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.
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.
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.
Let’s talk about sleep. According to the CDC one third of the US population struggles to get enough sleep. take medication to get and stay asleep. Our work, technology, and movement needs have changed throughout the years. As a result more of us have trouble falling and staying asleep. A good number of us turn to sleep aids – pharmaceuticals, alcohol, falling asleep with the TV on, doing more and more so we are “really tired”. However, these aids are often short sighted and do not help us access the deep sleep we really need. Read on to review key areas where you can shift your behavior and take control of your sleep cycle again.
Many people struggle with sleep because they negate its benefits. In our individualistic action oriented culture many people see the value of doing more over taking a break. Thus, they short their sleep in favor of getting one more item graded, one more report done, one more idea mapped out, one more treat made. In the long run this is a recipe for disaster. Your mind keeps racing with ideas as it gets trained to do more and those ideas sometimes become worries. Before we know it we’ve lost precious sleep time to thoughts, fears, and anxieties.
There are some key strategies you can do to end the cycle of not enough sleep, self medication with caffeine all day, and then being too wired to sleep well. Inevitability starting the cycle all over again.
Let’s start with the first and one of the most easy places to intervene: Time. Research shows that for the average adult 7-9 hours of shut-eye is best. That being said there are some exceptions – most of us are not those exceptions. Instead, most of us who get less than 7 hours or more than 9 have adapted to habits. Our bodies are amazing adaptions machines.
This does not mean it’s always adapting to optimal – it adapts to survival. As we shorten the time we sleep we impact the Hypothalamus – Pituitary – Adrenal axis. The body’s stress system. This impacts cortisol levels and fluctuates things like weight gain, inflammation rates, joint problems, pain levels, disease states, immunity, ability to concentrate and be productive, our ability to connect and play well with others, and energy balance needs (creating more carbohydrate cravings) to name a few. Today commit to making changes to get at least 7 up to 9 hours of sleep per night.
Below we will discuss how to do that. As I know some of you are like “WHAAAAT!?!?! How the hell am I supposed to do that?!?!?!”
One of my favorite tools to get and stay asleep, I love this ladie’s voice! Works to get to sleep and when I wake up in the middle of the night and have to get back to sleep. Jen Piercy, Yoga Nidra for Sleep – Powerful Guided meditation to fall asleep fast –
Next let’s talk about diet. What you eat all day matters. When your nutrition is depleted by poor food choices your body can not make the neurotransmitters and hormones it needs to restore itself to optimal health at night. By eating for your bio-individuality you give your system what it needs. Then during the night your body helps itself recover and prepare for your day ahead. In turn this keeps you from reaching for “crutch” foods to maintain your energy balance – sugar, caffeine, alcohol, quick carbohydrate.
These “crutch” foods can be ones that deplete the system, increase stress and inflammation on the body systems, and actually do not provide you with maintained focus and clarity you are really looking for throughout the day. Instead picking dense nutritious foods provides you with the sustainable energy while also giving your body what it needs to prepare for a good night’s sleep. When you choose foods that give you sustainable energy you are creating a positive cycle that supports your system rather than tearing it down. If you need help knowing where to start. See a dietitian or nutritionist to help you find your bio-individually meal plan.
Light and Sound
Now let’s talk about light and sound. Our physical bodies were made to respond to fluctuations in light. As the sun rises so does our cortisol helping us wake up. As the moon rises so does our melatonin helping us prepare for sleep. This system is often disrupted by things like electricity, sounds, and screens. Many of us keep our home lights on full force during the evening to help us preform tasks of daily living in today’s society. As we use this technology we have to manage it well. Start lowering your lights, shut off bright ones, close curtains, lower music, TV, other sounds. This allows us to work with the natural systems rather than fight against them leading to that “2nd wind” many of us have experienced.
In addition, screens are tough on sleep. They emit a blue light that signals cortisol and “wake up” like morning light. Plus the pixels move even when they look steady to our eyes. This keeps our brains awake and paying attention. Start turning screens off about an hour before your bed time, keep them out of your bedroom, and use a blue light filter if you do need to look at them prior to bed. This time frame gives you space to build a solid bedtime routine, which prepares your body and your mind to rest.
