If I Don’t Take Care of Myself, Who Will?

(The Transformative Power of Self-Care and Exercise)

As a board certified psychiatrist dedicated to my patients holistic wellness, I’ve witnessed the incredible impact of daily self-care and exercise in overcoming depression and anxiety. This blog shines a light on the significant, yet often overlooked, role these practices play in mental health and overall well-being, supported by research that positions them alongside antidepressants in effectiveness.

Unlocking the Magic of Self-Care and Exercise 

Imagine a life where exercise is not just a routine but a powerful ally against depression and anxiety. Research, including a study in the American Journal of Psychiatry, reveals that consistent physical activity dramatically lowers the risk of depression. Why? It’s all about endorphins – our natural mood enhancers that diminish pain and amplify pleasure, fostering a radiant sense of well-being.

Likewise, the pillars of self-care – sufficient sleep, balanced nutrition, mindfulness, and social connections – are essential. These are not just activities; they’re the building blocks of resilience and mental health.

Seamlessly Integrating Self-Care and Exercise Into Your Life 

1. Begin with Baby Steps : Start with simple activities like short walks or stretching. Consistency trumps intensity.

2. Moments of Mindfulness : Allocate a few minutes each day for mindfulness or meditation. Apps like Headspace or Calm are great guides.

3. Nourish Your Body and Mind : Emphasize whole foods and stay hydrated. Remember, your diet is a key player in mental health.

4. The Power of Sleep : Target 7-8 hours of sleep each night. Quality sleep is a major mood regulator.

5. Stay Connected : Maintain relationships as social interaction is crucial for mental wellness.

Owning Your Mental Health Journey 

The mantra “if I don’t take care of myself, who will?” is not about isolation but about embracing self-responsibility as the foundation of mental health.

Transforming Self-Care into Self-Responsibility 

1. Be Your Own Champion : You are your health’s best advocate. Recognizing and articulating your needs is vital.

2. A Proactive Mindset : Addressing self-care proactively can prevent many mental health challenges from worsening.

3. Empower Yourself Through Action : Every step towards well-being, be it exercise or therapy, is empowering and reinforces your positive influence on your mental health.

4. Cultivate Resilience : Taking charge of your care builds resilience, preparing you to better handle future stress.

5. Community and Support : Self-care thrives in a supportive network of friends, family, or groups.

“The best way to care for the future is to care for the present moment.” This adage reminds us that self-care not only betters our current state but also sets the stage for a more resilient and happier future.

Navigating the Exercise Journey 

Embarking on an exercise routine can seem daunting. Redefining exercise to encompass any physical activity and setting realistic goals can make a world of difference. Finding joy in these activities, challenging negative thoughts, and seeking and finding support can greatly facilitate this path.

Inspiring a Positive Change in Mental Health 

These health-promoting practices are not just about avoiding illness; they’re about creating a life richer in strength, resilience, and joy. While medications are crucial for many, the reality is that there is no medication that can make you or anyone take care of themselves. However, medication can certainly be helpful in supporting someone to feel better enough to enable them get into action and discover for themselves the many benefits of self care and exercise.

Summary & Inspirational Call to Action 

– Exercise : As effective as antidepressants for mental health.

– Self-Care : Essential for total well-being.

– Simple Steps : Incorporate exercises, mindfulness, a balanced diet, sufficient sleep, and social interactions into your daily routine.

– Overcoming Challenges : Redefine exercise, set attainable goals, and welcome support.

Your Next Step 

I encourage you to embrace a small change today in your self-care and exercise routine. Your mental health is a precious treasure. Today marks a new beginning – the perfect time to start. Remember, if you don’t take care of yourself, who will?

References 

– *Physical Activity and the Prevention of Depression: A Systematic Review of Prospective Studies*, American Journal of Psychiatry

– *The Efficacy of Exercise as a Long-Term Antidepressant in Elderly Subjects: A Randomized, Controlled Trial*, Journal of Gerontology

– *Physical activity, exercise and mental disorders: it is time to move on*, Trends Psychiatry Psychother. 2021 Jul-Sep; 43(3): 177–184.

