ourselves. If you’re not taking care of you, how can you help anyone else? When you board a plane, your flight attendant will tell you to put your own oxygen mask on before you try to help someone else. This logic applies to life in general, not just the oxygen mask.
Making time for yourself might seem impossible, but trust me—it’s not. There are enough hours in the day, despite what your job or other stressors might have you believe. Let’s look at how to create a self-care routine to protect your mental health.
First thing’s first: you need to learn to manage stress more effectively. The bad thing about stress management is that it’s something you have to figure out pretty much on your own. It’s not taught in grade school, high school, or even college (unless you take specific stress/conflict management courses). Learning to manage stress is actually easier than it sounds, but it will take some effort.
First, identify the things that stress you out. Is it your job? Your ex? Your spouse? Your children? Your schedule? Whatever your stressors are, write them down. Now, take a look at your list. Is there anything on it that seems almost silly to worry so much about? Your ex is probably a great example of this.
Once you know your stressors and which ones seem silly, we can focus on making some changes. Maybe you should stop talking to your ex altogether to save your peace of mind. Or, maybe it’s finally time to go after your dream job so you can ditch retail and foodservice forever. Stressors come in all shapes and sizes, but they all cause you discomfort. It’s up to you to determine which ones are worthy of your thoughts.
Routine Is Important
When you become stressed out, your body and mind look to familiarity for comfort. Nowhere is their greater familiarity than in your daily routine. Maybe you get up every morning and hit the weights. Maybe you always have half a bagel, a cup of coffee, and scroll social media in the morning. Whatever your routine is, take a closer look at it. Are you suffering from a lack of routine or too much routine?
Too much routine can be confining. Life is far too spontaneous to try to plan out every single moment. You’ll drive yourself crazy doing that. Likewise, life needs some level of structure, and no routine can serve to increase your stress.
It’s important to find balance. If you don’t have enough of a routine, try setting a sleep and wake-up time. Start with your sleep or exercise schedule. If you’re too routine, try cutting back on certain habits. The important thing is that you have somewhat of a routine to anchor yourself to when stressors threaten to unhinge you.
Some people like to include spiritual wellness in their routines as well. Spirituality can help manage stress and allow you to connect to a purpose greater than yourself, which many people find comforting. Using bible meditation for healing, praying to your deity, or just being mindful and grateful are some great ways to start.
Don’t Ignore Symptoms
When your mental health begins to deteriorate, your immediate reaction may be to deny there’s a problem at all. This is a common defense mechanism—it’s the brain defending itself against the unwelcome truth that you might not be ok. It’s important to recognize when your mental health is deteriorating, and to act quickly before it becomes a serious problem.
COVID-19 and all of its restrictions has shown us the importance of a daily routine. If you slept in at all during the quarantine period, you know exactly what I mean. Depression and anxiety skyrocketed with the onset of COVID-19, because of the fear, anguish, and unknowns that plagued every single day. It’s hard to stay focused and positive during such times, but not sticking to your routine makes it even harder to do so.
It’s quite simple—familiarity is comforting. Your mental health depends on having something to ground yourself to, and when all else fails, you still have your daily routine to fall back on.
Whether you’re suffering from a mental health condition or just looking to prevent any problems, it’s time to adopt a self-care routine. Protecting your mental health should always be a priority, but especially during things like pandemics, natural disasters, and all of the other curveballs that 2020 has thrown us. Hang in there—it will get better!