Take a break, they say. Self-care first. Meditation is good for your mental health, they say. Exercise. Yoga. Do this. Do that. But it’s all easier said than done. Who’s got the time? After all, we’re just trying to catch up on our to-do lists, and with the quarantine situation recently, we’re just trying to survive and figure out the next best thing to do, not to mention the parents managing crisis schooling on top of everything else. It never stops.
But in my experience, busy or not, developing a consistent practice that’s good for my mental health has become a priority. Why? Because it’s the only way I know to survive, thrive and live a fulfilling life. Routines and daily practices have become key to my overall well being which contributes to my productivity, progress and success.
A practice is defined as the “action or process of performing or doing something; habit; systematic exercise for the purpose of proficiency.” And I believe that daily practices are some of the biggest forms of self-care, but many people struggle to make time for themselves.
For so long, I felt guilty doing something for myself, especially being raised in a traditional Filipino household, where a woman’s role is primarily to be of service and take care of everyone around her. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with that (in fact, it is admirable), the flip side is that I tended to forget all about myself because I got too busy serving others. I felt selfish resting or taking care of myself when I was supposed to be taking care of others. I felt like I was a lazy person doing nothing. Staying busy was the only way I knew how to prove myself, or so I thought. And simply put, I incorrectly thought that serving and helping others was the only way I could prove my worth.
After a lifetime of learning and growing, today, I believe I am loved. I am enough. I am worthy – even when I’m not serving and I’m resting and doing nothing. But if I’m being honest, there are times I still feel bad. When I talk to some female family members who tell me that they have been busy doing housework and taking care of everyone else while I am taking a warm bath for myself, I feel bad at times. But I have to realize that is their choice, and I get to choose for myself.
This beautiful excerpt from Lysa TerKeurst’s book, Uninvited, is something that helps me so I remind myself over and over…
“It’s settling in my soul, I was created by God, who formed me because He so much loved the very thought of me… God’s love isn’t based on me. It’s simply placed on me. And it’s the place from which I should LIVE….LOVED.”
So I have learned to take care of myself in a whole new way. That means, I make time for myself regularly and consistently, with no excuses. Because if I am going to LIVE…LOVED by God every day of my life, I need to live and love myself enough to make time for something that’s good for my mental health and well being.
Below are six simple things I practice every day that help me and support my mental health. And in recent months, with all the hard days we’ve all been living, with the uncertainties and fear of the unknown, and with my anxiety skyrocketing for about a month when 5 family members tested positive for COVID-19 and 3 of them were hospitalized, these practices have proven even more beneficial and paramount to my mental health.
Several of these practices are actually part of my morning routine, so they can be done in a short amount of time.
There are many forms and types of meditation. It doesn’t matter which one you choose to practice, so do what works best for you. It matters most that you take the time to sit quietly and allow yourself to just be. I practice meditation 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the afternoon/night. It’s only been a year since I’ve developed this consistent practice, and I have seen an enormous difference in my overall sleep and anxiety. Setting an intention to meditate even for just 5 minutes a day can do wonders.
After my morning meditation, I take the time to read my daily devotionals and the Bible. They’re short and quick enough if you’re busy. It’s part of my prayer rituals, and it’s a great way to start my day guided and supported, no matter how I’m feeling that morning. After that, I read about a chapter or 2 of a book that inspires and motivates me. Even when life is busy, you would be surprised how many books you can finish in a year if you just read one chapter a day.
Listening to music.
After my meditation and reading, I start listening to worship songs and leave the music playing in the background all day long. It’s soothing, comforting and is therapeutic for me. Music is a powerful tool, so I also listen to other kinds of music throughout the day depending on my mood and what I need at the time.
Normally, I exercise 3-4 times a week between cycling and yoga. But since the “stay at home” situation has started, moving every day has become a necessity for me. When my oldest brother and his wife were hospitalized within the first week of us staying at home, this heightened the stress and anxiety in our family. I personally felt helpless and restless, and moving was something I immediately resorted to. I started taking dance fitness classes, walking with my husband around the neighborhood more and continued with my indoor cycling and yoga. They say, move your mood by moving your body, and this could not be more true for me in the last couple of months. For the first time in my life, I actually get it. Moving at least 20-30 minutes each day helps calm your mind and alleviate the stresses and anxiety.
Getting some fresh air.
This really needs no further explanation. No matter where you live, just try to step outside for a few minutes and take a little time to breathe.
Last but certainly not least, take a few minutes a day to check in with yourself. Be honest with yourself, tune in with how you truly feel, scan your body, and ask yourself, “how do I feel today?” “What do I need today?” This simply means allowing yourself to feel and honor what your body and mind are going through. If your body feels tired, take a break. If you feel overwhelmed, stop and rest. If you need help, ask. If you’re feeling alone, reach out to someone. If you feel emotional, cry. Basically, it’s about giving yourself permission to feel all the good and bad, and everything in between. We are living in unprecedented times, and no one knows what is the “right thing” to do. We are all learning. We are all growing.
Among everything listed above, checking in with yourself is by far the most important practice you can do. Because without it, your mental health may struggle. This is the best act of self-love, by staying true to you.
Prioritize loving yourself today so that you can love others in the same way God loves you – meaning make time for yourself and for daily practices to strengthen and love yourself so you can then be of service to others.
This is your chance to show up for yourself. It doesn’t matter how you do it. You choose what works for you and makes you feel good. Some days it will come easily and naturally; some days it will be hard. And that’s okay. That’s why it’s called a practice. Remember, it is more than just the practice itself. It’s about the purposeful way of living life day after day. It’s about knowing that you are worthy of the time you make for yourself, and practice the things that lift you up and sustain your mental and physical health. It’s about the intention of taking care of yourself and loving yourself the way God plans for you – because you are loved in every way and you are worthy.
“You have been set apart as holy to the LORD your God, and he has chosen you from all the nations of the earth to be his own special treasure.” –Deuteronomy 14:2
Are there worries that you’re facing that have severely impacted your wellbeing? Take time today and recommit them to Jesus because He cares. And know that God has also provided the gift of mental health professionals to help when needed. While we do our best to provide you with resources that will help you in your journey as a people on mission, please note that no article we share on mental health can replace professional help. So If the darkness is overwhelming and you are in need of help, please reach out to a trusted professional counselor. And, know that we love you. Each and every one of you was made in the image of God, valuable and treasured by Him, so please hold on and never give up.