Five Self-Care Tips for Optimum Mental Health

Here’s a great reminder about why self care is so important, along with some great ideas about how to make sure you are getting enough self care for yourself.

Guest Post By: Brad Krause at selfcaring.info

Having good mental health has never been more challenging in this age of information overload. You’ve got bills to pay, work deadlines to meet, a home to maintain, and a to-do list longer than the list of bus routes in NYC. You’re told that the key to good mental health can be found in self-care, but what does that mean? Life is complicated enough without figuring out a self-care regime, especially if it means signing up for Pilates and making your own kombucha. The good news is that self-care doesn’t have to be stressful. Read on to discover how a few simple practices can be a game changer when it comes to building optimum mental health. 

Focus on Your Sleep and Diet

Without sleep and nutritious food, you can’t function. This is why good self-care practices start with these two basics. Sleep and mental health are closely connected — you’ve got to get enough sleep for your brain. Your sleep can improve by following these 17 evidence-based tips. And while you might think that reaching for a chocolate brownie or a bowl of ice cream will help your mood, research suggests that this habit leads to poor mental health (not to mention a thicker waistline). According to research published in the medical journal the Lancet, “Diet is as important to psychiatry as it is to cardiology, endocrinology, and gastroenterology.” Foods shown to improve mental health include fatty fish, whole grains, lean proteins, leafy greens, and fermented foods such as yogurt with active cultures. 

New! Fitbit Charge 3
Track your sleep and movement for the ultimate attention to your health goals

Get Moving

Find a form of exercise you enjoy. Moving your body not only helps your physical health, but it also greatly improves your brain function and well-being. Research shows that it helps you reduce stress, boost happy chemicals such as endorphins, and improve self-confidence.

Find Time to Relax 

Take time to relax every day. Only you know what helps you unwind. For some, it might be indulging in a luxurious candlelit bath, for others, it might be taking a walk in nature. The important thing is to take some time out of each day to do something that gives you that “ahhhhh” feeling. One relaxation technique that benefits everyone is meditation or deep-breathing exercises. It’s as simple as finding a quiet place, clearing your mind, and focusing only on your breath. Inhale deeply through your nose so your belly expands. Exhale deeply through your mouth or nose, counting slowly to five as you exhale. Repeat. Do this every day for at least five minutes, and you’ll feel a positive difference. 

Clean Up Around the House

Declutter your life, as living among clutter and having too much stuff can lead to stress. Creating a serene environment in your home goes a long way in reducing your stress levels. Begin to rid yourself of anything that does not serve a necessary function or bring you joy. 

Decluttering not only refers to the out-of-control messes in our homes and cars, but it also refers to all the excess baggage in our lives — from our 1,483 unread emails to our relationships. As inspirational author Patti Digh says, “Sometimes our stop-doing list needs to be bigger than our to-do list.” Saying “no” to others is saying “yes” to ourselves and to our mental health.

Don’t forget to clean up the air around you, too. Studies have demonstrated that poor air quality can have a negative impact on your cognitive health and happiness. An ideal solution is to buy a quality air purifier. It will reduce the amount of pollutants and allergens that you breathe, and as a result, the cleaner air can make you feel happier and healthier. Shop around for the right one that fits your needs.

Foster Friendships

Build relationships. Overwhelming research suggests that people with supportive relationships are happier and healthier. Make regular plans with friends or family members. Reach out to a friend you’ve lost contact with, or join an organization, club, or sports team that interests you. 

You can neglect self-care for only so long before anxiety, moodiness, anger, and social withdrawal begin to kick in. In time, your sense of feeling overwhelmed can lead to a total sense of hopelessness. By practicing the self-care tips above, however, you’ll be well on your way to taking your life back and building strong mental health. 

Facing Fear With Movement

So, I’ve been listening to uninhibited women leadership online conference with Ashley Burnett this week and the topic today was about fear. I found it interesting to discuss fear and struggle to know what I am truly afraid of. I spend a lot of time working with people who are afraid, I talk about it most days for multiple hours per day, and here I am not sure how to label my own. As I thought about it, I came up with a movement flow to help you get to the essence of your fear … in case you are like me and find it’s a bit of an enigma for you, slippery, and hard to fully see. You know it’s there, but you just can’t make it out clearly.

Many are afraid of living the life they could, afraid of giving up a label like being depressed, anxious, female, male, successful, a failure – you name it people are often afraid to give up an identity, even if it’s one they don’t like. That identity has protected you in groups, helped you define who you are and who you are not, and maybe guided your path for a long time. Well, what if you could step off that path and become something else. Something more in line with who you want to be today. Would you do it? Would you be able to let go? Dive into the practices that can help you become your highest self, your personal best dream – would you do them?

climbing the stairs

It’s often difficult to really know what you are afraid to give up. The bottom line is who would you be if you weren’t afraid. This question offers you the glimpse into what you might be afraid of. Here is an exercise set to help you cut through the mental chatter and just focus on what’s holding you back. Movement always helps me see more clearly and decrease the mental chatter that clouds me.

