I preach to teenagers all the time to work on SELF CARE. People often think this means something big but it can be the tiniest little things each day; take a bubble bath with those expensive salts, allow your mind to escape in a novel, paint your fingernails, go to sleep at 8, do yoga in your backyard, journal about hopes and dreams, color in that adult coloring book, or walk the dog.
We often engross ourselves into our electronics and thus make excuses for other things in life that are more important, stating "I just don't have time". Well, MAKE time. I've found that it takes a routine to make change for me. Once I fit things I enjoy into my routine and delete out the meaningless activities, I'm more likely to follow through. Resolutions made in the new year are often so difficult to keep as we have so many changes we want to make and have put pressure on this new fresh time. February is usually when people have settled down from the holidays and are finally ready to start focusing on other aspects of their life. I encourage you to take a few minutes to reflect on your daily routines. How much of that time is taking care of you, not as a student or a mom or a career person, but you as a person?
When asked about self-care, most people respond with the basics: sleep, eat, hygiene, and enjoy activities. These are important aspects but there is so much more to how we care for us, as individuals. As a therapist, I stress how these different activities affect our emotions. Consider how these areas might change for someone experiencing anxiety or depression.
According to studies, the average individual should receive about 8-10 hours of sleep per night. Teens often report that they only get 4-6 hours on an average school night. Think about how your actions and emotions change when you don’t sleep enough. Many people say that they become more irritable, less motivated, drink more caffeine, aren’t as focused or productive with their time, more emotional, etc. Often people don’t take into account that their feelings and behaviors are related to this but sleep is more important than we give it credit. Our mind and bodies NEED sleep! So, what is preventing people from sleeping? I would say that electronics play a large part to sleep deprivation. For starters, the blue light emitted from your tv, tablet, or cellphone prevents the release of melatonin, the hormone associated with sleep. These devices also alert the brain, creating more internal dialogue which causes people to overthink/analyze/daydream about whatever they saw or heard. These distractions and negative thoughts can be more difficult to combat if you already experience depression or anxiety, specifically as internal dialogue increases at night.
Another reason for decreased sleep relates to time management problems. People have a tendency to “take a break” after school or work to engage in fun activities and put off important tasks to the last minute. Use your time wisely and get the tedious tasks completed before moving on to the fun or relaxing stuff.
Be mindful of what you put into your body. Consider how greasy food, sugar, caffeine, alcohol, etc. affect our emotions. Think about the aftermath and then the associated cravings. It’s surprising how many toxins we put into our body and how this affects other aspects of our life. You feel sluggish, jittery, struggle to sleep, irritable, etc. Why do we do it then? It’s often easier to “grab a snack” or fuel up on caffeine than it is to prepare ahead of time. Again, it’s all about creating positive routines. Sure, it’s nice to have an occasional comfort food but pay close attention to that key word “occasional”. Vitamins can be a benefit to helping out with those nutrients you miss in your normal food. Research suggests that the average individual should consume at least 8- 8oz glasses of water (roughly half a gallon) each day. That doesn’t even take into consideration if you’re being active or other body differences. When asked, most teens say they drink 2-4 sodas/coffee a day and yet only 2-4 glasses of water. Water is essential in our digestion, circulation, mind, and body. DRINK MORE WATER!
Read a book:
Ever notice how your book supply continues to increase and yet you "never have the time to read"? You find your shelf space getting sparse and yet when browsing through, you might have only read half the books. Reading can be another "treat yourself". Spend an hour each night away from the phone, tv, or other electronic device to READ a real book. It doesn't have to be anything inspirational but just the time spent reading will be relaxing. It’s sometimes nice to escape into a book and creates a new hope, perspective, or just distraction. You bought all those books for a reason so use them to your advantage.
Going to the gym is a resolution many people make every year but struggle to go outside once they’re already home, especially in these winter months. Those dance/yoga/strength training DVDs that you have piled up seem to stare at you and the treadmill collects dust. Once you put in the effort, they can be quite fun and rewarding but it takes a routine. Think about a frustrating day at work or school- you come home, lay on the couch, indulge in a season on Netflix, and eat fast food. How productive do you feel? What does this do to help with your frustrating emotions carried over from your day? Now, consider having a rough day at work or school and then exercising. Are you more likely to feel better emotionally? Will you be more productive around the house, eat a healthier dinner, and sleep earlier? Possibly. Consider this.
When asked about self-care, most people immediately think of hygiene. Yes, taking a shower and brushing your teeth is super important but there is so much more to this. For example, washing your hands helps prevent the spread of germs which in time is being proactive to not getting sick. When you’re sick, think about how your emotions change thus changing your behaviors. Presenting yourself: washing your face, putting on your makeup, brushing your hair, putting on clean clothes. Often people with depression struggle to complete these menial tasks as they are lacking the motivation for self-care. It’s important to consider that if you get into a routine, these tasks become almost automatic in our daily habits; resulting in less time spent and feeling a level of control at the beginning and end of the day.
Talk about it:
When asked about areas in relationships that need improvement, many people will respond with communication. There is a difference between communicating by having pleasant conversation about how someone’s day is, the weather, etc. and effective communication. Effective communication is talking about the REAL stuff. This means engaging in a real dialogue about various things affecting someone, how they feel about it, problem solving techniques, considering alternative perspectives, collaborating. In talking with teens, this appears to be a deficit in their interpersonal skills as often electronics have deterred this or there is an avoidance to engaging in a more personal conversation, specifically with parents. How do you feel after you have talked it out with someone? Maybe it’s just venting or hearing someone’s comforting voice or their advice that’s helpful. Whatever the reason, talking about it can be the simplest but most effective thing that we often avoid.
The best way to have self-care is to do things you like to do, positive activities! Maybe it’s taking a walk in nature, playing with your cat/dog, plan a vacation, paint/draw/sketch/color, write/blog/journal, go to the gym, listen to music, clean your room, garden, cook/bake, learn a new skill, etc. Whatever it may be, we often find pleasure in doing something we like to do. We take these freedoms for granted at times and need to be more mindful about what these positive activities do for us as individuals. People experiencing depression can find it difficult to find the motivation or enjoy the pleasure in these activities. When we do take the time to engage in something we enjoy it gives us something to look forward to, decreases stress, provides satisfaction, and allows us to grow as individuals.
In terms of self-care, you don’t have to be perfect but attempt to maintain a BALANCE. You need to take care of you as an individual in order to be the best you can be as your role of a student, mom, co worker, spouse. I would be a hypocrite if I said I always made all of these areas a priority in my everyday life. I encourage you to consider how these various areas affect your feelings, motivation, productivity, responses/reactions, future outlook, and overall interactions with others. Now take a few minutes to think about how you would like to incorporate more focus on an area in your life. What would you need to eliminate or decrease in order to MAKE TIME for something you would benefit more from? If you need help creating a balance and evaluating, prioritizing, or creating success in any of these areas in order to make you a better you, please contact Resolve for more information on how we can help!
Allison Kidd, LMSW, LAC
Resolve - Counseling & Wellness
Prairie Village, KS 66206