How to Practice Self-Care

Last updated on February 13, 2024
Dr Patrick Jensen headshot

Patrick Jensen, MD
Psychiatrist, Covenant Health

Stress is a normal part of life. Stress can come from many sources: troubles at home, in relationships, and in the workplace. It can affect both emotional and physical health. Although we may be facing burnout, anxiety, depression, or other ailments, one thing we can do to combat these stressors is to properly care for ourselves.

It’s important to be in tune with our bodies and minds so that we know when we need a break and how to best care for ourselves. It’s important to create sustainable, repeatable habits that become part of your normal routine and help you care for YOU.

What Is Self-Care and Why Is It Important?

The definition of self-care, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, is “taking the time to do things that help you live well and improve both your physical health and mental health.” Self-care can  include our emotional, mental, social, physical, and professional selves.

The benefits of practicing these helpful habits include improving mental and physical health. Self-care can help us avoid developing health issues like high blood pressure, depression, insomnia and heart problems. Stress can exacerbate these issues when left unchecked and lessen our abilities to fight off other diseases, even the common cold.

How to Manage Your Stress and Practice Self-Care

Patrick Jensen, MD, board-certified psychiatrist at Covenant Health, suggests five small changes to practice self-care and minimize the effects of stress.

Get 30 Minutes of Exercise

According to Dr. Jensen, exercise is one of the most beneficial forms of self-care for most people. It acts as a natural antidepressant and mental health booster.

“Even small acts of self-care every day can add up to a big impact. I recommend 30 minutes per day of an activity you enjoy, like walking outside,” he says.

The benefits of exercise include:

  • Boosting mood
  • Reducing anxiety
  • Improving resilience
  • Lowering risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some common cancers
  • Making everyday activities easier to perform

Pay Attention to Your Sleep Routine

According to the National Institutes of Health, about 50 to 70 million Americans have sleep disorders, and one in three adults do not regularly get the recommended amount of uninterrupted sleep they need to protect health. Doctors recommend seven to eight hours of sleep for adults and even more hours per night for children and teens.

Sleep deficiency is linked to many chronic health problems, including heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, obesity, and depression.

“Insomnia is often associated with depression,” says Dr. Jensen. “Try to put away blue light devices 30 minutes prior to sleep onset. They often stimulate the waking centers of our brain. Read, talk to a loved one, listen to relaxing music and wind down.”

Evaluate the Food and Drink You’re Consuming

Are you drinking caffeine or sugar before bed? Are you in the habit of eating foods that are high in saturated fat? Dr. Jensen recommends drinking plenty of water and aiming for a balanced diet. “Stay hydrated and limit caffeine in later parts of the day to help you feel better,” he says.

Take a Break

One form of practicing self-care and minimizing stress is to simply take a break. Go for a walk, close your eyes and sit quietly for 10 minutes, or go outside for some fresh air. Perform a self-check-in by asking yourself, “What does my body, mind or spirit need right now?”

Use relaxation methods to calm your mind and body such as meditation or talking with someone you trust. Take deep breaths to relax when you begin to feel tense or stressed.

Practice an Attitude of Gratitude

An “attitude of gratitude” is always going to boost your mental health, says Dr. Jensen. When setting goals or just trying to plan your next day ahead, focus on what you have already accomplished or habits you have adopted instead of focusing on what you have not yet accomplished.

“Having a positive mindset inspires motivation to keep going,” says Dr. Jensen. “Optimism helps, and focusing on what we HAVE done. I think it’s important to practice extending grace to ourselves and others.” One way to practice gratitude is to write down three things you are thankful for at the beginning or end of each day.

When to Seek Help

Remember, no one can do it all alone. It’s OK to ask for help. Speak to your primary care physician or mental health provider about your options. If you are in crisis, contact Mobile Crisis at 1-855-CRISIS-1.

Peninsula Behavioral Health can help you manage your stress, or manage feelings of anxiety and depression. For help scheduling an appointment, contact us online or call 865-970-9800. You can also view these additional resources:

Quiz: What do you know about depression?

Quiz: Are you depressed?

Read how stress can increase your risk for heart disease

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