For the past few weeks, I’ve been in a bit of a rut and couldn’t pinpoint exactly why I was feeling so down. Then I realized I hadn’t taken the time to check in with myself and focus on my mental health. I decided to take a day to focus on myself and after, I noticed such a big difference in my mood and figured out what I had been missing. Taking care of your mental health is an important part of overall health, so here’s the things I make sure to do on a day focused on self-care (which are things I should do most days, really).
Wake up early (and actually get out of bed)
I’m more of a night owl than a morning person, but even on the rare days I’m able to wake up early, I have a habit of laying in bed for at least an hour afterwards — either checking notifications on my phone or just falling back asleep. When that happens, it tends to set the tone for the day and I end up too tired and lazy to get anything done, which just makes me feel shitty and want to go back to bed. It’s a vicious cycle. So while getting enough sleep is important, staying in bed for too long can be detrimental. Try to wake up as early as possible and start the day on the right note.
Keep it clean
When you’re in a bad place mentally, it’s easy to neglect basic hygiene. Everyone talks about taking a bubble bath and putting on a face mask as self-care, which are both great ways of relaxing, but even simple things such as taking a shower and changing into fresh, clean clothes can do wonders to your mental state.
As amazing as technology is, it’s also harmful to our mental health. We’re constantly faced with large amounts of toxicity from all sectors of society in the palm of our hands, and that’s not natural. Every now and then, I shut down my computer, put away my phone, and try to go tech-free for as much of the day as possible. There are days when that doesn’t work out for more than a few hours, but even then, I try to be mindful of when my tech use is adding some sort of value to my life and when it’s just eating away at time and attention I could be redirecting to something more positive and productive.
I used to take mental health breaks and use them as excuses to pig out, justifying it with a “treat yo self” mentality. But after eating half a carton of ice cream and getting to the bottom of a bag of hot cheetos, I realized I felt worse than before, and that defeats the whole purpose of self-care. Now, by all means, go ahead and treat yo self — you deserve it. But do so in moderation and remember to nourish your body as well. It’s so simple, but literally just drinking water and eating fruits makes me feel loads better about myself (even if I also downed a bag of chips that day).
Clean up and clear out
When I was feeling a little down before, I’d immediately use it as an excuse to go shopping for whatever it was that I thought would make me happy in that moment. After a while, that initial excitement of owning something new was replaced with stress of finding a place for it as things started piling up. Now, instead of filling whatever void in my life with material possessions, I do the opposite and get rid of them. Cleaning can end up being stressful, though, so I try not to take on too much at once. For example, I’ll sort through my closet and put together a bag of clothes to donate one day, and I’ll go through my makeup collection and throw out old products another day. If I’m not feeling up to the challenge, I’ll just empty old receipts out of my bag or something on a small scale. Being in a clean space does wonders to one’s stress levels, but learning to become detached from material things is also liberating.
Hours of being inside an office, lecture hall, or even your own room can make you feel isolated and depressed, so going out can make such a big difference. I’ll admit, this one’s hard for me as a homebody and introvert with a case of social anxiety. But “going out” doesn’t necessarily mean a wild night on the town (though it can if you’re into that). Even if I’m just at the park going for a walk or reading a book, being outside for just an hour or two helps a ton. Not only is the Vitamin D and fresh air necessary, but the change of scenery also inspires me to look at things differently once I’m back indoors.
Do something that makes you happy
This one’s pretty obvious, but if you’re taking a day to focus on your mental health, you should do something that makes you happy. Personally, music makes me happy and I love listening to my favorite bands when I’m in a funk. I also love playing piano, so when I’m feeling down, I sit down at the piano and play whatever comes to mind or try to learn a new song. But this could be as simple as spending quality time with your friends and family, grabbing a drink at your favorite cafe, etc. Whatever makes you happy, make time for it.
Check something off the bucket list
Just because you’re taking a break doesn’t mean you can’t also be productive. But instead of getting work done, I always try to do something new, such as watching a movie that’s been on my list for a while or visiting a place I’ve been meaning to go to. Whatever it is, the feeling of fulfillment and satisfaction after finally crossing something off my bucket list is rewarding in and of itself, and it’s those positive emotions that we strive for when working to improve our mental health.
At the end of the day, I like to take some time to check in with myself. This can be done in a journal, blog post, or just mentally. I personally like the app Daylio, which allows me to log my mood on a daily basis, track patterns and sort of pinpoint what might be the root to my good or bad mood. Regardless of method, it’s important to assess how you’re feeling and why you’re feeling that way in order to have at least some semblance of control over your mental health.