Finally let’s talk about the body. Our bodies ere made to move. Allowing them this pleasure helps them metabolize stress chemicals, focus the brain, and just plain get tired. This prepares us for sleep. Most of us do well to do harder workouts at least 2 hours before bed time and a simple easy stretching routine 10-15 min right before bed. This helps slow the mind by lowering the breath rate, signaling the heart rate to slow, and the brain to signal time to relax to the rest of our systems. Things like a warm bath, shower, tea, cozy clothing, weighted blankets, relaxing smells, all help us get into the physical system and shift it toward sleep. Plan to spend the hour before bed winding down with these activities helping yourself crawl into bed ready to rest.
Developing a New Sleep Hygiene Routine
Routines take time to develop. Here are some ways you can build your sleep routine to help you get to sleep, stay asleep, and wake up refreshed and ready for your day – no matter what’s on your agenda or when the coffee’s coming.
Complete all strenuous physical activity 2 hours before bed.
Have a list where you can place all items you are thinking about right now. Shift your focus to getting ready for bed and being done with today. Anything on this list will be addressed tomorrow morning, so you can rest assured knowing you will take care of it. Place the list by your bed to capture any ideas, thoughts, worries that wake you up in the middle of the night, remind yourself you will deal with the list in the morning.
Begin shutting down lights, closing curtains, decreasing sounds, and light 1 hour before bed
Turn off screens. Shut off the TV in favor of paper reading items, turn off your facebook, instagram, and email. If you must look at screens, turn on your night filter to eliminate blue light.
Spray your pillow, bed sheets, room etc with a relaxing scent like lavender or chamomile.
Brew yourself a sleepy time tea, settle in with blankets and soft clothing to enjoy it.
Take a warm bath, shower, or wash your face, hands, feet with warm water to signal the brain to begin slowing down. It helps if you use essential oil to help your brain really relax.
15 min before bed time, do a simple stretching routine. It could be moon salutations from yoga, or easy movements that feel good to your body, stretching all the ones you used today. As you stretch focus on the physical sensations of letting go and resting. Use props, blankets, pillows, your bed, etc. to help your body release any tension and really let go without worry.
Walk through the house, prepare to end the day – lock doors, straighten papers, shoes, etc so you can rest well. Nothing big here, just gentle reminders that you are done for today and ready to rest. Tomorrow you can finish the dishes or wipe the floor under the wet shoes. Crawl into bed, set your alarm, and turn off any soft lighting still on.
If needed use a guided sleep meditation or soft music to help you adjust and drift off to sleep. These can be helpful if you wake up in the middle of the night, too.
If you do wake up – do not panic. Just note, I am awake right now. Write any racing thoughts, ideas, worries, on your list, remembering to remind yourself you will deal with this tomorrow and by sleeping now you are better prepared to solve those problems. Use scents, mediations, etc as needed. If you do have to get up – say to pee – keep lights low or off and move slowly. Do not even open your eyes if you do not need to. Again reminding yourself it is time to sleep now.
In the event you cannot fall back to sleep. Get up and move to another room – keep lights low/off and movements slow. Curl up and get cozy. If you have to read use paper materials and low lighting. Maybe fix a sleep tea to help your system calm. The more you worry about being awake the worse it gets as anxiety sets in and you struggle to rest. Need more ideas here’s another article with 10 ideas for getting and staying asleep.
Self Compassion with Sleep Changes
In the end … Remember it takes time to build a new routine. If you have created habits around not sleeping or getting up throughout the night it takes some time for the body to shift. About 21-30 days. By practicing your new routines without judgment toward yourself you are setting yourself up for success. Many times, just shifting how you view your routine can be helpful. Move away from negative talk and toward what is working. Start by:
Shifting your sleep time by 15 min per week toward your ultimate goal.
If the list above is overwhelming, take on one change a week
If you wake up – DO NOT panic. Just go with the flow and remind yourself you are working in a positive direction. Be gentle with yourself and your environment.
If you find too much light (if you can see your hand move in front of your eyes with them closed after lights out) or too much noise, help yourself out and get a sleep mask, ear plugs, and/or a white noise machine.
