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10 Self-Care Routines That Improved My Mental Health

Wellness

Overthinking at night and oversleeping in the mornings? Knowing something is wrong but not being able to pinpoint the problem? You are not alone.

The National Institute of Mental Health has found that "nearly 1 in 5 U.S. adults live with a mental illness", and the ratio is significantly higher among teens. One explanation is found in psychology: according to renowned psychologist Erik Erikson, adolescence is the stage of psychosocial development for self-definition. This can be challenging and exhausting, leading to mental instability and health issues.

"A happy life consists not in the absence, but in the mastery of hardships."

— Helen Keller

Self-care is a form of coping, and coping is a form of mastery. Read on for 10 effective ways that helped me, and may just help you, achieve this mastership.

1. Conversations

Problems to Fight: imposter syndrome, autism spectrum disorder, depression, social withdrawal, social anxiety disorder, etc.

My Story: Making the most out of relationships with my family and friends reintroduced me to how interesting, diverse, and heartfelt our life experiences can be. Whether they are academics, extracurriculars, relationships, or responsibilities, distancing myself from others came almost naturally. Eventually, the stressful period passed and I knew it was time to reengage, but I didn't know how.

Self-Care: I created a mental list of people I felt thankful for and wanted to reconnect with. This included my family, with whom I sat down for longer conversations to talk about current news, daily hassles, or memorable experiences during meals and family time. This also included my close friends, who I facetimed to talk more about our personal (rather than academic) lives, as well as friends living in other cities who I wanted to catch up with. The initial awkwardness became the stepping stone to the strengthened relationships I'm now engaged in. The first step towards building strong relationships is always the hardest, but the road will level out once you are on track!

2. Food

Problems to Fight: dieting, eating disorders, apathetic attitude toward food/eating, insecurities, stress, etc.

My Story: Eating at appropriate times and in healthy portions helped me on my self-care journey. For weeks, I ate very little during meal times with my family (especially grains and other carbohydrates) and feasted alone at around 10 o'clock every night, devouring boxes of crackers/sweets and cans of assorted nuts in a matter of days. I was unhappy with myself, swallowing guilt with every bite, but I couldn't stop.

Self-care: One night, I finished showering by 9 o'clock and was in bed before 10. I turned on sleep music to revert my body to its regular circadian clock. In the same week, I also got into the habit of brushing my teeth right after dinner and eating longer (and therefore larger) meals. Cooking and baking also helped me regain my appreciation for real food and a good balance of different nutrients.

3. Books

Problems to Fight: demotivation, emptiness, boredom, mood swings, etc.

My Story: Books are worlds within the world. Since entering high school, I noticed that I rarely read books for pleasure. They were always for English class or textbooks/readings for other subjects. My childhood title of being the bookworm of the family, flying through the Percy Jackson and Hunger Games series in a few days, was no longer.

Self-Care: I first acknowledged that reading was something I wanted to get back into, then made a list of books I wanted to read. I also listed some of my favorite works, reminding myself of how powerful and life-changing those stories were to me. To ensure this wasn't a one-week fervor, I read books with my friend who had a similar experience. Together, like a book club, we both got back into the habit of reading a few chapters each day and being gifted with the wonders of the literary world.

4. Nature

Problems to Fight: emptiness, boredom, social withdrawal, depression, etc.

My Story: Maybe it's spring, maybe it's the sun, or maybe it's just all in my head, but seeing green grass and cherry blossoms helped me heal. I noticed my mood changed with the weather/season, being slightly more irritable when I woke up to gloom rather than sunshine. I knew something needed to change when the negativity was sticking on throughout the day.

Self-Care: Know that it is not uncommon for this to happen. Studies have confirmed the correlation between weather and mood with biological and psychological evidence. As spring and summer approached, I began taking daily walks outside and photographing the sky and flowers for a "nature walks" photo album. This photo album motivated me to persist in this routine because even one day without a new photo would make the project incomplete. My family also bought new succulents to decorate the house, and sharing my progress with them and friends boosted the joy I gained from my closer connection with the natural world.

5. Music

Problems to Fight: mood swings, demotivation, feeling uncultured, questioning your own music taste, sleep disorders, stress, etc.

My Story: I wasn't a huge music fan before I heard the right songs. My deepened connection to music first began when I tried listening to study and sleep music to help me focus and rest better. They both helped, leading me to hop on the ASMR train and opening me up to modern pop.

