Why Self-Care is Important

The month of May includes observances like Mother’s Day, International Day of Families, and National Women’s Health Month. What is the common thread?  Women. May is also Mental Health Awareness Month, making this a great time to examine how people, especially women, are practicing self-care.

Are you finding a good balance between your responsibilities and adequate rest? Are you often feeling sad or anxious? Do you find yourself complaining about everything?  What about work?  Do you want to take a day off, but never have the time?

Women often feel pressured to juggle careers, home life, and maintain their appearance. The professional woman, the mother of small children, the cook and the housekeeper may all be the same person.  Or perhaps you care for children, grandchildren and parents. Women are taught from an early age to take care of others. Yet if you cry out, you can be labeled weak and emotional. And if you don’t cry out, you can be labeled with a few other choice words.

All the pressure and expectation to care for others can put a strain on your mental and physical health. At some point, everyone has a challenge with their mental health, although not everyone will battle a mental illness.  Mental health is a state of well-being.  Your physical health depends largely on your mental health and your mental health can significantly impact your physical health. Therefore, to best care for others, it is imperative to make self-care a priority.

There is often reticence and guilt associated with prioritizing yourself.  Who has time for that?  Consider when you take a flight with small children, the flight attendant always tells you in the event of an emergency to put your oxygen mask on first.

Sometimes there is also judgment and shame associated with mental illness. If you have a physical condition like hypertension, you take the necessary steps to address the situation, including taking medication if needed. You are not the condition. You are not hypertension, in that example.  In the same way, it is important to take healthy measures if you are not feeling well mentally or emotionally. If you are diagnosed, that is not who you are, it is a condition you are dealing with. Often the condition is treatable.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 1 in 4 women suffer from AMI (Any Mental Illness), which is diagnosed by a professional as a mental, behavioral or emotional disorder.  That is roughly 10% higher than men. Sadly, the numbers for young adults are even higher. Functionally, AMI may range from no impairment at all or mild to high. Others are diagnosed with SMI (Serious Mental Illness). SMI will cause functional impairment of some form. Some disorders are more prevalent in women. Women are twice as likely to suffer from anxiety and depression than men. Unfortunately, many women with mental illness have experienced abuse.

Changing your perception about making self-care a priority may be a first step. Prioritizing self-care includes seeking help if you feel overwhelmed and are not feeling yourself, especially when these feelings linger or when family, friends or co-workers express concern.

Other strategies for self-care include:

Becoming more aware of your thoughts and feelings throughout the day. Stay tuned in. It is easy to use time to dwell on the past or anxiously worry about the future. That leaves little time to live in the present. Living in the present, you can choose to focus on being attentive, kind, optimistic.

Surround yourself with positive people and uplifting messages.  It may mean cleaning up your choices of music, television, and social media.

Begin a meditation practice.  Learn to sit quietly, breathe and decompress. Becoming more aware of your breathing and taking purposeful breaths can be life-changing. Even right now, can you pause and take a slow inhalation? Now, slowly exhale.  Can you do that again?  Inhale slowly.  Slowly exhale.

Practice visualization.  This is another form of meditation and can be a part of your daily practice.  Making a movie in your mind of a favorable outcome and rehearsing that movie repeatedly can help to manifest it. In fact, you may already be using this technique but to your detriment. It works both ways.  If you rehearse negative thoughts, negativity affects your physiology, and you can manifest bad things.  Instead, opt for visualizing positive outcomes. It can positively affect your overall well-being.

Take walks or other things you enjoy that involve moving your body. Walk quietly or walk while listening to positive music or uplifting messages.

Exercise. There are so many options to choose from including biking, dancing, weightlifting, martial arts, and yoga to get your endorphins going and your blood circulating. Exercise can uplift your spirits for sure.

Do creative things you enjoy like gardening, singing or painting.

Eat nutritious foods and cut back on processed foods loaded with sugar, salt and unhealthy fats.  Studies show a correlation between eating healthy and mental health.Supplement. Consider taking good quality supplements to fill the gaps with what you may be missing in your nutrition. Get approval from your healthcare provider, especially if you are taking medications.

Get adequate sleep. For optimal health, the average adult should get at least seven hours of sleep each night.

Thankfully, today there is more of an effort to fight against the stigma associated with mental health and provide more education. This year the National Alliance on Mental Health is using the hashtag #TakeAMentalHealthMoment. Join the conversation by using this hashtag on your social media post this month. Call the NAMI hotline 800-950-6264 for more information and support.

If you are thinking about suicide, worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, help is available 24/7 across the United States. Call or text 988. Chat: 988lifeline.org. For Frequently Asked Questions visit samhsa.gov/find-help/988/faqs

Editor’s Note: Shannon Thigpen is a Wellness Coach and Yoga Teacher, and is the long-time fitness writer for the WOW. Visit shannonthigpen.com.



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