Why self-care is essential for your mental health

When it comes to our health, we all too often think only of our physical health. But our mental health is just as important.

While physical health is important, it works in conjunction with mental health. That means that if either part is out of kilter, it’s likely your entire body and health will be, too.

Let’s take a look into mental health — and how self-care plays a key role in helping maintain good health.

Mental health by the numbers

Each year, millions of Americans are affected by some type of mental health condition. The numbers reported by the National Alliance on Mental Illness are staggering:

  • 43.8 million adults experience a mental health illness in a given year.
  • That translates to one in five adults.
  • Nearly 10 million adults live with a serious mental illness.
  • Depression is the No.1 cause of disability worldwide.
  • Mental illnesses cost Americans $193.2 billion each year in lost earnings.

How to protect your mental health

There’s no definitive way to prevent mental health conditions. But there is plenty of evidence that taking good care of yourself is a step toward limiting the effects of these conditions.

Whether you’ve been diagnosed with a condition or find yourself simply overwhelmed by work stress, there are ways to promote positive mental health.

The same healthy lifestyle habits that are good for your physical health are also good for your mental health. Eat a balanced diet, get regular exercise, don’t smoke, get plenty of sleep, limit your alcohol consumption, get regular checkups, and work to limit stress.

That whole “reducing stress” part can be extremely difficult. That’s where self-care plays an important role.

Understanding self-care & its impact on mental health

You’ve likely heard the phrase “self-care.” But do you really know what the term means? Or how it can potentially reap benefits for your physical and mental health?

Self-care is defined as performing any activity for ourselves to care for our physical, emotional, and mental health.

All of the steps outlined above as healthy lifestyle habits can and do fall into the self-care category. But self-care also encompasses everyday actions needed to give our minds and bodies rest and stress relief.

Self-care doesn’t have to be expensive — in fact, in many cases, there’s no or little cost associated with an activity. Consider these ideas:

  • Spend an hour doing something alone that’s not work-related or on a to-do list.
  • Paint, draw, or write something creative.
  • Step away from technology for a half hour or an hour.
  • Take a short nap.
  • Write in a journal.
  • Read a book or watch a movie you enjoy.
  • Learn something new that you’re interested in.
  • Take a relaxing bath or shower.
  • Spend time with a pet.
  • Take 10 minutes to stretch.
  • Spend time with family members and friends.
  • Pray or meditate.
  • Color in a coloring book.

The common denominator with these activities? They all help relax your mind and body, which reduces stress and feelings of anxiety or fear.

So, while you can’t prevent mental health conditions, you can take care of yourself in a way that helps protect your mental health. The next time you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or out of sorts, try taking a step back and truly taking care of yourself.

Think your feelings of stress might be something more serious? Talk with your doctor. Need a doctor? Find one here.