Developing your mental health self-care plan
To say 2020 has been a challenging year so far would be an understatement. COVID-19 has thrown many best laid plans into disarray, while lockdowns, working from home, global events, and other disruptions to daily life have had an understandable impact on many people’s mental health.
To take my own advice (more on that soon!), the best way to look at this may be by reframing it from a negative to a positive, and viewing these disruptions as an opportunity to double down and prioritise self-care. While this might seem like an intimidating task at first glance, really, it’s an opportunity to make more time for the things you love, and less time for unhelpful activities.
With this in mind, we’ve put together a handy guide to developing your personalised mental health self-care plan, brimming with tips, helpful resources, and clear steps to start putting your self-care first!
As with anything, it’s important to get the basics right. Most of us probably know that optimal self-care means getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and eating a balanced diet. We also know that this is far easier said than done, especially when it feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day. Here are a few ideas to kick-start your self-care routine.
When it comes to sleep, the recommended guideline is 7-9 hours per night for most adults. Of course, this can vary from person to person, but it serves as a good starting point. Still, 7-9 hours doesn’t just mean lying in bed tossing and turning all night; quality, restful sleep starts with good sleep hygiene. To improve your sleep hygiene, a few common suggestions include avoiding blue light emitting electronic devices an hour before bedtime, sticking to the same sleep schedule everyday (yes, even on weekends), optimising your mattress and pillows, and avoiding stimulants like alcohol and caffeine close to bedtime. Sweet dreams!
Exercise is another important self-care activity, to get your heart pumping and endorphins flowing. According to Australia’s national exercise guidelines, adults should aim for between 150 and 300 minutes of moderate intensity physical exercise per week, 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous physical activity each week, or any combination thereof. Again, this is a rough guideline, and won’t suit everyone, but it serves as a helpful starting point.
So, whether you’re a runner, swimmer, or cyclist, or prefer yoga, Pilates, weightlifting, or even just a brisk afternoon walk with your dog, setting aside enough time for exercise each week is great for both your mental and physical health!
Now, onto the fun part: food. To be clear, diet doesn’t - and shouldn’t - mean starving yourself, skipping meals, or following strenuous diet plans (unless advised by a medical professional, of course). In a self-care context, diet can simply mean eating a healthy, balanced, and delicious mixture of foods. Again, this will mean different things to different people, so we’re not here to tell you exactly what to eat, although following general guidelines like eating your 5+ fruit and veg a day can be a good place to start.
One super helpful tip for diet self-care can simply be setting aside a little extra time to plan and prepare meals. When deadlines are looming or you're exhausted from work, it can be tempting to skip lunch, grab whatever's quick and convenient, or simply hit order on your favourite Uber Eats meal (we all have one!). Instead, setting aside a little extra time whenever possible to treat yourself to a nice, healthy home-made meal can make a world of difference to your wellbeing. You might even discover your inner gourmet chef and pick up a new hobby along the way! Who knew self-care could taste so good?
Self-care at work
With COVID-19 forcing many of us to work from home in recent months, setting and maintaining a healthy work-life balance has become a pressing challenge. With work always accessible, and no bus ride, train ride, or commute to clearly delineate ‘work mode’ and ‘home mode’, it’s never been more important to set clear work-life boundaries. Here are a few tips for self-care at work.
Set strict work-life boundaries
As many of us will already know, setting work-life boundaries is easier said than done. If you’re working from home, it can be tempting to spend another 30 minutes replying to emails, send a quick reply to that Slack message before going to sleep, or open your laptop on Saturday to check on that big project. Before you know it, you don’t remember where work ends and leisure begins. To reclaim your home life, a good place to start is setting and maintaining a regular work schedule. This may mean logging on at 9, logging off at 5, and taking lunch at 12 every day. No exceptions. Communicate this schedule with other team members, making it clear that you will not be available outside of these hours.
For some, calendars and other organisational or planning tools can be a good way to achieve this goal. Other tips include setting up a dedicated work area in your home and leaving that area once work is finished to achieve a clearer delineation between work and home lives, as well as getting outside at least once a day to refresh and separate from work, and trying a digital detox some evenings to ensure you’re not always connected to work. If you’re still struggling, Black Dog Institute has also put together this handy work-life balance checklist.
For more tips on setting healthy boundaries, check out our blog post on Why setting boundaries at work is essential for mental wellbeing.
Check in with your supervisor
It can be common to feel stressed or overwhelmed at work, especially right now. Some of your team members probably feel the same way. Hopefully, you are in a working environment where you feel comfortable and supported expressing these feelings to your manager. This can be a good thing to bring up during regular 1:1 check ins, to avoid burning out and ensure self-care is being prioritised along with achieving your workload. If you are unable to communicate this to your manager, or simply feel uncomfortable doing so, an alternative may be to express these feelings to a co-worker you trust.
For more information, check out our tips on How to manage employees’ mental wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Take self-care breaks throughout the day
According to Safe Work Australia, “sitting for longer than 30 minutes without a mini-break and sitting all day at work (being ‘too busy’ to take a break) are likely to be detrimental to your health.” As such, if you work in a largely sedentary occupation, it is important to take consistent mini-breaks throughout the day to ensure you don’t remain seated for too long. Whether that means getting up to make a coffee, stretching for a few minutes, moving to a standing desk, or just walking around for a minute or two, mini-breaks are vital for your self-care at work.
