This is another fantastic article from one of our amazing student bloggers, Giorgia Sala.
Looking after your mental health can be done outside of psychology clinics. I was recently excited by Clem Bastow’s pieces on how pro-wrestling and weight-lifting have helped her overcome body image and mental health challenges. She describes how spectating at wrestling matches is cathartic, and weight lifting has helped her reconceptualise her fitness goals and manage her anxiety. I loved reading this because it demonstrates that your own personality should shape how you look after yourself. You don’t have to do what other people have done, or what they say is best. We can get creative with how we help ourselves.
An empirical finding which supports this notion is how listening to ‘extreme music’, like punk and heavy metal, can help people who enjoy that genre process their emotions. Researchers found that rather than increasing angry or negative feelings in the participants, the music seemed to match their physiological arousal and result in more positive emotions afterwards. While the sample size was small and mostly male, I personally resonate with this finding. When I’m stressed and frustrated, I find that listening to melodic heavy metal releases the tension and helps me calm down.
There are different ways of performing self-care. It doesn’t have to be tired to certain activities like yoga and meditation. People may think they’re doing self-care wrong because they aren’t exercising for an hour every day, but the process doesn’t have to be daunting or overly challenging.
So anyway, what is self-care? ReachOut, Australia’s leading online mental health organisation for young people, describes self-care as anything you do voluntarily to maintain your physical, emotional and mental well-being. It’s about figuring out what you need and doing what makes you feel nourished. For some people, it might be doing some exercise, for others, writing a journal, going out for dinner, watching a TV show or reading might help. It might be as simple as getting enough sleep.
And why self-care important? It can help you destress and refocus. Particularly for students, people with stressful jobs and those who spend a lot of time looking after others, remembering to take care of yourself can fall out of your mind. Putting work or others above yourself all the time can make you lose sight of why you’re doing what you’re doing. Furthermore, being stressed and running on empty takes a toll and reduces your effectiveness.
The main thing to remember is self-care is activities are intended to be ‘adaptive’, that is, things which are helpful or positive changes. For example, while a glass of wine might make you relax, or buying new shoes may perk up your mood, doing these things excessively or having them as your only strategies for unwinding will probably create more issues after a while. Doing anything to excess, even ‘positive’ activities like exercising, can become problematic. As they say, “everything in moderation, including moderation”.
Of course, there are tried and true self-care techniques like breathing and relaxation exercises, and clinical psychologists will often teach these. There are also a lot smart phone apps which can remind you to practice, like Insight Timer and Smiling Mind. To get some other ideas, ReachOut’s page on developing a self-care plan may be helpful. These Ted Talks could start you off with some inspiration, and if you need a giggle, this list in the style of Yoko Ono should do it. Self-care doesn’t have to add more pressure on your life. It can start small and include something you already enjoy.
Ref: Psychology Clinic Melbourne