Step One:

Complete an easy warm up or use this set in the middle of your regular workout.

Step Two:

Get a Tabata Timer – this is very helpful and there are a number of free apps that will help you do this (and other interval workouts). If you don’t want to get one a simple kitchen timer can work, your watch, or phone. You need to do 20sec exercise intervals with 10sec rest intervals – 8x.

Step Three:

Start by picking your mantra. This could be a question – what am I afraid of? What’s holding me back? etc. or a statement – Fear. Let Go. – you get the picture. Find a phrase that works for you and visualize it – maybe it’s a picture, maybe a set of words, etc. You want to truly feel it deep within you.

Step Four:

Begin a jumping squat tabata. With the help of your timer, you begin your jumping squat set for 20 sec, rest 10sec, 8x. Total of 4min. Tabata’s are hard, just know that. If you have to take a break, try to keep the movement going, even if you take out the jump or begin to alternate legs, etc. You want to be completing the full movement at the end of the set.

As you complete the tabata focus on your mantra or visualization. See what arises. There is nothing to do, nothing to fix. We just want to see what remains when it gets really hard to focus. Often this is the essence of the thing we can let go of, we fear, we want to transform. Sometimes we even transform it in the tabata. I’ve seen clients start with “I am not good enough” to yelling “I’m fuckin’ rocking it” with conviction by the end of just one 4 minute round.

Step Five:

Repeat Steps 3 & 4, this time with the thing you want to gain or embrace in your life. Again, take a few moments to breathe, see your goal clearly in your head, and find the right set of word(s) to represent what it is you really want.

Then begin another tabata – any exercise will work.

I often like to superset pushups, lunges, low rows, squats, high rows, jumping lunges/split lunge, plank hold. This order will get you a full body workout in about 40 min with 2-3 min in between each tabata for meditative work and visualization preparation. Finish with whatever core/abdominal work you are focusing on and a full body stretch. If you complete all the steps you’ll have an hour worth of movement with a meditation and self-growth focus. It’s not an easy workout, but one that will help you distill your thoughts into what you want next, see where you want to go, and help you feel confident enough in your own abilities to actually complete and live the practices you’ll need to reach your goals.

Have fun finding your FEAR!

 

*Please remember that exercise is physical and in the event you have a medical condition or other reason to be concerned about completing hard/intense exercise or movement that you check with your doctor.

 

Getting over the Plateau

How’s everyone doing on your goals? Hopefully, you are still progressing. Sometimes (approx 6wks) things get a little boring and may feel a bit stagnant. If you’re in that camp it may be time to change it up. You can do this in a variety of ways. What we want is to become inefficient again. Our bodies are smart and adapt to overload (i.e. exercise) fairly quick. So challenge yourself to do something different this week. Here’s a list of ideas to challenge you.

You can …

1)      Increase your intensity – make the movements bigger, faster, stronger by adding power (speed and strength together).

2)      Decrease your intensity – you might need a recovery week. To do this spend the majority of your workouts in the bottom range of your THRZ – don’t do this if you have been working at the lower intensity thus far – see #1 instead.

3)      Add new movement patterns – try a more complicated step or trail. You can also begin to add in more arm movements – this keeps your body more confused, not to mention your brain, and you’ll work harder because you have to think more. You can also re-arrange the way you do your movements so the muscles have to recruit in a different order.

4)      Add intervals or tabbata to your workout – intervals are something like 30sec on, 45 sec recovery (you can play with the times). The “on” set is all out. Tabata is 8 rounds of 20sec on 10 sec off (total of 4mins). Both are very effective at increasing metabolic rate and training the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems. Tabata a bit more so – if you try them both you’ll see why.

5)      Take a new class or learn a new exercise. You can check out strength training options at SuperiorWorkout.com on my video blog or YouTube. I go over a variety of options for major muscle groups. Or YouTube, ask a friend, look up Synergy Fitness, Inc http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXD69lc1OTY (this is one YouTube Video) or Alien Training http://www.alientraining.com/  – I like this dude (I get no profit from my recommendation. He’s got good stuff). Go to http://tabatatraining.org/ Great workouts, free, and more explanation on the method.