The Pillars of Well-Being: Mental,Emotional and Behavioral Health

Life is a journey of continuous learning, challenges, and opportunities for growth. However, to navigate through this journey successfully and to realize your full potential, it’s crucial to prioritize your mental, emotional, and behavioral health. These three facets of your health are deeply interconnected and have a significant influence on our overall quality of life.

1. Mental Health: Our mental health shapes how we think, feel, and behave in daily life. It also affects our ability to handle stress, make decisions, and relate to others. By ensuring our minds are sound and healthy, we equip ourselves to handle life’s ups and downs with resilience and poise.

2. Emotional Health: This pertains to how we understand, manage, and express our feelings. Emotional health influences our capacity to build healthy relationships, communicate effectively, and empathize with others. A balanced emotional state is pivotal for navigating challenges and maintaining personal connections.

3. Behavioral Health: Our behaviors can either support or hinder our well-being. Healthy habits, such as eating a balanced diet, exercising, and avoiding excessive alcohol or drugs, contribute to our physical and mental well-being. Behavioral health is crucial as it often serves as a reflection of our mental and emotional states.

To truly flourish in life, it’s essential to maintain and optimize these three pillars of health. Yet, life’s challenges can sometimes make this task daunting. That’s when seeking professional guidance becomes not just a luxury, but a necessity.

Working with a psychiatrist can be a transformative self-care action. A trained and experienced psychiatrist can offer objective insights, provide coping mechanisms, and guide patients through therapy and, if needed, medication management. They can help individuals navigate the complexities of their emotions and behaviors, leading to enhanced mental clarity and improved quality of life.

For those considering taking this step, Ian M Crooks, MD, stands out as a trusted ally. As a board-certified psychiatrist, he brings years of expertise and a compassionate approach to patient care. Dr. Crooks is dedicated to helping individuals achieve their health and well-being goals. Partnering with such a dedicated professional can truly be a game-changer in one’s journey towards holistic health.

Your mental, emotional, and behavioral health serve as the foundation for a fulfilling life. Prioritizing them is not just about avoiding illness but about thriving in every aspect of your existence. Reaching out for help and support is a sign of strength, and professionals like Ian M Crooks, MD, are here to support you every step of the way.

https://iancrooksmd.com

What if…?

Everyone feels stuck sometimes. I was feeling pretty stuck just before I started writing this. 

There is only one thing that stops us from moving forward, from getting unstuck.

Insecure thinking…

Insecure thinking arriving in the form of fear, doubt, worry, shame, or a million other shades of insecure.

We worry that somehow we will not be good enough, accomplish or do enough or have enough in our life. 

In the periphery of our awareness, we can start to become aware of the droning din of the conditioned, habitual mind incessantly dangling the thought of “What if…”

And because these insecure thoughts are in our mind and they are our thoughts, we feel that we have to take them seriously, as if they were facts or truth.

‘What if” thoughts are either focused on some fearful future or feverishly reviving some regrettable experiences from the past.

(Side note: we tend to forget that both the future and the past are never here right now…)

“What if I’m not good enough?”

“What if other people don’t like me?”

“What if I fail and everyone around me will discover that I’m a failure?”

“What if I missed the boat on what I was supposed to do in my life?”

“What if I never find out what my life is supposed to be about?”

“What if I have been doing the whole thing wrong all along?”

Insecure “What if” thoughts can cause us to feel distressed and despairing, which goes on to impact what we are willing to do or not do next, which then impacts what kind of thoughts we have about ourselves, and it goes on and on, all day, every day.

What if you gave yourself the gift of slowing down right now…. would you do that? Could you?

Take a few moments out of your busy day to reflect on the following questions with an open and curious attitude:

(Breathe in deeply and then let the breath go…you can do it again, if you’d like!)

