The term self-care can invoke feelings of selfishness. But just like on every airline flight, passengers are encouraged in case of emergency to put on their own oxygen mask before assisting others, we need to prioritize self-care in order to continue caring for the needs of those around us. In a day and time when it’s not feasible to book a spa day to de-stress, there are relatively easy, practical things we can do for our own self-care that can have huge payoffs in terms of our physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
8 Self-Care Tips to Decrease Anxiety and Depression, Calm the Mind and Regulate your Mood
1. Focus on Breathing
As a neuropsychologist, I can tell you that it’s physiologically impossible to be relaxed and anxious at the same time. So when we feel anxious, one of the easiest things we can do to effectively combat anxiety is to focus on our breathing. Breathe in deeply through your mouth to the count of three, then exhale through the nose slowly to the count of ten. Repeat this several times and you’ll begin to feel the anxiety subside and be replaced with a sense of calm and peace. Breathing like this tells the brain that the anxious emergency is over, and it’s time to relax.
“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” Colossians 3:15
2. Physical Exercise
As little as 10-15 minutes of physical exercise helps regulate and improve our mood and lessen anxiety. Exercise releases endorphins into the brain which tell the body that all is well. While general practitioners and internal medicine doctors would like us to exercise 30-60 minutes a day for our physical health, just 10-15 minutes of exercise will improve our emotional health. Getting outside and taking a 10-minute walk during lunchtime will not only improve your mood, but also increase your energy for the remainder of the afternoon.
“A wise man is full of strength, and a man of knowledge enhances his might.” Proverbs 24:5
“She girds herself with strength; she exerts her arms with vigor.” Proverbs 31:17
3. Maintain a good consistent sleep schedule
During stressful times, our sleep can often become erratic. This works against our moods, our ability to stay motivated and optimistic, and our ability to problem solve and logically manage our stress. Maintaining a good consistent sleep schedule is crucial for stabilizing your mood and helping you manage your stress because that allows your brain to naturally regenerate the neurotransmitters that are crucial for stress management and mood control like Dopamine, Epinephrine, Norepinephrine, and Cortisol. When we skimp on sleep, often thinking we just need to get one or two more things done, we’re actually doing the worst thing we can for our mood and stress levels.
“When you lie down, you will not be afraid, when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.” Proverbs 3:24
4. Shift your perspective
Shift your perspective. During particularly stressful times such as this COVID19, it’s very easy to feel like all sense of control has been stripped out of our hands, and our comments reflect that. We tend to think and say things such as, “I have to work from home,” or “Now I have to homeschool my children.” I’ve found that that perspective leads to worry, fear, anxiety, and panic. But we can shift our perspective from “I have to…” to “I get to…” such as “I get to spend quality time with my children that I may never get again,” or “Instead of running from one terminal to the next traveling for work, I get to sleep in my own bed at night.” If we will shift our perspective from “I have to…” to “I get too…” then we have much less anxiety and a much greater sense of peace.
“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” Philippians 4:8
5. Take care of your thoughts
No list of basic self-care tips would be complete without also mentioning that we need to take care of our thoughts. To a very large extent, our emotions are the outward manifestation of the thoughts we believe. So if we spend a lot of time thinking things such as “I may not be able to pay my bills this month,” or “my boss never treats me fairly,” then our mood will be more anxious and negative. But if we take care of our thoughts and speak a positive reframe to the situation, like “I’ve gotten through every other difficult circumstance in my life 100% of the time, so I’ll get through this too,” then we will have a more positive mindset and be less prone to depression, anxiety, or stress-induced medical conditions.
“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:5
6. Play music/dance tunes
Put on some dance tunes. We all can think of at least one song that when it plays, we start to move and let joy just wash all over us. When we’re stressed, music can either bring us further down (think of the sappy love songs), or can cheer us up and energize us. Those are the songs, that we need to put in a playlist and put them on repeat during those days that we are struggling to maintain an optimistic outlook.
“Praise his name with dancing, accompanied by tambourine and harp.” Psalm 149:3
7. Help someone else
Help someone else. A famous psychiatrist, Karl Menninger, was once asked in front of a large group of people, “if someone is really down and on the verge of suicide, what would you tell then to do?” Most assumed he would tell them to take medication, but instead, he told them to “go across the street, over the railroad tracks, find someone less fortunate than you and do something to help them.” Dr. Menninger knew that helping others actually helps ourselves. It brings joy and comfort to the person we help, but it also takes our focus off ourselves and helps us to feel better as well.
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35
Pray. What we’re going through didn’t take God by surprise, and He already knows how He’s going to get us through it. But if you’re concerned, worried, or weary, tell Him. He’s not afraid of your feelings, and He wants to help. If you need wisdom, ask Him. He promises to lavish it liberally upon His children.
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” Proverbs 3:5-6
I’d love to hear any other tips you might have, in the comments below.