For many of us who are stressed, tired, and overworked, the concept of self-care can feel like a foreign luxury reserved for people with more time. But research shows taking care of yourself isn’t selfish or self-centered; rather, it improves health and overall well-being, making you more capable of accomplishing the things you want to do.
A recent thread on reddit asked psychologists to share common things people do (or don’t do) without realizing how damaging they are to their mental health. We’ve compiled some of their best answers to bring you a few easy changes you can make to your day-to-day that will ultimately improve your quality of life in the long term.
Tone Down the Venting
When we go through situations that are trying or anxiety-inducing, it’s common to air them out on the group text. After all, who hasn’t had a passive-aggressive spat with their boss and gone straight to Gchat to unload on their friends?
But according to psychologists, co-rumination, or “repeatedly discussing and rehashing our problems and difficult feelings with someone else without coming up with a solution or resolution” can be really detrimental in the long run.
So much so, that it can lead to depression and anxiety if your venting goes unchecked. So even though it feels good to revisit and process your problems with friends, the circular gossiping can actually hold you back from addressing your issues productively.
Next time you catch yourself rehashing your complaints with your friend group, ask yourself the following questions to keep yourself from co-ruminating:
- Is my problem new?
- Have I spoken about it before?
- Am I working myself up about something that hasn’t even happened yet?
- Do I have any new information to share or am I just repeating myself?
Try to Keep a More Regular Sleep Schedule
If your personal slogan is “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” you might want to reconsider your brand. Erratic sleep schedules and frequent all-nighters can be quite damaging to your mental and physical health, according to psychologists who urge adults to try for a minimum of 7-9 hours a night.
Research shows that, during sleep, the brain clears itself of harmful toxins like neuritic plaque and tangles “like a dishwasher,” per a University of Rochester neurosurgery professor. This helps to explain why we struggle to think clearly after a night of poor sleep.
If our toxins aren’t properly cleared, studies show they can ultimately lead to brain disorders like Alzheimer’s and dementia.
The best way to avoid these diseases? Prioritize 7–9 hours of sleep over another game of Fortnite or “just one more” episode of your favorite show. The TV will still be there tomorrow, we swear.
Don’t Sweep Your Problems Under the Rug
While overdoing it with repeated venting is decidedly unproductive, it can also be harmful — and ultimately counter-productive — to avoid thinking about problems altogether.
Avoidance coping, as psychologists call it, refers to dealing with your problems by, essentially, not dealing with them at all. For many people who have unsettling emotions or difficult memories, not calling them to mind may seem like a seductive solution.
But in fact, avoiding issues — rather than dealing with them and accepting how they make us feel — creates stress and anxiety, in addition to ravaging self-confidence, according to psychologists.
If you feel like you use avoidance tactics to cope with your issues, try discussing them out loud instead. Don’t overdo it and get caught in a vicious cycle, but having others around to check your reality can help to get out of your own head.
Be Kinder to Yourself
The cornerstones of self-care are self-acceptance and self-love. This seems obvious at face value but is often overlooked in day-to-day life.
We often engage in a paradox where we like the version of ourselves we have in our own heads while we simultaneously beat ourselves up when we can’t measure up to that constructed ideal.
And while a lot of people think this way, it’s not hard to realize how counterproductive this thinking is to bettering yourself and cultivating self-confidence, if you take a step back.
Instead, show yourself the patience you give others, and cut yourself the same amount of slack. If you can change the fixed idea you have of yourself and believe you’re a constantly changing work in progress, you’ll start to grow and learn from your mistakes rather than torturing yourself by viewing every error you make as a sign of failure and weakness.
Learn to Say “No”
Many of us feel compelled to accept every invitation and spread ourselves thin by juggling a million tasks because it seems easier than turning someone down.
But according to psychologists, setting boundaries by saying no from time to time is the best way to keep healthy relationships with ourselves and others. For one, it’ll keep you from feeling overly burned out, stressed and overwhelmed. And saying no will also ultimately help improve your quality of life once you can spend time on yourself rather than worrying about how to get out of your latest commitment.
Interestingly, the inability to say no is often tied to low self-confidence and self-esteem. We might have been conditioned to become people-pleasers to the point where we imagine we’re useless if we’re not being helpful, or that our self-worth depends on how much we do for others.
The first step to taking back control of our lives and our time is to recognize the cycles we’re in and to keep our responses simple. Remember, you never have to ask for permission to say no, and remind yourself that you’re turning down a request, not a person.
Try Out New Coping Strategies
Several of us have our go-to coping mechanisms, the little pick-me-ups that work their magic when seemingly nothing else can. But when people don’t realize the long-term effect of dependence on unhealthy strategies, their physical and mental health can suffer.
Drinking to deal with social anxiety is a common coping mechanism that can snowball out of control if it goes unchecked. Negative self-talk and oversleeping also fall into this category of instantaneous feel-goods that work against you in the long run.
So next time you’re tempted to take a “day in” because you’re feeling blue, reconsider your approach. Sure, it feels exhausting to be in the world when you’re feeling depressed, but isolation will only further the depression.
A good rule when you’re feeling down is to do whatever your depression is telling you not to do. Calling friends, picking up groceries, or taking the dog for a long walk will help you feel less sad and worthless.
This and our other tiny tips won’t take much time out of your day, and your mental health will thank you for the adjustments you’ve made later.