As a psychology student and someone who has struggled with anxiety, I am very interested in mental health and how we can look after ourselves. I don’t think self care needs to be a massive, time-consuming commitment – I think it can be achieved by simply taking a few minutes out of each day to focus purely on your own well-being. Here, I will share 5 small lifestyle changes that help me feel happier, healthier and more positive.
- Exercise. When you exercise, the serotonin levels in your brain increase. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter which is associated with reduced levels of anxiety and depression, so it’s incredibly important. Not only that, but exercise can make you feel a lot more in tune with your body and your mind. You get to recognise and push your body’s capabilities while clearing your mind as well. I can personally recommend running, cycling and swimming as they get your body working harder while paradoxically relaxing and clearing your mind. If you’d prefer to take it easier, going for a walk can do you the world of good.
- Spend some time with your pets. If I take the time to sit down with one of my cats for half an hour and just stroke them, it’s extremely therapeutic. Their rhythmic purring and happy, relaxed faces make me feel calmer too. You’re taking the time to make your pet feel loved, and in return they will make you feel loved. It’s a real win-win. In fact, studies have found that the routine, uncomplicated love and companionship offered by pets can be fantastic for your mental health. If you don’t have a pet, there are still plenty of ways to spend time with animals. I walk a dog for somebody who has mobility issues, and pet rescue centres are always looking for people to socialise with the animals.
- Actively listen to others – and yourself. Active listening is a simple, yet incredibly powerful, technique of listening to people. It involves listening attentively to others and really making an effort to understand what they’re saying. This can be through asking follow up questions and summarising what they’re saying in your own words. The feeling you get from listening attentively to others can also make yourself feel great. You can even adopt this technique to actively listen to yourself – try asking yourself questions about how you’re feeling, and try to summarise these thoughts. It can make you feel a lot clearer about what’s going on in your head, and is a good example of how taking just a few minutes for yourself can really make you understand your thoughts more.
- Mindfulness. I’ll admit, I’ve struggled with this. I used to think that mindfulness was all about clearing your mind of negative thoughts, which was impossible for me – the more I told myself not to think, the more I thought about stuff! Now, my mindfulness involve recognising that I will experience positive and negative thoughts, and simply allowing them to exist. When I sense a negative thought coming, I don’t try to combat it – I simply try to refocus on my senses. For example, if you’re walking and you feel your thoughts are a bit out of control, you can refocus by paying attention to the sound of your breathing and footsteps, the things you can see, what you can smell etc. It’s so simple but it’s been incredibly effective for me. You can find more simple mindfulness techniques here.
- Write things down. If you’re anything like me, you’ll feel very overwhelmed when you’ve got a busy day ahead and you’re struggling to prioritise tasks. One of the biggest steps forward in looking after myself is to get things out of my head and onto paper. Write your to do list, write your thoughts and ideas, write your worries. You can then compartmentalise and work out what you want to prioritise. The thoughts will be written down neatly, not floating around your head causing you stress.
I really hope this has given you some good ideas for taking care of yourself! I could probably write another ten ideas here, but I want this to be a gentle introduction to self care. You’ll probably find that you do some of these already, as they really are that simple. I’d love to hear what you do for self care, so please do let me know your thoughts and ideas in the comments! As always, thanks a million for reading.