Taking care of yourself is arguably more important now than ever. But it can be hard to know what exactly will do you the most good. Should you make sure to run every day? Should you turn the TV off for a bit of an extended break? Is screen time OK or what? How much do Zoom happy hours really help? There are so many things you can do to take care of yourself, but therapists (AKA self-care experts) can help you distinguish which are the very best.
Luckily, Heidi McBain, MA, LMFT, LPC, PMH-C, a licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in counseling for women and moms, is on-hand to sort out the self-care superstars from the mess of meh.
Meditation can be really difficult for beginners, but if you’re thinking about starting a good-for-you, new-to-you hobby, there’s no better time. McBain suggested listening to guided meditation to help keep yourself in tip-top shape right now. Plus, any meditations that are guided are going to be much more approachable for beginners. Consider using a meditation app or taking advantage of the guided meditation videos available on that exercise app you already pay for. There are also plenty of free meditation videos available on YouTube. Just search “meditation” and scroll to find one that speaks to you.
If you kept a journal or diary in your younger years, you’re already loosely familiar with what this entails, but journaling as an adult can be seriously beneficial. McBain suggested making this a part of your self-care routine during this time because, like her other suggestions, “They help you feel more centered and grounded in your everyday life, which can be very helpful right now with the heightened levels of anxiety, stress, and grief and loss that are all around us.”
But the benefits go beyond that. According to the American Psychological Association, research in New Zealand has shown journaling consistently could boost your immune system. Some people also say it helps increase their self-confidence, sleep, and more, according to The New York Times. Find what works for you when journaling and go with it—you can always adjust your system later on.
3. Actually go to bed at your bedtime
If you find yourself up at all hours these days, you’re far from alone. According to Health, insomnia, nightmares, “fragmented sleep,” and other issues are all pretty common right now. McBain said that one of the best ways that you can take care of yourself, however, is “getting a good amount of sleep for you,” (because everyone does best with different amounts, though the National Sleep Foundation recommends adults get about 7-9 hours of sleep each night). Figure out how much you need and do your best to actually get it. If you’re not getting up at a certain time each day, you might find it easier to hit your sleep goals, but if you’re dealing with anxiety and struggling with sleep and needing to get up early in the morning, it can be more challenging. Do your best to address your stress and anxiety and try to get as close to the amount of sleep that you need as you can.
4. Find time for a workout
You might normally feel that your workouts are specifically for your physical body (and they are!), but right now, you may find that your regular workout is having a big-time effect on your mental health. McBain advised fitting in some time to exercise as part of your self-care routine. Consistent exercise can even help decrease symptoms of anxiety, according to Everyday Health, which means that in addition to just making you feel better during the day, it may help act as reinforcements when it comes to sleep support.
5. Drink enough water
You might not think that the amount of water you drink each day has much to do with self-care, but McBain noted that drinking lots of water is one of the best things you can do to take care of yourself. According to Greatist, the Institute of Medicine recommends that healthy adults get about 9-13 cups daily, but you might need more if you’re exercising a lot, spending time in heat, or eating a lot (or not) of vegetables. If you’re not sure how much water you should be drinking each day, check with your doctor.
Why is it so important to make sure you’re drinking enough? Water intake can affect your energy levels, brain, bowel movements, and more, as per Healthline. Make sure you’re getting enough to help your body be at its best.
6. Be more mindful
McBain said that practicing more mindfulness by focusing on your senses can also be a good way to take care of yourself right now. According to Healthline, practicing mindfulness and paying closer attention to things that normally go unnoticed or overlooked may help minimize the anxiety you could be feeling.
Forms of healthy self-care are really important to prioritize right now, McBain noted. “It can help you better manage your heightened feelings and emotions so you can be the best version of yourself, even during a pandemic,” McBain said. “Self-care can also help break up the monotony of everyday life right now, as well as help you feel better from the inside out.”
7. Load up on veggies
Comfort food might feel comforting in the moment, but one way you can truly take care of yourself is to eat a healthy diet, McBain said. According to Harvard Health Blog, what you eat can have an impact on your mood. Studies have compared typical “Western” diets to others that focus heavily on fruits and vegetables, and the risk for depression in the latter was 25-35 percent less. These kinds of things might be what makes all the difference.
What shouldn’t you do right now? “Anything that’s not helpful to your healing; coping mechanisms that aren’t helping during this hard time,” McBain said. “For example, there seems to be a higher level of emotional eating/stress snacking right now, which is leaving people not feeling good about themselves.” Though it can be easy to throw all routines out the window when you’re going through a difficult time (which, to an extent, might help—no need to be a perfectionist right now), focusing on the good habits you can lean into to help you feel better might be a better way to go.
If doing your best to take care of yourself still isn’t getting you where you need to be, you can also reach out for some professional help. “Online therapy can be a great place [to] get help and support from a trained therapist during this hard time,” McBain said. Just because you can’t go into a therapist’s office right now, that doesn’t mean that you have to struggle on your own.
DISCLAIMER: This is for informational, educational, and marketing purposes only. It does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional therapy, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, mental-health professional, or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical/mental health condition.