by Liberty Stembridge, Lifestyle Columnist
Published in Lifestyle on 27th September, 2019
Life can get pretty stressful sometimes, and it's difficult to know how to cope, especially if you don't have coping strategies in place.
Self-care is an important part of looking after yourself and your mental health, and it comes in many forms. Implementing some self-care practices into your everyday life can help you to stay mentally well, physically healthy and more resilient to stress and change.
Meditation is, simply put, the practice of quieting the mind and become aware of your own thoughts and sensations. It may sound simple, but it's harder than it sounds.
Many people (such as Buddhist monks) have dedicated their lives to the practice and pursuit of meditation, but that doesn't mean you have to give up all of your worldly possessions and move to a monastery. Meditation can be practiced by anyone, anywhere and since it's resurgence into the mainstream, meditation is something you can easily learn too.
Studies have shown that meditation can be beneficial in a number of ways, from improving sleep, reducing stress or increasing self-esteem.
How do you start a meditation practice though? For many people, the idea of sitting for hours doing nothing not only seems like a waste of time but nearly impossible too. Luckily, you don't need to do that. With YouTube videos, apps like Headspace and Calm, or even a local meditation class, you can learn how to meditate in as little as 5 minutes per day.
Yoga is a physical practice and spiritual discipline. It combines movement, meditation, and breathwork to create a calming experience that is good for your mind, body and soul. Yoga has become an extremely popular way to improve flexibility, de-stress and combat afflictions such as anxiety and depression.
There have been numerous health benefits associated with a regular yoga practice, including improved muscle tone, reduced stress, and tension, increased self-esteem, improved concentration, improved circulation, increased weight loss and immune system stimulation.
Starting a yoga practice when you have no idea what you're doing might seem tricky. Yoga is more than just stretching to reach your toes or breathing deeply, which is why it can be beneficial to have a teacher guide you into the correct postures and breathing techniques.
If you can't make it down to a yoga studio, try online classes such as the free youtube channel "Yoga with Adriene" or the many other online yoga classes offered by yoga teachers from across the globe. Whether you like hot and fast yoga, or slower, more gentle and relaxing yoga, there'll be something out there for you.
Originally developed as a martial art, Tai Chi is now being used all over the world as a way to improve fitness, reduce stress and increase balance and flexibility.
Tai Chi aims to create natural movement and flow in a way that combines body, mind, and spirit. The movements in Tai Chi are often graceful and slow, focusing on balance, concentration, and strength. This makes it relaxing, whilst still providing health benefits for the body. Similarly to yoga, Tai Chi aims to sync both body and breath to create a relaxing experience.
Many different studies into the benefits of Tai Chi have shown that Tai Chi can benefit muscular strength, physical fitness, flexibility, and stress levels as well as reducing pain. Although tai chi is often recommended for the elderly as a way to improve joint pain and increase flexibility, it can be beneficial to everyone.
Much like yoga, there are many online resources available to help you to learn the ancient art of Tai Chi, from blogs to youtube channels to books.
However, there is no real substitute for a real-world Tai Chi teacher who will be able to instruct, correct and guide you. It's not necessary to sign up for Tai Chi lessons every week, but even going once or twice can help you to develop the necessary skills to take your Tai Chi further.
Chances are that when you think of weightlifting, you don't think of how it could benefit your mental health. However, more and more people are being drawn towards weightlifting as a way to reduce stress, increase strength and improve self-esteem.
The primary goal of weightlifting is to simply lift weights, slowly increasing the weights to improve strength and build muscle. Under the guidance of a personal trainer, you can greatly improve not only your muscle mass but your muscle tone and metabolism speed - resulting in increased weight loss.
Weightlifting has been shown to be beneficial for mental health in numerous ways. Intense physical exercise has been shown to increase endorphins and improve mood, as well as increase self-esteem and confidence. Increased strength and muscle mass can also help to boost body confidence and decrease anxiety.
Getting started with weightlifting can be intimidating at first, especially for women or first-time gym-goers. Nevertheless, once you learn the ropes, it can be a very rewarding activity, so it's worth pushing past the nerves.
