Taking care of ourselves is essential for our physical and mental health, and for helping us manage our day-to-day lives more effectively.
By meeting our own physical and emotional needs, we can address underlying vulnerabilities that may contribute to health issues and mental distress, helping to stabilise emotions, improve cognition, and promote a healthy lifestyle.
Maintaining an effective self-care routine helps not only yourself, but also the people closest to you, as it can reduce their caring responsibilities and help to ease emotional pressures – this leads to improved relationships as a consequence.
If you have recently experienced a period of stress or manage an ongoing mental illness such as anxiety or depression, you may find it harder to keep up an effective self-care routine due to fatigue and loss of motivation. But investing time into self-care is one of the most efficient ways of managing feelings of stress and low mood.
Here, we examine how to overcome a pattern of self-neglect, and explore some simple and easy ways to include more self-care activities in your daily routine.
How Chronic And Mental Illnesses Contribute To Self-Neglect
If you’ve been suffering from a period of stress or low mood, you may have noticed your personal care beginning to slip. To understand why this happens, let’s explore Spoon Theory, a model used to describe the limitations on our ability to manage tasks.
Imagine you have some spoons. Each task of the day costs one spoon. The more your ability to function is impacted by a chronic illness or mental health condition, the fewer spoons you have to spend throughout the day.
You will find that you will run out of spoons after a certain number of tasks. For example, if you have five spoons, you might be able to shower, brush your teeth, wash your face, eat meals, and go to work. But by the time you come home from work, you may not have enough spoons left to exercise or clean the house.
If you have a lot on your plate, you may find that you need to put your spoons into the necessities of everyday life, and as a result, end up neglecting your personal care. For example, if you spend all your spoons on work activities or family commitments, you may find that you don’t have any remaining spoons to take care of yourself.
Managing your time effectively and ensuring that you don’t waste energy on unnecessary tasks is therefore essential for keeping up a sustainable self-care routine.
Self-neglect is an easy pattern to fall into, and can be difficult to reverse. You may find that self-neglect causes a ‘downwards spiral’, where you neglect yourself because of low mood, which then leads to a worsening of depression due to your needs not being met. This may make it hard to break the cycle, and can lead to repeated self-neglect behaviours.
Behavioural change is the only way to overcome self-neglect, and this involves making small, achievable steps towards living a healthier, more fulfilling lifestyle. While making these changes may initially seem daunting, the key is to make the changes slowly and identify when you find yourself losing motivation.
There are five areas of self-care that may require your attention:
• Physical Self-Care – In dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT), a form of therapy targeted toward emotional regulation and behavioural change, physical self-care is also referred to as PLEASE skills. PLEASE is a helpful acronym to use when building a self-care routine, as it breaks physical self-care into Physical, (treat) iLlness, Eating, (Avoid Mood) Altering drugs, Sleep, and Exercise.
This means that to maintain good physical and mental health, you should avoid harmful substances, treat any underlying conditions, eat healthily and regularly, sleep well, and keep an exercise routine. If this seems too much right now, consider one area that you feel is achievable for you. What changes can you put in place to improve this area of your life?
• Social Self-Care – Humans are social beings, and loneliness over an extended time can lead to several health conditions, including mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, stress, and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as physical health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and obesity.
Socialising with others enables us to relieve stress and manage our emotions more effectively. It also keeps us mentally active, which helps to prevent cognitive decline. In addition, cultivating healthy relationships and avoiding damaging relationships helps us to reduce stress in our lives and achieve a better quality of life.
• Mental Self-Care – Practising activities that keep your mind active helps you maintain good cognition, which enables better focus and motivation. Focusing your mind on a task is also a form of mindfulness, which is an effective stress relief tool. This can include engaging in hobbies such as puzzles, learning a language, and mindfully consuming media such as music or films, as well as doing activities (such as meditation) that help you stay mentally healthy.
• Emotional Self-Care – Practising skills and activities that help you to regulate your emotional health is essential for mental wellbeing. These can include activities that help to relieve stress, or can simply involve sharing your feelings with someone close to you. You may also have unhelpful coping strategies that you need to unlearn, such as having an unhealthy relationship with food, or engaging in self-harming behaviours.
• Spiritual Self-Care – Spiritual self-care may, for some people, involve prayer, rituals, or connecting with a spiritual community such as a church. But spiritual self-care does not have to involve religion, and can simply involve spiritually fulfilling activities such as spending time in nature or creating art.
Some Top Tips For Effective Self-Care
• Take Things Slow! Attempting to make too many changes at once can be unsustainable, and if you do not manage to keep to your new routine, you may find you lose motivation. Making one change at a time helps to keeps your growth consistent and repeatable, and allows you to build confidence with each small step you take.
• Count Your Spoons – Be aware of how many spoons you have to spend each day, and don’t waste energy on unnecessary activities. Prioritising self-care activities helps you to build up your energy reserves so you can handle taking on more tasks.
• Get Some ZZZs – Sleep is essential for maintaining energy levels and fighting fatigue. Adults should get between 7-9 hours of sleep every night, and too little (or too much) sleep can lead to higher levels of fatigue.
• Make Healthy Swaps – Instead of adding to your routine, you can save time and energy by making small, achievable swaps. For example, instead of driving to work every day and then coming home and exercising, why not try walking or cycling to work?
• Prioritise Meals – Eating a healthy, balanced diet helps to keep your energy at optimum levels, and mealtimes can also provide social contact with members of your household. Furthermore, learning to cook is a great way to improve mental self-care by learning a new skill.
• Socialise – Spending time with friends and family helps to boost your mood, assists with overcoming stress, and provides greater life satisfaction. If you struggle to meet new people, then bonding with others through a support group, or by joining an activity club, can help you find people with similar life experiences and interests.
• Relax – Doing one thing that brings you joy every day helps to improve your mood and relieves stress. So why not try a new hobby, or investing some time in a physical self-care activity like taking a bath or exercising?
• Maintain A Healthy Lifestyle – Keeping a healthy routine is essential for your physical and mental health. Remember PLEASE – Physical, (treat)iLlness, Eating, (avoid mood) Altering drugs, Sleep, Exercise.