Limit all distractions – pets in your bed, kids in your bed, partners. Sometimes a good pillow or separate blankets between ya’ll is enough.
How are you doing on sleep these days? Are you taking care of yourself or are you running ragged now that the sun is out longer? Don’t forget how important sleep is to your health. Here are some tips to make sure you get enough each night.
1) Create a calm sleeping environment
2) Play soft, soothing music
3) Use aromatherapy – scents like lavender can help calm you
4) Dim the lights 60-30min before going to bed
5) Take a hot bath
6) Drink a cup of bedtime tea
7) Follow the same routine daily
8) Keep your bedtime and wake time the same – vary it no more than 30min on each side
9) Get a good pillow and comfortable blankets
10) Eliminate TV, Computer, Video games (screen times) 30 min before bed – they keep your brain working
For some hitting the hay comes easy. For others it becomes a struggle night after night. Here are some ideas on how to get to bed easier.
From the time we are babies the experts preach bedtime routines. This doesn’t change as we get older – I think we just quit listening as closely.
Enjoy Mario, He’s pretty funny and has some good things to add to your routine!
Routines help us adjust to our activities of daily living so we can trigger physical responses without too much thought. Think about how you respond to a favorite song, a smell, or your drive to work automatically. Creating a bedtime routine can work wonders for those trying to get enough sleep on a consistent basis.
Here are some ideas:
Dim the lights around the house
Play restful / soft music – music effects our heart rates – think group x class – that’s why they keep the tunes pumping. Not what you want at bedtime. Pick something that soothes you and slows you down.
Use a calming scent – lavender, chamomile, etc – in linen sprays, candles, or sachets
Take a warm bath
TURN OFF THE TV & COMPUTERS – the screens are actually moving in ways your eyes and brains have to keep up with. So even when we may feel it is unwinding us, too close to bedtime it keeps our brains working hard making it harder to transition to sleep.
Drink calming or herbal teas
Invite your family to participate in the routine by reading together, sharing quiet stories about the day, or just being quiet
Practice yoga or other breathing / stretching activity
Whatever you choose to do use the same routine each day – creating a pattern of your behavior allows the body to become more in tune to it. This allows the body and brain to shift into the pattern easier. If you want to be able to shift into sleep easier try using the same music, smells, and activity routines each night to create a pattern for your bedtime.
So I’m a little behind this week! I was traveling and I needed rest when I got home. What’s so important about sleep? How does a good nights rest help your weight loss efforts?
Not only does getting enough sleep help your body restore as needed it can help you maintain a positive outlook on life. When your body gets enough rest you are more likely to make better food and exercise choices to support your health goals. It has also been shown that when the body is sleep deprived it tends to crave more high glycemic carbohydrate foods.
High glycemic foods are those that quickly impact your blood sugar levels. This is no surprise considering simple carbohydrates are our bodies quickest energy source. However, these are also the energy sources which may be short circuiting your diet. Things like white bread, sugary drinks, and candy may help you feel more energy for the short term but leave you more tired after the “crash”. Typically they contain less nutrients and cause you to consume more calories in order to meet your caloric needs.
Less sleep also contributes to the grand ole’ excuse of “I’m just too tired to exercise”. If you are too tired and choose watching TV on the couch over a brisk walk outside often enough – the pounds are going to pack on. A solid exercise program can help you get good sleep, too.
When we exercise our core body temperature rises. If it goes up it must come down. Research has shown as the body temperature comes down it is a trigger for sleep. By adding cardiovascular exercise (aerobic) in 5-6 hours before bedtime you may help your body prepare for and fall asleep easier and for a more restful sleep. Be careful in choosing your exercise times, as too much vigorous exercise too close to bed can have the opposite effect causing you to stay up later and shorten your sleep time. Because we are all different some may benefit from a morning exercise routine and others afternoon or evening.
We haven’t even talked about the hormonal effects of sleep or lack there of on the body which can impact how full we feel and how our body signals to eat. Both having direct effects on our caloric consumption, our waistlines, and our ability to exercise.
Bottom line – get your zzz’s for optimal health. Next time we’ll have some ideas to help set the stage for bedtime success.