What if you didn’t have to believe every thought that bubbled up in your mind all day, every day?

What if you were able to see that all thoughts are neutral, that thoughts have no power other than the power that you are currently giving to them?

What if you started to notice that there are countless habitual thoughts showing up in your mind throughout each day, without you ever inviting them or wanting them or making them happen?

(Breathe in deeply and then let the breath go…you can do it again, if you’d like!)

What if you discovered, in this moment, that you have a built-in superpower? 

A superpower?

What if your superpower is your capacity to simply notice and let go of negative and critical thoughts about yourself or others?

What if you saw with clarity that your moment-to-moment experience of your life in any given moment is a function of your moment-to-moment thinking?

What if you could clearly see that the thoughts you are having right now, this very moment, have a corresponding feeling? (Don’t take my word for it, try it out for yourself…)

What if, for example, you noticed that it’s difficult to feel confident and secure when your mind is full of insecure thoughts?

What if, for example, you noticed that it’s difficult to get upset when your mind is full of peaceful, grateful or loving thoughts?

What if you suddenly realized that you are always choosing to either take a thought seriously (and suffer the consequences) or choosing to dismiss it and let it go?

What if you became aware that your built-in superpower gives you the ability to change every aspect of your life, starting right here and right now?

What if you clearly realized that the thoughts ‘I’m stuck’ or “I’m not good enough,” are simply thoughts with an associated sensation, and that if you wanted to, if you chose to, if you were willing to practice, you could let them go?

What if you started to create a rich, vibrant and engaged life, doing the things you really want to be doing and having the experiences you really want to be having, all because you you had discovered how to use your built-in superpower throughout the day?

What if you really got it, right this very moment, that you are the one creating your own unique experience of life, from moment to moment, based on which thoughts you are taking seriously, and which thoughts you are letting go?

What if…?

(Paintings by Ian M Crooks, MD)

Why Choosing Is The Right Choice For You…

“If I don’t take care of myself, who will?”

What a great question to ask ourselves as we go through our day-to-day living.

We are always making choices…even the choice to not choose on purpose, based on what matters to us, is a choice.

Each moment of the day, we are arriving at a fork in the road. The path on the left looks wide open and free from obstacles. It is the easier one to take, at least at first. It’s the path that contains all the habits and behaviors that in the end don’t serve us well. But because the path is well-worn, we tend to head in that direction.

The right path may have some obstacles in it, some challenges that require effort and commitment, but the right path leads us to things we most desire.

But because we can imagine the obstacles and the effort it would take to get by them, we tend to shuffle over to the left path, which is wide open and clear, forgetting that it never takes us to where we really want to go.

Should I eat the healthy food or just grab some fast food that I know in my heart is not good for me? (Imagine a bowl of fresh fruit on the right and on the left is chips, ice cream and your favorite junk food…which one will you reach for?)

Should I get some exercise or just keep mindlessly watching a Netflix series that I don’t even really care about?

Should I take time to meditate and practice some form of self-care, or should I just keep being available to the demands and whims of others? Should I just keep accumulating stress throughout my day and end up having poor quality of sleep because I’m still wound up?

Should I focus on this present moment and take actions that are in alignment with my freely chosen life values, or should I just keep hanging out in my head, replaying old arguments, ruminating about things that didn’t work out well, and frightening myself with what awful thing could happen at some point in the future?

When we get encouragement or validation from others, it feels good, doesn’t it? What happens if they don’t deliver on any given day? We can feel pretty depressed, overwhelmed and under-loved, right?

If you could live your life independent of the good opinion of other people, would you choose that?

If you could be less in your head and be more engaged in living your life as it is happening, would you choose that?

If you knew that you were the only one who can take care of yourself in all the different aspects of your life at all times, would you choose to do that?

It would be great if other people would take care of us, be 100% reliable, always respectful and constantly going out of their way to make sure that we felt safe, loved and happy, but how realistic is that based on your experience?

If don’t take care of myself, who will? The answer seems pretty clear…no one will.

