While counseling is a very valuable tool for people to help during difficult times, there are many additional forms of self-care that can both keep you out of the counselor’s office or make your time here shorter and more fruitful. As a therapist I thought I should share my favorite self-help tools to help you keep your life and family running smoothly:
- Exercise. It helps boost your mood, increase energy, lower blood pressure and improve sleep quality. As little as a 20 minute walk or yoga 3x per week can have positive effects. Get moving and keep moving.
- Proper nutrition. Poor nutrition can affect your health in a variety of negative ways but did you know it can also affect your mood? Getting plenty of fresh vegetables, proteins and omega-3s can help boost your mood and reduce anxiety. Avoiding sugars and simple carbohydrates also can help keep your mood stable.
- Practice relaxation daily. This could be as simple as prayer, meditation or yoga. One of my favorite styles of relaxation is called Yoga Nidra, which is essentially a guided meditation that has been proven to reduce anxiety, insomnia, depression, chronic pain and even help people with a history of substance abuse maintain sobriety. A free download is available on iTunes through their podcasts by searching Yoga Nidra and CDs can be found inexpensively.
- A daily dose of sunshine. 10-15 minutes 3-5x per week in the late morning sun seems to help people sleep better at night and result in positive mood changes. This time in the sun should be spent without sunglasses, regular glasses or contacts as it helps optimize the type of exposure the brain and nervous system seem to need in order to produce positive results. The additional vitamin D from reasonable sun exposure can also help with mood and inflammatory conditions. Remember, a few minutes are all you need!
- Journaling. This is something that therapists recommend over and over and with good reason. There’s something about putting your worries onto paper that helps release them and turn down the volume on repetitive stressful thoughts. To reap the full benefits in my experience it’s most helpful to journal several times per week. Treat yourself to a nice, fresh journal and new pen and go for it.
- Volunteering. I don’t think enough has been studied about the benefits of altruism but most counselors would agree that we have all seen people benefit in ways that surpass the traditional self-help methods. Volunteering doesn’t just improve your mood it can give you a better perspective of your blessings and the satisfaction of giving back to your community.
- Spirituality. Studies show a regular spiritual or religious practice helps keep people feeling happy and connected to others.
- Laughter. It’s truly the best medicine. Known for improving mood, reducing blood pressure and soothing anxiety. Perhaps a substitution of Law & Order reruns for some comedy specials might be just the thing you need to help chase away the blues.
Of course these tools don’t take the place of regular therapy but they are habits that might help keep you out of my office or make your time with me be more effective. I wish you happy self-care.