Self-care breaks can also mean taking the time to do something you love during your lunch break, to help you relax and refresh. This may mean getting in some quick yoga, reading, listening to your favourite music or podcast, meditating, or just going for a nice, relaxing walk.
When things start to feel a little too much, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to hit ‘pause’ and make time to honestly evaluate your thoughts and feelings. This is where psychological self-care can be essential. There are lots of things you can do daily, weekly, or just whenever you need a quick reset to show yourself some love and look after your psychological self-care!
Please note, I am not a qualified psychological expert, so if you are experiencing an urgent mental health crisis or psychological distress, we recommend seeking help from a medical professional, or reaching out to a dedicated mental health support service, such as Beyond Blue, Lifeline, or Headspace.
Flowing on from our earlier emphasis on exercise (say that five times fast), yoga can be a great way to prioritise your psychological self-care. Whether your back and wrists need a little extra attention after sitting at a computer all day (with plenty of mini-breaks, of course), or you just feel like getting the blood flowing during your lunch break, a quick yoga flow can do wonders.
While unfortunately not all of us can make it to an in-person yoga class at the moment due to COVID-19 restrictions, there are still plenty of options for those looking to practice yoga from the comforts of home. Popular YouTube channels like Yoga With Adriene offer at-home yoga videos with varying levels of length and difficulty, meaning you can do anything from a 10 minute beginner flow, to a 1-hour advanced session.
As mentioned, taking the time to check in with your thoughts, feelings, and emotions can make a world of difference to your psychological wellbeing. This is where mindfulness meditation can be a life changer. Taking ten to fifteen minutes to forget about your worries and just focus on your breathing, surroundings, or body can provide the mental reset you need to approach the rest of your day refreshed and full of positivity.
Reframe negative thoughts
Another great way to look after your psychological self-care is by reframing negative thoughts. Obviously, this is far easier said than done, and likely isn’t something you can achieve overnight. However, once you get into the habit, reframing negative thoughts can make a massive difference to your outlook. This doesn’t mean lying to yourself or denying reality (sometimes, things really can suck, and it’s okay to admit that), but rather trying to find a positive framing or silver lining to these negative thoughts.
According to Bc.S. and Psychologist Joaquín Selva, “At times, ‘the power of positive thinking’ sounds like it’s just a pseudo-inspirational cliché. In this case, though, having healthy beliefs about oneself can lead to more positive automatic thoughts, which can indeed be beneficial. Most importantly, thinking positive thoughts and having positive beliefs is absolutely free of cost, so it doesn’t hurt to try it out.”
Sometimes, this can even be as simple as taking time to reflect on one positive thing you achieved each day, or something you’re particularly awesome at or proud of. Techniques such as mood boards or reflective journals can also be useful in developing this habit, while this article from Positive Psychology provides examples of positive and negative framing, as well as 5 worksheets to help you conquer negative thoughts.
Emotional & interpersonal self-care
Whether you’re an introvert, an extrovert, or somewhere in between, self-care doesn’t have to be a solo activity. While lockdown restrictions have certainly made it difficult to catch up with friends and family as often as many of us would like, it’s still important to prioritise emotional and interpersonal self-care - even if you can’t be in the same room! Here are a few tips.
Make time for hobbies
It may sound obvious, but making time for things you love should be near the top of your self-care to do list. When work, family, and social pressures are all competing for your attention, it can be all too easy to let your hobbies fall by the wayside. While this can sometimes be unavoidable, it can also have a negative impact on your self-care and mental health.
Try to make time at least once a week for something you love. Whether that’s baking, art, reading, writing, music, or anything else, making time for your hobbies can often be just what you need. Trust us, you’ll thank yourself later!
Prioritise close relationships
Once again, when deadlines and commitments are closing in from all angles, it can be easy to let close relationships slip. We’ve all been there. However, when appropriate, taking the time to prioritise close relationships with friends, family, and other loved ones can provide just the spark your self-care routine needs. Whether that’s a Zoom call with friends, quality time with family, or even spending a bit of extra time with your pet, a little interpersonal connection can go a long way.
Check in with close friends and family
While prioritising your own self-care is vital, checking in on others can be just as important. As long as it doesn’t come at the expense of your own wellbeing (it’s important to strike an appropriate balance between looking after yourself and looking after others), checking in with close friends, family, and even co-workers can make a world of difference.
Opening up a trusting, compassionate, and honest dialogue about mental health and self-care with a loved one can be mutually beneficial, ensuring you always have an empathetic ear to go to with any stresses or problems, and vice versa. This is a great example of the old adage ‘treat others as you would want to be treated’. By taking the time to check in on someone else’s self-care and general wellbeing, we’ll all be taking steps to make the world a slightly kinder, more caring, and compassionate place!
For more tips on starting open conversations about mental health, check out our Steps to create more open and positive conversations about mental health in your workplace, as well as our advice for Keeping the conversation going.
To support wellbeing throughout October, Go1 is providing free access to a mental health awareness learning playlist. To explore the full playlist, please visit mentalhealthmonth.mygo1.com.