So you have received your diagnosis, and you are taking your medication as prescribed. You have regular counseling sessions with your therapist, but you still feel depleted. You can’t put your finger on what’s not right; you just don’t feel a hundred percent.
Following your prescribed treatment plan is crucial. But even though you are checking off all the right boxes, there is still one more category to add to the list: self-care.
Self-care is “any necessary human regulatory function which is under individual control, deliberate and self-initiated.” It is “the practice of taking action to preserve and improve one’s own health.”
You must take the initiative and make a plan to maintain balance in your life. Self-care is an act of self-love. You must go beyond medical protocol, and form habits that help you manage your mental illness and your overall health.
Forming effective self-care habits may be a matter of trial and error. It may take time to see which habits work best for you.
I have been tinkering with my own self-care routine for the past twenty-two years. My underlying philosophy is to never let myself get to anything—tired, hungry, stressed, etc.
Here are five self-care habits that help me maintain my balance:
1. Daily Prayer Time
“Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always”(1 Chronicles 16:11 NIV).
If I am not right with God, then I am not right. Period. If I am not penciling in regular quiet time with God, I become restless, and I snap at my family. I know I am not praying enough if I am worrying instead of trusting God to do what only He can do.
Prayer is an unending conversation with God. It doesn’t have to be an audible conversation. If you feel silly speaking to God out loud, seek Him silently. You can pray anywhere, anytime. If you want to chronicle your prayers so you can track His response to your petitions, use a journal.
When I am feeling especially depleted, I meditate on God’s truth by rolling scripture around my brain. If you are not a person who prays, take time to meditate on a word or phrase that comforts you.
2. Adequate Sleep
I’ll be honest. For a long time, I thought it was a weakness that I sleep so much. Most nights I am asleep by 9 p.m.
Then I realized every person is different, and that’s okay. You may feel great with only five hours of sleep, and I may need eight or more hours to operate at my maximum potential.
Research confirms that sleep is restorative. It gives the body and mind time to reboot and repair itself. Every person has their own sleep sweet spot—the amount of sleep they need be at their best.
If you are mentally ill, you need more sleep. You just do. Quit comparing yourself with the so-called “normal” people. Accept who you are, embrace your need for sleep and schedule enough sleep time.
3. Consistent Exercise
Exercise is critical for personal well-being. Besides the cardiovascular benefits, it improves memory, relieves stress, enhances sleep and helps overall mood stability.
Since I launched my blog, I have had to become creative to fit regular exercise into my daily routine. The time I spent at the gym is now my peak writing time. But if I don’t fit in enough exercise, I am sluggish and my mood suffers.
At the moment, I try to hit my 10,000 steps every day. If the sun is shining, I listen to my favorite music while I walk around our property soaking up the vitamin D. If it is raining, I use the living area in my house as my track, and I walk periodically throughout the day.
It is less important what you do, than how often you do it. Consistency is the key if you want to reap the health benefits of any exercise program.
4. A Well-Balanced Diet
I will be the first to admit I am a work in progress with this particular self-care habit. If you read my “About” page, you will note that the size of my jeans reflects my obsession with cake and Sonic root beers.
I am a firm believer there is no such thing as “bad” food as long as you eat all things in moderation. I am still working on the moderation part!
It was easier to compensate for my weekend indulgences when I didn’t have a family. Ava would balk if I fed her her chicken and green beans five days a week! I try to balance my family’s weekday meals with a variety of healthy options.
If I don’t eat well, I don’t feel well. I love sugar, but when I eliminate the excessive sugar in my diet, I feel better. My mood is better, I sleep better, and I have more energy.
5. “Me” Time
Even though I put “me” time at the bottom of the list, I can’t emphasize enough how important this self-care habit is to my personal well-being.
You don’t have to leave your house to squeeze in some time for yourself. Every night after our family meal, I go to my room to decompress from the busyness of the day. I catch up on my favorite television shows or read a book until it is time for my daughter’s bedtime routine.
While those everyday little chunks of time are helpful, it is still important to schedule extended “me” time outside the home without the distraction of your family and your overwhelming to-do list.
I arrange regular breakfast dates with my tribe of friends. I go to the movies alone. I attend concerts every chance I get. Retail therapy and monthly nail appointments round out my go-to “me” time activities.
When you are battling mental illness, a solid self-care routine is a necessity. I can’t stress this enough!
Forming strong self-care habits enable you to maintain a balanced life. When you keep balance in your life, it trickles down into everything you do. Your mood is better. You become a better spouse and parent. Your friendships are stronger. You are kinder. You serve God more effectively.
You can’t pour into others if you are empty. Pencil in time for yourself. You are the most important item on your to-do list.
What are your go-to self-care habits? How do you feel when you don’t pencil in enough time for yourself?