New Year Self-Care Strategies for Mental & Physical Well-Being

self care physical mental wellbeing new yearWe often talk about the importance of self-care in supporting mental health, but what does that mean? Simply put, self-care refers to the maintenance of mental and physical well-being – checking in with yourself frequently to ensure that your basic needs are being fulfilled.  There’s even a Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) skill set, “PLEASE Master”, which is designed to help the user keep negative emotions in check by focusing on self-care.  It may not be immediately apparent how these habits are connected to managing your disorder, but there is plenty of research to support the relationship with mental health.

Here are some of our top suggestions to improve your self-care:

sleep mental healthSleep

Both teens and adults are increasingly burning the candle at both ends, not going to bed early enough to get a good night’s rest before the next day starts. As we try to fit in more activities each day, we end up compromising not only our ability to function the following day, but our mental and physical health overall. While we don’t yet fully understand the neural basis of disorders such as schizophrenia, autism, and PTSD, recent animal studies have shown that sleep deprivation causes similar impairment to what is observed in individuals with these disorders. Not getting enough sleep has also been linked to symptoms of depression, weight gain, substance abuse, and poor academic performance.

Clearly, we should all be making sleep a top priority. But how do we overcome the obstacles to getting 7 to 9 hours of high-quality rest?

  • For starters, try to keep your bedtime and waking time as consistent as possible from one day to the next.
  • Giving yourself enough time to wind down in the evening after your day – and time to get moving in the morning before you head out the door – will go a long way toward improving the quality and efficacy of your rest.
  • You can incorporate small rituals, such as a cup of herbal tea or a stretch sequence, into these periods of time.
  • Check your bedroom for things that could interrupt your sleep during the evening, such as light sources or unpleasant noises, and try to keep the temperature slightly lower throughout the evening – generally between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Technology can help too: there are apps available now (such as Sleep Time) to help you find the ideal bedtime based on when you need to wake up. You might also consider using a gradual light alarm in the morning (such as the Philips Wake-up Light) for a more relaxed awakening.


exercise and mental healthExercise

Leading a sedentary lifestyle, especially in combination with inconsistent sleep and eating habits, is a strong contributor to poor mental and physical health. People who avoid exercise are missing out on a wide variety of benefits, from enhanced memory and overall cognitive function, to the improvement of sleep and digestive health.

Regular physical activity can even help to protect against the negative effects of stress, reducing inflammation, releasing endorphins, and improving self-image. A recent study at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden demonstrated that exercise even has epigenetic effects, improving the function of your DNA at a cellular level. That’s some powerful stuff!

So, how much exercise do you really need? For the average adult, the CDC recommends about 20 minutes per day of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, as well as a few days per week of strength-building exercises (such as lifting weights) for optimum health. Try to identify a few activities you really enjoy – running may not be your favorite thing, but how about swimming, yoga, or dance classes?

If you’re not sure you can spare the time, don’t give up on your fitness goals – research has shown that even short bursts of intense activity can have a dramatic effect on your overall well-being. Try the New York Times’ 7-Minute Workout, now available as an app, for a good introduction to this type of high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

Even when you’re not exercising, you can still increase your level of physical activity throughout the day by taking the stairs, parking further away from the store entrance, and walking or biking (instead of driving) for shorter trips.


diet and mental healthDiet

With the food industry increasingly moving in the direction of convenience and mass production, it’s more important now than ever before that we pay attention to what we’re putting in our bodies and how it makes us feel. Animal research has linked high-fructose diets with depressive symptoms, anxiety, and impaired memory, and trans fat has been found to negatively affect memory as well. On the flip side, omega-3 fatty acids (found in nuts, seeds, and fish) may help to prevent depression, while vitamin D can help to ward off seasonal affective disorder.

A healthy, balanced diet supports other self-care habits as well, helping you to maintain a sleep schedule and giving you the fuel you need for physical activity. If you’re not sure how your current diet matches up against the recommended calories and nutrients, try tracking your food intake for a week with an app like MyFitnessPal (accessible online and on your smartphone).

Take note of which foods cause you to feel physically or mentally unwell, and limit your consumption of those items. Remember to consume everything in moderation: crash diets and body shaming are not sustainable strategies for long-term health. Eating mindfully and making gradual changes to your diet and lifestyle will have an incredible impact over time.


stress management mental healthStress management

The most important element of self-care is keeping stress under control. Some recent research suggests that improving resilience to stress may be an effective treatment for depression. Whether or not you’re experiencing depression, having some go-to coping strategies will help you to manage stressful situations, while incorporating soothing items and rituals into your environment and routine will get you started off on the right foot every day.

  • Make a playlist of your favorite songs to listen to first thing in the morning, or whenever you need a boost
  • Keep a candle or scent diffuser in a place where you will be exposed to it frequently
  • Hang your favorite photos and artwork in the places around the house where you spend the most time
  • If you have a self-affirming mantra or quote that really resonates with you, post it on a sticky note where you’re sure to see to remind you to hold onto positive thoughts
  • At the end of the day, or at some quiet moment, spend a little time developing your inner peace by meditating, practicing mindfulness, or writing down your thoughts and feelings in a journal
  • You can also try to spend some time each day interacting with animals and enjoying nature, both of which have been shown to reduce stress and boost overall well-being
  • Having a pet or volunteering with shelter animals is a great way to work this de-stressing time into your day.
  • If you can’t get outdoors much, just having a plant in your environment will produce a similar effect.
  • Of course, you’ll want to spend time with other people as well, whether this means visiting with your friends and family, taking a class, or joining another type of group. You can get additional benefits by avoiding isolation and helping others with a volunteering commitment.


All of these self-care habits can help you to maintain a sense of calm and reason, making decisions throughout the day from your intuitive Wise Mind instead of being controlled by your emotions. While we all need balance, and knowing yourself well is the key to knowing how to prioritize your efforts when there is only so much time in the day. Your plan for self-care should be tailored to your unique needs and personality. Do you notice a strong connection between one of these healthy habits and your overall mood and ability to function? What other ways can you think of to incorporate self-care into your day?


By Blythe Leatherman
Independent Living Specialist at OPI


For more information on OPI’s residential and intensive outpatient (IOP Day Treatment) programs and our measures to help young adults build healthy habits, lives worth living, and overcome Failure to Launch issues, call us at now (888) 814-5985 or click HERE to submit an online form. We want to help and will be in touch promptly.