After establishing physical practices to take care of your body, the next important aspect of self-care to master is in learning to take care of your mind. Both physical and psychological well being lay the foundation for one’s ability to have good emotion regulation and experience emotional wellbeing.
Thus, psychological or ‘cognitive’ self-care is another important pillar of mental health, focused on control over one’s thoughts and mental state. Psychological self-care is the practice of paying attention. When you are able to become aware of the details of the sensations around you, it is easier to live in the present moment; and when you are in the present, you can more effectively abandon the resentment of the past or anxieties about the future.
Here are some ways to increase your mental well-being:
Make time for Reflection.
So often, life can be lived on autopilot, where we may be constantly moving from one activity to the next, never truly stopping to take stock of our current reality or to pay attention to the thoughts rattling around in our minds. One of the most important elements of learning to take care of our minds is to stop and give them a voice, to take a moment to listen, and to adjust our course of action as needed. Writing in a journal can help to begin to notice and identify patterns of thinking, or other thought errors, or even simply serve to quiet the racket of thoughts screaming for our attention.
Participating in your own personal psychotherapy can also assist in cultivating this practice of paying attention, and also may provide you with some feedback about factors outside of your awareness.
2. Practice Meditation and Relaxation.
An important aspect of psychological well being often seen in meditation techniques and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), is to practice non-attachment to our thoughts. Russ Harris, a proponent of ACT, states that mindfulness is “Consciously bringing awareness to your here-and-now experience, with openness, interest, and receptiveness.” When we engage as an observer or even researcher of our thoughts, we are able to truly notice our inner experience—listen to our thoughts, judgments, beliefs, attitudes, and feelings without the burden of defense. Focus on the movements of your own breathing, and become aware of your bodily sensations.
3. Explore Different Sides of Yourself.
Get to know yourself, and let others know different aspects of you. Experiment with your relationship with control, either by practicing your ability to receive help from others or by showing up and taking charge, even if it is just in some small way. Try letting someone else be the “expert”, or see what it might be like not to have the pressure to be the one in the family who brings the comedic relief. Increase your awareness of the role that you serve in the important contexts of your life, and decide whether you are happy with it.
4. Be Curious.
Spend some time trying on some new hobbies or attending events that help you engage your intelligence in a new way, whether that is going to a history exhibit, science center, sports event or theatre performance. Say “yes” to something you may be hesitant about, and give yourself the permission to try. Read literature or contemplate a work of art. Maybe even get in touch with the inner artist inside you.
5. Get Focused.
When was the last time you gave your full focus to something? Say “no” to extra responsibilities sometimes so that you can truly focus on what brings you joy. Regardless if it is completing a jigsaw or sudoku puzzle, reading a book, or working on a paint-by-number, engage in an activity that requires your full focused attention. Again, give yourself permission to miss that phone call or text, and relax into the knowledge that there is nothing else you need to do and no one that you need to respond to for a while.
Continue reading our series about the importance of self-care. Next up: Emotional Self Care.