Self-Care: One thing I love about music is its versatility: there's always a genre, a playlist, and some lyrics that fit a certain mood. Similar to using it to help me study and sleep, I played soft music when I needed a break and rap songs when I needed something to cheer me up. If you're looking for song recommendations, you can check out this playlist of trendy songs in 2021-2022.

6. Exercise

Problems to Fight: laziness, demotivation, insecurities, etc.

My Story: "I don't feel like it today, maybe tomorrow... I'm tired, one day off shouldn't hurt..." But if these thoughts last, the consequences multiply. I broke from my regular yoga + HIIT exercising routine for one day, which turned into a week and was removed from my daily to-do's. Other than emerging eating and sleep problems, I didn't find myself experiencing many others as a result of the change, and only occasionally worked out at irregular intervals.

Self-Care: Seemingly insignificant changes can plant the roots of greater health issues in the future. When you start to notice changes in sleep/alertness or substitute exercise with eating less, that's a cue for change. I began to keep a record of the number of steps I took each day and set daily reminders on my phone to exercise. Getting back into my yoga + HIIT routine, I was rewarded with the benefits of regular physical activity.

7. Makeover

Problems to Fight: insecurities, imposter syndrome, social anxiety, boredom, demotivation, emptiness, etc.

My Story: Change is a necessity, and it's only a matter of time for it to take place. Experiencing senioritis and preparing for a transition to college life next year, I wanted a physical change to mark the beginning of the next stage of my life.

Self-Care: I cleaned around the house, redecorated my room, and cut my hair! Simple changes to the often neglected parts of our lives can make a huge difference. Makeovers add a pleasant sense of ritual to complement other external or internal occurrences in our lives, making these times less challenging and more meaningful.

8. Sleep

Problems to Fight: sleep disorders, fatigue, anxiety, mood swings, eating disorders, etc.

My Story: Studying until midnight before midterm exams is understandable, but sleeping late on a regular basis is not acceptable. Sleep is our body's time to recharge, reflect, and grow. Sleep deprivation that lasted for an extended period of time led me to the same health consequences that parents and teachers had warned us about: headaches, bad moods, fatigue, slow brain/body unfunctioning, and so on.

Self-Care: Sleep early for one night, and you'll fall in love with it. I went to sleep before 10 o'clock one night and woke up the next morning feeling awake, happy, and comfortable. Compared with my exam nights schedule (which made me feel exhausted and grumpy), getting enough sleep supplied me with loads of energy throughout the day and boosted my mood and productivity.

9. Movies/documentaries

Problems to Fight: boredom, emptiness, feeling uncultured, etc.

My Story: Have you ever felt ready for some "me time", but didn't know how to spend it? For a while, I thought social media would suffice, but over time the guilt and emptiness began to weigh over the temporary enjoyment. I turned to watching insightful movies and documentaries instead.

Self-Care: I had been keeping a movie list for a while, and used that to help me find movies I wanted to watch. Paying for a Netflix, Hulu, or Apple TV membership can introduce you to new TV series, movies, and documentaries. I recently finished watching the Oscar-winning movie CODA and binged the Our Planet documentary series during Earth Week last month. If you don't have a movie list already, there are plenty recommendations/must-watch lists you can browse online!

10. Smile :)

Problems to Fight: anger/frustration, anxiety, depression, emptiness, boredom, demotivation, etc.

My Story: If there's nothing to be sad about, you should be happy. My "resting face" can make me look unintentionally unapproachable and angry, so I learned to smile in my neutral state as well, helping reduce such misunderstandings.

Self-Care: Our brain associates smiles with feelings of joy, surprise, and hope, so adopting this new routine increased the presence of positivity throughout my day. Also, a fun fact: smiling even helps you live longer!

"Taking care of yourself doesn't mean me first, it means me too."

– L.P. Krest

Spending time alone and taking breaks is not something to be ashamed or guilty of. Consider this: in caring for yourself, you will be more ready to interact with others and engage in experiences the world has to offer, a win-win situation. The 10 self-care routines listed above are only meant to serve as guides––it's more important to find what works for you personally and maintain those healthy routines for long periods of time. Believe, and you can achieve! ♥

Katherine Wang
10k+ pageviews

Katherine is a current senior in high school. A storyteller at heart, she loves to write short stories, narratives, and poetry. Outside of writing, Katherine also enjoys drawing, cooking, and swimming.