If you're not sure how to start, paying for a few sessions with a personal trainer is an excellent way to get an introduction to your gym, learn the basics of weightlifting and receive some personalized tips and advice for your goals.
From there you can continue on your journey and slowly improve. If you don't have access to a personal trainer however, you can still learn some of the basics through youtube tutorials, books, and online personal training manuals.
Rock climbing and bouldering are growing and gaining popularity as a relaxation technique, a way to de-stress after work and a fun method of increasing physical fitness.
Rock-climbing is generally done in a dedicated rock-climbing or bouldering gym. Many people find themselves drawn to rock-climbing for it's social aspects, technical skill and the chance to try something completely new.
Rock-climbing, much like weight-lifting, can help improve self-esteem, reduce anxiety and loneliness as well as improve physical fitness.
Bouldering and rock-climbing can be learned by yourself with the aid of youtube tutorials, but getting some advice from a teacher or more experienced rock climber is always best, since there is always a risk of injury involved in these types of exercise. If you have signed up to a rock-climbing gym, they will probably run introduction sessions or classes to help you level-up your climbing.
Nature therapy, or "ecotherapy" as it's sometimes referred to, is a somewhat unknown form of mental therapy, designed to help you to reconnect with nature, tap into your spirituality and benefit from all that nature can provide.
Studies have shown that increased urbanization has led to an increase in levels of mental illness, particularly anxiety and depression, whilst on the other hand, those who spend considerable amounts of time outdoors and in nature, seem to be less anxious and less prone to depression.
Although going on a hike may not simply cure someone of mental illness, it has been shown that spending more time in nature can indeed reduce anxiety, calm the mind or stabilize emotions. This research is now leading to an increased scientific interest into the benefits of "nature therapy" - utilizing nature as a form of therapy and self-care
So how do you try "nature therapy"? If you live in a city, with little access to nature, it might be difficult for you to get exposure to nature on a regular basis, but that doesn't mean it's impossible. Find a local park, or a secluded tree, or even fill your bedroom with plants to get some much-needed green exposure.
One practice that many "nature therapists" recommend is combining meditation and nature therapy. Meditating in nature can help to calm the mind down quicker, whilst also giving you some time to connect with yourself, and the natural world.
Journal therapy/writing therapy, is a useful tool to help organize your thoughts, express your feelings and reduce sensations of panic and anxiety. Many people have found that a regular journalling routine has helped them to better understand themselves, their mental health and as such, improve their health and wellbeing.
Journalling/journal therapy focuses on using prompts or writing exercises to explore any emotions that might be coming up, and investigate your mental health.
The Center for Journal Therapy defines journal therapy as the purposeful and intentional use of reflective writing to further mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health and wellness. Many psychotherapists now incorporate writing therapy and prompt into their therapy practices as a way to help their clients become more introspective and self-aware.
There are many ways to explore your own mind through journalling - it could be photo journalling, where you reflect upon your own experiences and attach photographs to help jog memories and record your life. Or, if you're looking for a more in-depth, introspective experience, you could use a list of "journal prompts" designed to get you to question your motives, thoughts, and emotions.
There is no need to pay for a therapist in order to try journal therapy, but that doesn't mean that it isn't worth it. If you are really struggling, a therapist might be able to help you in a more holistic way, whilst encorporating journal therapy as a part of your treatment.
Massage is a broad term referring to a range of different treatments and methods. Loosely speaking, massage is the manipulation of the soft tissues of the body, designed to relax the body and promote general health and wellness. Massage has long been used to treat chronic pain conditions, help cancer patients, improve arthritis and promote relaxation.
It is increasingly also being used as a form of mental health care. Studies have shown that moderate pressure soft tissue massage can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for calming the nervous system and reducing anxiety.
Massage can also reduce levels of cortisol in the body (also known as the stress hormone) and induce changes in EEG activity resulting in less anxiety.
The best way to recieve the full benefits of massage is to see a trained massage practitioner. Whilst some of the benefits of massage can be gained through self-massage and massage from a friend, nothing can truly compare to the skill of a trained professional who knows how to manipulate the body.