Even those people who do love you and care about you cannot do for you the things that only you can do.

At each moment of every day, you are either choosing the well-worn path that leads where you don’t want to go, or choosing the right path of doing those things that lead in the direction of living the life you really want.

You don’t have to wait for the cavalry to arrive to save the day…… You are the cavalry!

You don’t have to wait and hope for the hero to come along and save you…. You are the hero!

“If I don’t take care of myself, who will?”

Questions are the answer…

You can feel it wherever you go during this global pandemic…uncertainty, fear and insecurity.

For some, the encouragement to stay sheltered in place has started to feel oppressive rather than protective.

Simple things like needing to go out into the world to get groceries or pet food can turn up the volume on anxiety and day by day, the anxiety can accumulate, wearing us out, making us feel apathetic and despondent. When will things get back to normal again?

Humans have a penchant for wanting things to stay the same, to be consistent, reliable and predictable.

The arrival of the novel coronavirus has ripped away the curtain of the illusion of stability. We can see more clearly than ever that life is all about uncertainty. Nothing stays the same, everything is changing.

Whenever we are out of alignment with how life works, we will feel distressed and can succumb to a strong desire to exert control over situations or other people to get things back to what we consider normal. This strategy rarely works, though, does it? No matter how much it promises, it doesn’t deliver, or rather it does deliver, but just not the kind of things or experiences we want: frustration, resentment, reactivity, apathy, amongst others.

There has been unimaginable suffering throughout the world these past few months, including around where we live, work and play.

There are people dying in the hundreds every single day due to the virus. There have been and will be many other losses, (financial, professional, social, adventure or travel opportunities), with no guarantee about when it will all stop.

We have no control over any of it.

The Stoic philosophers say that the only thing we have control over is what we do in this very moment, right now. That’s it. Everything else goes on the list with the header, “Not Under My Control.”

If something or someone is not under my control, how much effort should I put into trying to control it/them? (It sounds ridiculously obvious when it is put in that way, but it usually doesn’t stop us from trying to control, does it?).

It can be helpful to use this strange time to engage in some reflection, something that was usually in short supply when we were back in the pre-pandemic days.

Taking time to press pause and examine our minds and hearts can provide some much needed hope and direction.

Here are a few questions that I have found helpful in terms of gaining more clarity about my life and regaining my poise. I hope they might inspire you to put aside some time to consider them, or come up with your own questions that will lead you to being the kind of person you want to be, even during these strange times:

“If I were being the person I really wanted to be in this situation, what would I be doing, saying?”


“What could I learn from this, even though I don’t like the feeling I have inside about it right now?”


“Am I living today, this moment, in accordance with the kind of person I want to be?”


“How much of what my mind is telling me about this situation is based on reality vs fear?”


“Do I have any control over this situation or person?  If not, am I willing to loosen my grip in trying to control what is not under my control?”


“If I were really living freely and authentically, (not in reaction to others, or some kind of self or other imposed expectations), what would I be doing with my life?”


“If I could freely choose who I want to be and what I want to do, what would I choose?”


“What have I always wanted to be, do or have but have not allowed myself to experience, yet?


“What do I think is holding me back from living the life I really want for myself?”


What would happen if I did take the actions that are in alignment with the highest vision I have for me and my life?”

Sometimes, questions provide the answers that we are looking for. They can help us navigate more smoothly through the inevitable rough waters of life.

We are all truly in the same boat right now. The more we treat ourselves with care and compassion, the more capacity we will have to treat others with care and compassion. The clearer we are about what matters in our life, the less time we will spend struggling with the things and people over which/whom we never had any control anyway. The energy that is freed from fruitless efforts to control is now available to live my life right now.

Who am I? What matters? What do I want my life to be about? Revisiting these questions over and over can help ground us while the surges of uncertainty crash all around us.

“The tranquillity that comes when you stop caring what they say. Or think, or do. Only what you do…” -Marcus Aurelius