Practicing self-care combined with better stress management is key to maintaining your mental well-being
You work out regularly, make sure you get your strength training and cardio done and you are diligent about counting your macros, but how much time are you devoting to taking care of your mental health? Mental health is an essential component of overall health and well-being, and it is important to prioritize them throughout your lifespan. But the fact of the matter is that as we age, we face different challenges and stressors that can impact our mental well-being. Having a proactive plan in place for maintaining good mental health through practicing self-care and developing stronger stress-management skills will better help you cope with life’s challenges.
Make self-care part of your routine.
One of the most important strategies for maintaining mental health and well-being as you age is to prioritize self-care. Self-care includes activities that help you relax, recharge, and nurture your physical, emotional, and mental health. Self-care can be different for each individual but some key ones include:
- Exercise: Physical activity has numerous benefits for mental health, including reducing stress, improving mood, and increasing self-esteem. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends aiming for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week.
- Healthy eating: Eating a healthy, balanced diet can improve mood, energy levels, and overall well-being. It is important to include a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins in your diet, and to limit intake of processed and sugary foods.
- Adequate sleep: Getting enough sleep is essential for good physical and mental health. The National Institute on Aging recommends adults aim for seven to nine hours of sleep per night. When you don’t get enough zzz’s, your overall health suffers. Poor sleep can lead to a variety of problems, including irritability, difficulty concentrating, and an increased risk of health problems.
- Social connections: Strong social connections are more key to good health than you may realize. Your social networks can provide a sense of belonging, reduce stress, and improve mood. Make an effort to maintain and cultivate social connections, whether through in-person interactions or virtual ones; organize that book club you’ve been thinking about, or join the local pickleball hours at the community centre.
- Engage in activities that you enjoy: This is when the form self-care takes is very personal. Doing activities that you enjoy can help to lift your mood and provide a sense of accomplishment and purpose. For one person it might be taking a bubble bath or going to the spa and for another, it may be going for a hike with their dog or curling up with a great book. No matter how busy your schedule is, carve out the time to do the things that truly resonate with you.
Strengthen your stress-management skills.
A certain level of stress is a normal part of life, but when it becomes chronic, it can have a negative impact on your mental health. Arm yourself with a toolbox that will enable you to work through everyday stressors:
- Exercise regularly: Keeping active can be a powerful stress-buster. It can help to release endorphins, which are natural mood boosters and can also provide a sense of accomplishment and control.
- Practice deep breathing: The practice of deep breathing is a simple, yet effective, stress management technique. It involves taking slow, deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth, focusing on the breath as it moves in and out of the body. Deep breathing can help to relax the body and calm the mind. If you’re interested in learning how changing how you breathe can impact your health, check out the New York Times Bestseller Breathe: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor.
- Practice meditation: Meditation is a practice that involves focusing the mind on a particular object, thought, or activity to train attention and awareness. Research has shown that meditation can reduce stress, improve mood, and increase self-awareness. There are many different forms of meditation, so if one form doesn’t resonate with you, explore a different option. One easy and cost-effective way to get started is by trying a meditation app, such as Calm or Headspace.
- Improve your time management skills: Managing your time effectively can help reduce stress by ensuring that you are able to complete tasks in a timely manner. This can involve setting priorities, creating a schedule, and learning to say no to non-essential activities.
- Seek support if you need help: If you are feeling overwhelmed or very anxious consistently, it may be time to get help. This can involve talking to a trusted friend or family member, seeking the help of a therapist, or joining a support group. Sharing your feelings and experiences with others can provide a sense of connection and validation, and can also help you to develop strategies for coping with stress and anxiety. One positive outcome of the past few years is the growth in popularity of online therapy–virtual appointments with a licensed professional through sites such as betterhelp.com makes therapy much more accessible.