When you hear the phrase “mental health,” what do you initially think? For many, the phrase first conjures images of mental illness rather than the actuality of a universal human need. Mental health is in fact integral to every persons’ physical, professional, emotional, and social health, which is why all of us benefit from a lifestyle that prioritises our mental wellbeing through acts of self-care.
So what is mental health, anyway? According to the World Health Organisation, mental health is “a state of wellbeing in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.” Most notably, WHO states that mental health is more than “just the absence of mental disorders or disabilities.” Instead, mental health encompasses your ability to think, express emotions, relate to others, earn a livelihood, and experience the joy of living.
Prioritising your mental health through sustainable self-care can support your mental wellbeing by helping to prevent issues before they arise and by reducing the effects of common mental health issues, such as stress, anxiety, and depression.
5 examples of simple self-care
Self-care can range from respecting your biological needs to eliminating unnecessary distractions from your work day. Though these actions may happen when no one is watching (like worrying about your last Instagram story), their effects can profoundly benefit your daily sense of health, confidence, and clarity.
1. Get adequate sleep
If you’ve ever under-slept, you know that heavy, hazy, irritable, and fatigued feeling. Even one night of poor sleep can make you less productive, cloud your focus and judgment, wreak havoc on your mood and ability to learn, and increase your likelihood of errors and accidents. Even more alarmingly, research has demonstrated that ongoing sleep deficiency increases your risk of chronic disease, including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression, anxiety, and risk-taking.
Classical Chinese medicine (CCM) has long recognised the invaluable role of sleep for optimum health and wellbeing. From its foundational view of harmonising Qi’s opposites (yang and yin), CCM views daytime as active (yang) and nighttime as passive (yin). Ideally, yang activities (thinking, problem-solving, eating, working, exercising, and socialising) are paused nightly so vital yin activities (relaxing, digesting, detoxifying, and sleeping) can take centre stage. Like Western medicine, CCM recommends limiting stimulating substances or activities, managing stress, winding down at least an hour before bed, and following a sleep schedule (e.g., routinely going to bed at 10:30 PM and waking at 6:30 AM).
2. Exercise regularly
Regular exercise is a boon to your total wellbeing. Whilst a sedentary lifestyle is associated with an increased risk for developing a mental health disorder, an active lifestyle reduces stress and anxiety, prevents cognitive decline, improves brain function, sharpens focus and memory, enhances creativity, and promotes better sleep. For adults between the ages of 18-64, a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise 5 days a week is recommended, alongside interspersing periods of sitting with standing and moving.
CCM has always understood the value of exercise, and offered a solution through its comprehensive movement system of Qigong. In addition to promoting a host of physical health benefits, Qigong has been shown to support mental wellbeing by reducing stress, anxiety, depressive symptoms, and mood disturbances. Qigong also shows promise as a supplemental treatment for traumatic brain injuries, cognitive impairments, substance abuse, and Parkinson’s disease. Once learned, Qigong exercises can support your mental wellbeing as a standalone program or supplement to a strength and conditioning routine.
Get started today: Deer Lifts Its Antlers Qigong from White Tiger’s 5 Animal Qigong ebook
3. Eat well
The food you eat provides your brain with the fuel it needs to perform its countless functions — even during sleep! The best brain fuel is rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and probiotics, whilst diets of sugary processed foods can impair brain function, cause oxidative stress, crush your mood, and promote inflammation. Diets high in fruits, vegetables, unprocessed grains, seafood, and moderate amounts of meat and dairy have even been correlated with significantly lower rates of depression.
Eating for health, balance, and optimum digestion has been a key aspect of Chinese medicine for thousands of years. Like all aspects of CCM, a primary goal is to balance yang and yin. Yang foods are considered to be heating and drying, whilst yin foods are considered to be moist and cooling. Though CCM diet recommendations can vary by individual needs, general recommendations include eating fresh whole seasonal foods in moderation, and at the same time every day.
In a world where stress is associated with the leading causes of physical and mental illness, the importance of relaxation cannot be overstated. Numerous studies have found relaxation techniques, such as mindful movement and deep breathing, to reduce stress, anxiety, blood pressure, respiration rate, insomnia, and pain.
The meditation and breathing techniques that are becoming mainstream in the Western world have been valued by CCM for thousands of years. The value of relaxation comes is represented in one of CCM’s foundational principles: self-healing and regeneration.
The ability to “work productively and fruitfully” is largely dependent on your ability to clearly chart your course of action, keep track of your to-do list, and concentrate on the task at hand. But as many of us know all too well, we have an endless supply of internal distractions (stress, anxiety) and external distractions (smartphones, coworkers) at hand. In addition to practicing the aforementioned forms of self-care and setting boundaries with your colleagues and friends, mindfulness practices – such as meditation and Qigong- – have been shown to help increase sustained attention, sharpen memory, and increase your emotional flexibility.
Learn more about how mindfulness supports cognitive function here: “Can mindfulness help you study and learn more efficiently?”
Through its practices of Qigong, acupuncture, and herbal supplements, ancient Chinese medicine has classically and currently strived to optimise cognitive function through the free flow of Qi energy to the brain. To support memory, retention, recall, learning, and healthy ageing, CCM treats the organ systems and meridians whilst systematically strengthening key cognitive functions through mindfulness practices.
Get started today: Monkey Strolls Qigong from White Tiger’s 5 Animals Qigong ebook
Self-care doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming. Indeed, sometimes prioritising the most elemental aspects of your humanness – sleep, movement, nutrition, relaxation, and presence – is all you need to reclaim a greater sense of balance, ease, and wellbeing. You can deepen your practical understanding of Chinese medicine and wellbeing through our evidence-based articles, ebooks, online courses, and teacher training courses.