The New SuperiorWorkout.com Focus

I’ve taken some time off from blogging to complete my PhD. Here’s my new vision for SW.com …

It is time. Time to put some effort and thought back into reaching out. I have missed my regular forays into the experience of touching lives through writing. There is something pretty amazing about writing a piece from personal thoughts, experiences, and then put it out there. There is no guarantee that others will read, listen, like, care, yet when they are touched by a piece of what I have written it is a gift. When I hear stories of how folks reconsidered a long held belief, changed a behavior, or tried something new, and maybe even scary, with success or failure, it is a gift. It brings ‘this being human’ back to our interconnectedness.

And isn’t that what we all crave? The acceptance and belonging that come from being connected with others. Some of us require (or want) more or less humans in our lives. Some of us require very little human interaction and really prefer the animal kind of acceptance that comes from caring for a pet or animal in need. Others want an entourage. Both are fine and good. By embracing ourselves as we are and accepting the differences we have, we learn to live in less fear and more openness. There is no need to judge ourselves when we can accept that we are ok just as we are, because the person next to us is ok, just as they are. Thus, no need to judge them either.  Ahhh, the sweet sound of acceptance, so much more open and easy. This is the place to live from.
As I have transitioned my career from the fitness center (working with the body in physical health) to somatic based psychotherapy (working with the body in mental health) it has become time to broaden my audience once again. It has been awhile since I reached out regularly in the blogosphere or newspaper columns. As I make the transition back into writing I am creating a new focus at SuperiorWorkout.com. This focus brings together why I think your workout must be more than just exercises, more than just movements, and more than just thinking about and planning your new healthy lifestyle behaviors. This new focus brings the balance back into our lives. Borrowing from the concept of SuperiorBalance, Inc (which was the brick and mortar fitness center), SuperiorWorkout.com’s Blog will bring back the BALANCE that was the foundation in developing the business model that was part of programming at Superior Balance Fitness Center. Now I have a new shiny degree (PhD in clinical psychology with a somatic psychology concentration)
to guide the new direction integrating the body and mind as one unit, not two that share a boundary. All that learning taught me how the body experiences life rather than how to push it, direct it, mold it. I have found that as I allow for an unfolding of experience there is no need for pushing and prodding and working so hard (mentally) to accomplish a physical goal. So I plan to bring that openness, ease, and flow to SuperiorWorkout.com.
____________________________________________________________________________
BALANCE is needed in everything we do and many of us struggle to understand what it is, how to maintain it, and when it’s off. Here’s how I am going to use Balance to guide SuperiorWorkout.com:
B = Body
A = Activities we do for health – in work, home, family, physical, social – everywhere in our lives.
L = Love … and hate, along with all the other emotions that are an intelligence system when we read them right.
A = Acceptance of ourselves, of others, of the way things are. From this place of non-judgment change isn’t so hard.
N = Nervous System – We become dysregulated due to traumas in our lives. These could be big, small, relational, events. As a result we throw off our endocrine system and wreck havoc on our life. Learning to regulate is a very important task.
C = Cultivating Calm & Creativity. From this centered place life doesn’t have to move so fast, yet much more gets done.
E = Enlightenment – We still have to do the daily chores of living however we can do them with joy, being, and peace.
D = Diet … or anything we ingest into our system – news, food, relationships. How do you fill yourself up?

Body Mindfulness

I’m sure you’ve heard of mindfulness, and I would bet a number of you practice, but what about body mindfulness? Sure, in flexibility training, yoga class, or pilates you notice when you are asked to check in. What about when you run, bike, climb, shoot the ball, or skate? Do you focus your attention on where you are in space, how your body feels, and the sensations you experience? Here’s three steps to creating more body mindfulness.

Mindfulness allows us to focus our attention as a “Witness”. This allows space to observe what is going on around us and within us without attachment to the activity, thought, emotion, etc. From this point we have more access to our internal wisdom and therefore are better able to effectively meet the challenges in the given moment.

First, begin by setting an alarm on your phone, watch, oven timer, computer, or another way you can remember to do a “moment to pause”. Set it to random times throughout the day. This way you are training your mind to reflect despite your activity levels.

Next, pause when you hear your alarm. Notice how much you feel connected to your body. Stop whatever you are doing, take a deep breath and feel it all the way to your feet. Notice your feet on the support they are touching, then move to the legs – notice the front vs the back. Then your torso in space. Is is tilted to one side, twisted? Then pay attention to your arms, your hands, your shoulders. How do they feel? Finally, notice your neck, your head, your face. It may help you to close your eyes or choose a gazing point. Soften your gaze so you aren’t distracted by visual stimuli.

When you have finished the above it may be helpful to notice how in your body now. Is it different? How so?

Then return to your task and your day. Next bell check again. Notice any differences throughout the day. Over time this exercise allows you to gain more wisdom about your personal process, adds space in your day, and helps refocus your attention. See how you feel after a few weeks.