Prioritizing self-care is something that seems like it should be common sense, but many women’s mental health concerns originate from (or are worsened by) forgetting about self-care. Many of us neglect self-care whether it’s because we’re overwhelmed and stressed, or we tend to put our own needs last and we’re too busy taking care of other people such as children, sick parents, or a demanding employer.
International Women’s Day is approaching on March 8th, so it’s important that we discuss women’s mental health and ways to improve it.
Women’s Mental Health: Making it a Priority
When it comes to self-care, it’s key to prioritize your mental and physical health. You can get in the habit of prioritizing your mental health by regularly going to therapy sessions, frequently journaling to process your emotions, and doing stress-reducing activities such as yoga. You can prioritize your physical health by eating a healthy diet, going for daily walks, doing morning stretches, and getting plenty of exercise.
However, since women’s mental health is so important, let’s expand on these ideas for self-care below. Here are some tips with more details on how to prioritize your mental and physical health:
Yoga earns a spot at the top of the list because this ancient and wonderful practice is incredible for both mental and physical health. Since March is International Women’s Month, we’re discussing women’s mental health, but yoga is of course beneficial for anyone.
The founder of Blue Eagle Yoga, Melissa, has been studying yoga for over 45 years and explains, “The yoga mat, for me, is a metaphor for a raft. My raft is a safe place, to work with my energy as it is, that day, whatever is going on in my life. If it’s stressful at home, I come back from yoga feeling reset and able to listen, able to feel, able to be in a neutral place in a centered place of awareness where I can breathe through anything that comes up.”
Melissa also explains that when it comes to yoga and being present on your mat, “Foundational principles always apply, but you integrate them at different levels. Sometimes it’s physically. Sometimes it’s emotionally. Sometimes it’s psychologically and you have that big ‘ah hah!’ moment where the mind and the body are really connecting, and you’re feeling, for example, how you hold your stress in your body as energy. And you actually have access, now, to breathe it out. That is the wonder of yoga.”
The breathing exercises and quiet meditation incorporated into a yoga class are wonderful for mental wellness, and as Melissa of Blue Eagle Yoga explains, it helps you “super-oxygenate the brain”. She says, “When you super-oxygenate the brain, it makes you think more clearly. When you super-oxygenate the brain, it also releases endorphins, serotonin, and melatonin. The science of yoga is that it’s all about the breath.”
Furthermore, the physical aspect of yoga is great exercise for your body, especially all of the stretching. Yoga involves a lot of stretching that your body desperately needs. Most people don’t stretch enough, and it’s great for your body to stretch daily. This brings us to our next tip, on morning stretches.
2. Morning Stretches
When we sleep, the long stretch of immobility in the night can make our bodies become stiff. Morning stretches will help prepare your body for the activity your day has in store for it. Stretching in the morning also helps wake the body up, gets your blood flowing, and helps you become more mentally alert as well.
You could even do your morning stretches in the form of a virtual yoga class.
Remember that regularly stretching every day can have important long-term benefits such as improved posture, better joint mobility, and reduced back and body pains.
Journaling is a very beneficial habit to get into for mental health. If you can journal daily, whether it’s in the morning (often referred to as ‘morning pages’) or at night before bed, your mental health stands to benefit a great deal.
Journaling can help you process complex emotions, and it can help you let go. Some people even use their journal to write a letter to their ex that they’ll never send, but it helps them move on. Other people use their journal to write down what they’re grateful for in their lives, which boosts mental wellness as it helps you cultivate an attitude of gratitude.
4. Daily Walks
If you can walk for half an hour or an hour every day, that’s a great way of prioritizing both your mental and physical health. Exercise and fresh outdoor air are great for mental health, and your physical health will benefit with more daily movement so that you’re not sedentary as much. Sitting all day, also known as a sedentary lifestyle, is so bad for your health that health professionals now often say that sitting is the new smoking. Daily walks will do wonders for your health, especially if you have a sedentary job.
5. Spend Time in Nature
Incorporate nature into your daily walk if you can, such as by walking a beautiful forested trail, or walking along the beach.
Scientific research suggests that spending time in nature is linked to happiness, and can lead to improvements in mood, cognition, and overall mental health.
Nature therapy is incredible for our health. Spend as much time in nature as you can. Try to incorporate nature into other self-care activities. This can be achieved in more ways than just walking along a scenic outdoor trail. You could also journal by a beautiful lake, or at the beach.
6. Schedule an Exercise Routine
Exercise is crucial for mental and physical health. The endorphins released when we exercise are great for mood and mental health, and exercise also is necessary for our physical health.
The best way to ensure you’re getting enough exercise to stay healthy is by scheduling it and having a routine. For example, perhaps you’ll hire a personal trainer and schedule two sessions per week with him or her, in addition to one yoga class per week and one spin class per week. The variety will keep things interesting and scheduling it means you’ll be accountable and never ‘run out of time’ thus forgoing exercise for the day.
7. Improve Your Diet
When it comes to diet, most people have lots of room for improvement to start eating healthier. One of the best ways to eat healthier is to schedule time for Sunday meal prep. Buy all the healthy ingredients for a tasty chicken stir-fry, for example, and cook enough for the week. Be sure to read up on your genetic dietary needs before you plan out your meals if you want to tailor your diet plan to your unique genetic makeup, since some people have higher needs of certain nutrients than others.
8. Go to Therapy
Everyone and anyone can benefit from counseling sessions. While some counselors specialize in helping us unpack trauma, many counselors also offer simple talk therapy sessions to help you process and work through any complex emotions or fears you’re experiencing. Women’s mental health - and anyone’s mental health, for that matter - can stand to benefit a great deal by committing to bi-weekly therapy sessions. Ensure your therapist is right for you by trying a few different therapists and finding someone you connect with, whose words resonate. Make sure they’re qualified and registered.
All of the above tips for women’s mental health can help ensure that women are prioritizing self-care and keeping themselves healthy both in the present moment, and in the preventative sense.