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Self Care for Mental Health- 6 strategies by Tana Amen, BSN, RN


The term “self-care” is thrown around a lot today, but what does it really mean? For starters, I think self-care means looking after my physical, emotional, and mental well-being. And by caring for ourselves in this holistic way, we can better attend to everyone and everything else in our lives. It can even inspire other people to take better care of themselves. That’s why I always stress: Self-care definitely isn’t selfish.

But once you have some of the basics down, such as a fun and challenging exercise routine and a healthy diet, what else can you do to improve your mental health? If you’re looking for some ideas for self-care routines and activities to improve your mental and emotional wellness, read on—these are some of my favorites.


6 Self-Care Strategies for Better Mental Health 1. NIX THE NEGATIVE THOUGHTS.

Negativity is everywhere in our world. From adopting a victim mentality to focusing on what everyone else is doing wrong, many people love to wallow on the dark side of life. If this sounds familiar, ask yourself: “Is that approach actually helping me?” My husband, Dr. Daniel Amen, has been vocal about squashing the happiness wreckers he calls Automatic Negative Thoughts, or ANTs. They have all sorts of terrible effects over time, potentially leading to depression, anxiety, grief, and even an increased risk for dementia. Some examples of these toxic ANTs include thinking of the worst-case scenario (catastrophizing), engaging in all-or-nothing thinking, blaming others, and constantly comparing ourselves to other people. Instead, Daniel and I use a technique created by Byron Katie. When you find yourself stewing on a negative thought, ask yourself: Is it true? Is it true with 100% certainty? How do you feel when you have this thought? How would you feel if you didn’t have this thought? Then turn the thought around to its opposite and see if the new one is actually truer than the original one. You’ll be surprised at how many of your thoughts have no basis in reality. And you’ll get in the habit of putting some distance between your thoughts and yourself—because they’re not the same thing. You are not your thoughts, and you don’t have to let them run your life or drag you down.

2. GET SOCIAL. When we surround ourselves with positive people and experiences, our happiness levels tend to rise. Seems simple, right? But too many Americans are now struggling with loneliness—to such a degree that it’s been declared a new epidemic by the U.S. Surgeon General. On the other hand, studies have shown that healthy habits can be contagious. So why not grab some friends and start an ongoing exercise meetup or fitness challenge? With a buddy, you’re more likely to meet your health goals—while reaping the many health benefits of social engagement. If you’re one of the people struggling with loneliness, find ways to give back in your community. Not only does giving back improve your physical and emotional well-being, it connects you with others and gives you a purpose outside of yourself. In general, see if you can overlap your healthy habits with some much-needed social time in our disconnected world—think of it as a double whammy for better mental health and longevity.

3. NAIL YOUR SLEEP ROUTINE. When we’re not well-rested, we can’t function at our optimal level. In the short term, not enough sleep or poor-quality sleep makes you irritable and dulls your mental performance. Over time, a consistent lack of sleep can even create problems with memory and cognitive functioning. That’s why it’s crucial to prioritize your shut-eye and set up some bedtime routines that will support a great night’s rest. First, start winding down a few hours before you hit the pillow. End the frantic emails and aggressive TV programs. Turn off and silence any electronic devices. Take a scented bath; I love adding lavender oil for its calming effects. Relaxation-inducing supplements, such as GABA, melatonin, and magnesium, are also helpful. If you enjoy a short activity just before bed, do a meditation or read an inspiring book. With these suggestions, you’ll be drifting off in no time—and staying sound asleep until morning. Plus, setting up this kind of routine helps establish a rhythm so that it becomes second nature every night.

4. REDUCE SCREEN TIME.

Planting yourself on the couch and zoning out to television or spending hours doom-scrolling the internet does you no favors. It not only crowds your mind with information overload (much of it unnecessary), but it keeps you from doing more nurturing, active, or creative tasks.


It may also wreak havoc on mental health, suggests a study led by the Yale Department of Psychiatry and Columbia School of Nursing. It found that “youth who spent the most time on their digital technology were statistically more likely to exhibit higher levels of internalizing problems two years later.” These problems include depression, anxiety, social anxiety, physical complaints, and more. And let’s not forget that our devices can become addictive, starting a vicious cycle of dependence at any age. 5. GO INWARD. We all need a break every now and then. Even though it seems like you’re “doing nothing,” taking time for peace and quiet, inner reflection, daydreaming, and mindfulness can pay off big time when it comes to your mental health. Here are some practices you can try:


Spend 10 minutes journaling when you wake up or before you go to bed—or both.

  • Write a gratitude list every morning, listing what you’re thankful for. Or make it a family tradition at the breakfast table every morning, to start the day on a positive note.

  • Begin a meditation practice. I love starting and ending every day this way. It helps promote mindfulness, concentration, and calm all day long.

  • Take a brisk walk in nature without any devices. An active break in your day, with some fresh air, helps boost your energy and productivity in the long run. You’ll notice improved attention and performance afterward.

  • Spend some time in solitude every day. Let your mind wander. You’ll be surprised at how much renewal this basic tactic provides. Plus, I get so many great ideas when I’m simply daydreaming!

6. BUILD EMOTIONAL RESILIENCE. When we can’t process our emotions, it’s like not being able to digest food: We can’t get the “nutrients” we need (that is, the lessons we can extract from our challenging experiences), and the whole system backs up. In addition, many of us have a backlog of emotional trauma that’s interfering with our current day-to-day life, and we might not even be aware of it. As a person who faced plenty of trauma while growing up, I know how it can affect adulthood—even leading to physical ailments. We can’t control many things in life, but we can control how we respond to challenges. As we know, adopting a victim mentality only makes everything worse. Try instead to see how life is teaching you the necessary lessons to grow and take responsibility for your role in any situation. Focus on what you can control. And regularly work out your emotions through healthy practices, such as journaling, talk therapy, or exercise (I love Kenpo Karate and Tae Kwon Do). Whatever you do, don’t suppress your emotions or cover them up with harmful habits like drinking alcohol. Let them surface, acknowledge them, and work through them instead—so they don’t bubble up in troubling ways later on.

Self-Care for Mental Health and Longevity You’ve probably heard the saying, “Don’t count the days, make the days count.” The good news about prioritizing self-care strategies is that you’ll do both: achieve greater lifetime longevity and enjoy every single day along the way. Start with just one habit right now and add more self-care strategies as you go. Before you know it, you’ll have a full arsenal of ways to stay at the top of your mental health game.

Written by Tana Amen, BSN, RN on August 23, 2023 Tana Amen, BSN, RN is a New York Times bestselling-author, health and fitness expert, Vice-President of Amen Clinics—the world’s leader in brain health, mentor, motivational speaker, and former neurosurgical ICU trauma nurse. By providing science-based guidance along with her authentic, no-holds-barred approach, Tana has won the hearts of millions with her simple, yet effective, strategies to help people win the fight for a strong mind, body, and spirit.

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