By Chris Tobias
Long before the COVID-19 pandemic, we faced a mental health crisis in New York City. New Yorkers experience mental illness, substance misuse, and daily struggles with anxiety or depression every day. The COVID-19 pandemic has only amplified these issues, especially with the lockdown, changes, and adaption to the new “normal.” There was a time when discussing mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety or social phobias, was completely taboo. Luckily, society has made strides in recent years, allowing for more open conversations about such issues. Given that roughly a quarter of Americans experience mental health issues (per Johns Hopkins), there are plenty of conversations to be had, indeed. Increasingly, professionals and individuals alike are discussing the importance of “self-care,” or taking the necessary time to address your own needs and ensure you maintain your mental health. These actions can help individuals live not just happier lives, but longer ones as well. Depression, anxiety, and stress have all been shown to take years off the lifespans of otherwise healthy individuals. Practicing some of the tips below can help restore a sense of balance and improve an individual’s overall wellbeing.
1. Set Aside the Appropriate Time for Sleep
The importance of this self-care tip cannot be overstated. Sure, there are always things to do. There always will be. Depriving yourself of sleep to accomplish tasks, however, is counterproductive. First, there will still be more to do the following day. Secondly, you’ll be running at a less efficient pace if you’re not getting the appropriate sleep, making it take longer to accomplish items than it usually would. This can create a cycle where you’re perpetually behind, thus skipping on sleep, which makes you fall further behind. Insufficient sleep can also cause long-term health issues and has also been linked to increased anxiety and stress. No matter what other steps you take to improve your physical and mental health, they’ll all be for nothing without adequate rest. Try keeping to something like a routine on worknights to help your body build a natural rhythm.
2. Schedule Time for Yourself
It is easy to get caught up in the daily tasks and responsibilities of life. Unfortunately, getting too caught up in these can mean forgetting to take care of your own needs and wants. Without the appropriate time to pursue your own hobbies and interests, burnout can set in. Even if it is for as little as half an hour a day, set aside a regular period of time for putting yourself above all else. This can be reading a book, or practicing a hobby such as writing, painting, gardening, and the like. Not only are you pursuing things you enjoy, but you’ll also subconsciously be stepping away from the daily stresses of life. This can improve your mental wellbeing dramatically.
3. Learn to Say No
Obligations, both real and perceived, can take a toll on your mental health. Being able to differentiate between legitimate obligations and social ones that aren’t really necessary is an important first step. The second step is being able to say “no” to the latter. Attending events and functions that have no interest to you or, worse, make you uncomfortable, helps no one. Your disinterest will likely be evident to the people around you. Your desire to leave will manifest itself as stress or anxiety. Life is too short to force yourself into unnecessary, unenjoyable situations. Consider skipping these events a gift to yourself and your mental health.
4. Take the Time to Step Outside
For office workers or those who are now working remote, this is essential. Studies have demonstrated that even a few moments outside can help relieve stress and provide a barrier against depression and burnout. It can be easy to become laser-focused on the job at hand, spending hours at a desk or drilling down into a project. Unfortunately, not only is this poor for your physical health, but it can also take a mental toll as well. Even just a few minutes away from your workstation taking in your surroundings can have a large impact.
5. Spend Time with Friends and Loved Ones
Don’t let your social life be a casualty to your work life. More and more companies are talking the talk on work-life balance, but it is up to the individual to walk the walk. Having friends, family, or partners to vent to or just escape everyday life with can greatly improve your mental health. Having other people around can also provide a voice encouraging you to slow down or take time for yourself if they notice something is “off.” Shared passions can also lead to more time for activities you enjoy, as mentioned earlier.
Mental health and physical wellbeing are inextricably linked. Failure to take care of one can results in issues in the other. It is not enough to simply stay in physically good shape. Stress, anxiety, or depression can each take a toll on your overall health, so take the proper measures to ensure your mental wellbeing for the future. The self-care tips described above are a good first step towards healthier living.