If anyone knows how important self-care practices are for mental health, it’s a psychologist. In today’s hectic age—between work deadlines, relationship stress, financial difficulties, and a never-ending lack of sleep—it can be hard to make time for yourself and your mental well-being each day.
Jamie Long, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist at The Psychology Group Fort Lauderdale, understands that struggle. That’s why she says she prioritizes a few habits each day, week, and month in order to combat the effects of stress and burnout. Without taking time for yourself do things that uplift you and give you a break, it can create an emptiness and sense of longing, she explains, which can contribute to poor self-image, depression, anxiety disorders, and other emotional states if left unchecked.
Everyone’s self-care routine looks a bit different, depending their unique needs and what techniques work for them. But if you’re looking for expert-driven inspiration, here are the healthy habits that Dr. Long swears by to help maintain and improve her mental health.
Dr. Long meditates every day for at least five minutes with the help of an app on her phone. “I’ve experimented with what time of day works best and for me I really enjoy starting my day with a meditation or doing it on my lunch break for a mid-day pick me up,” she says.
This might not seem exactly groundbreaking (if I had a nickel for every mental health expert who meditates…), but Dr. Long emphasizes that it’s so popular because its benefits are so well-established. “A 2018 study conducted by researchers at Mass General and Yale University shows that even brief amounts of meditation benefits cognitive performance and attention,” she says. She says her daily meditation sessions make her feel ready to start the day with a clear and centered mind.
2. Step outside
“Like many business people, my job is sedentary and indoors. I try to step outside even for just a few minutes to take some deep breaths of fresh air and feel the sun on my skin,” Dr. Long says.
This is great for mental health for a number of reasons. Sunlight has been shown to help improve mood and promote vitamin D production; there is an association between vitamin D deficiency and depression. Plus, spending time in nature has been shown to improve happiness and mood, Dr. Long says, so the presence in nature alone can put the pep in her step. Since staying active in general is great for mental health, you can compound the potential benefits by turning that walk into a jog or run a few times a week.
3. Get eight hours of sleep every night
Many of us consider it lucky if we get six hours of sleep, but Dr. Long says she strives for eight hours of shut-eye every night. “Most of us know how bad we feel when we don’t get enough sleep and I’m certainly no exception,” she says. An older study from the University of Pennsylvania found that losing just a few hours of sleep significantly increases feelings of stress, anger, sadness, and exhaustion.
“I’m very protective about my bedtime and try my best to make sure that I’m pacing my evening in a way that honors when it’s lights-out time,” she says. She makes this easier by going to bed at the same time every day and waking up at the same time every single day. “I need and want to be emotionally available for my patients ,and that starts with getting a solid night’s sleep,” she adds.
4. Make time to socialize each week
Don’t go a week without spending time with loved ones in your network—their smiling faces are what help you smile! “Tending to relationships is vitally important to your health and we have the science to back it up. The Harvard Study of Adult Development, one of the world’s longest longitudinal studies, found that a satisfying relationship was the most predictive factor of longevity,” she says. So, staying connected to people can help you tack on more years—to then spend with loved ones!
“With this study in mind, I make sure to prioritize relationships for my health and because it brings me joy. I do this by going on a date night with my partner and/or a social activity with my friends at least once per week,” she says.
5. Read more
Most people don’t read enough, and it’s understandable—there’s only so much time in the day between work, taking kids to soccer practice, going to the gym, cooking dinner, and being social. (Okay, and Netflix.)
Yet Dr. Long says that reading is an oft-overlooked mental health habit. “I read at least one non-fiction book every month that is self-help in nature or related to my business. The author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey, writes about the importance of ‘sharpening the saw’, which he describes as reinvesting in ourselves,” she says. Reading also has meditative qualities, which can help you recharge mentally. Of course, you can read fiction, too, if you enjoy that more—reading alone will give you some great benefits. (Here are some book recs to get inspired!)
Looking for more smart expert advice? Here’s what a cardiologist does every day for better heart health, and a gastroenterologist shares what they do to improve their gut and digestive health.