Our mind and body are intimately connected and ceaselessly interact with each other. The capacity to achieve emotional wellness refers to the ability to effectively manage our mind and body despite challenge and change. Over the past year, we have experienced unprecedented challenge and change during the pandemic. Nearly every aspect of our world has been transformed. Surprise, anxiety, isolation, need for constant adjustment, depression and loss of control are commonly reported experiences. As such, the modest goals of happiness and self-healing are more important than ever. I have found that a combination of mindfulness techniques along with attention to physical health offers worthwhile options for self-care practices in these times.
Breathing: Breathing is a powerful tool for influencing the nervous system. Even though we do not generally pay attention to our breath as it unfolds automatically, we can choose to consciously breathe a certain way, which can either act to calm or excite the nervous system. Two simple calming breathing exercises that can be easily learned are diaphragmatic breathing and anti-anxiety breathing.
Diet: Food is another form of self-care. Depending on which foods we eat, we can either our well-being or worsen it. A diet rich in complex carbohydrates (beans, oatmeal, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, protein, and many other plant foods) should be a goal. Besides providing nutrients, vitamins, and energy to the body, a diet including these foods helps maintain stable blood sugar, which is good for mood and concentration, along with regulating digestion and supporting the growth of “good” bacteria in the digestive tract.
Exercise: Exercise is another vital component of self-care. Our bodies are made to move — a function that has been challenged during this pandemic. Hundreds of studies demonstrate the benefits of regular exercise for overall health, wellbeing, and mood. Exercise is a powerful form of treatment for depression and anxiety. It doesn’t matter what exercise you choose; any form of movement is beneficial. In fact, carrying home groceries can be a form of weightlifting, and cleaning your home a combination of flexibility training, endurance, and strength training.
Mediation: The physical and mental benefits of meditation are noted by many scientists and laypersons alike. One simple example focusing on deep muscle relaxation is called progressive muscle relaxation. This meditation goes through groups of muscles, tensing them for a few seconds and then very gradually releasing the tension. This action elicits a “relaxation response” that results in a more general level of emotional and mental calm.
Sleep: Sleep is also crucial for mental well-being. The brain secretes chemicals that enhance wellbeing and healthy brain function during sleep. Tissue repair, emotional processing, and growth (especially in children) happens at night. Depression and other mood disorders are clearly tied to normally functioning circadian rhythms. Sleep loss has also been reported to sometimes precede a depressed or manic episode.
Mental health support: The ability to explore your innermost thoughts, feelings, and worries without judgment is another form of self-care. The creation of a space for self-reflection, improved awareness, and the development of coping strategies is paramount. This space is unique to everyone; perhaps explore this space with a mental health professional, clergy, family member, or friend. Expression is a release that allows us to decompress, heal, and grow.
The Philadelphia Crisis Line (215-685-6440) is a free, confidential, 24/7 mental health support hotline for individuals experiencing emotional distress. This service guides callers in navigating the behavioral health system in Philadelphia. We can help to connect individuals with referrals, make mobile team dispatches, or assist with more urgent support when necessary.
Take good care of YOU.
Author: Lisa Colton, Ph.D., Director of Crisis Related Services, Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disabilities. Lisa is a licensed Clinical Psychologist with more than 20 years of experience in a wide variety of clinical settings most recently as the Director of Crisis Related Services with DBHIDS. Her approach is integrative and has always supported a combination of wellness and meditative techniques with Western psychodynamic and cognitive behavioral techniques.