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.

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?”