Having a self-care ritual in place is crucial to maintaining your mental health. Teens and young people can get a jump start on building healthy habits by implementing critical self-care strategies for students.
Whether you’re taking an exercise class at the YMCA, walking your pet around the neighborhood, or dancing it out in your bedroom, exercise is an excellent form of self-care. Getting your body moving increases your dopamine levels, significantly affecting your happiness.
A lot of self-care focuses on moving our bodies or relaxing our minds, but we can practice self-care daily by eating regular, well-balanced meals and staying hydrated. Food nourishes your body and provides nutrients and fuel to get you through the day.
It may be hard to believe, but your mental health is directly connected to the foods you eat. The gastrointestinal tract or GI tract, consists of the mouth, throat, esophagus, stomach, small and large intestines, rectum, and anus. The GI tract has been called the 2nd brain because of the direct connection that it has with the brain. The GI tract can sense the emotions anger, anxiety, sadness, and elation. This is also the place where most of the happy hormones, like serotonin and dopamine, are generated.
Serotonin influences learning, memory, and happiness. At least 90% of serotonin is generated in the GI tract. Dopamine is another hormone related to happiness; it helps you feel pleasure, satisfaction, and motivation. Over 50% of dopamine is generated in the GI tract! The food you eat will help or hinder the development of serotonin and dopamine in your GI tract.
When stressed or struggling with mental health, it’s easy to ditch healthy meals for lower-effort, unhealthy options. Fast food, candy, and soda are all okay in moderation, but too much means you won’t have essential nutrients that help your mood and energy levels.
Poor nutrition can also cause weight fluctuations, which increase stress associated with body image issues.
Did you know that most teens don’t get enough sleep? As a young person, you need more rest on average to support all the development in your body. Sustained sleep deprivation makes it harder for you to do well in school, control your impulses, and puts you in a sleep debt.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed and miss some sleep between school, extracurricular activities, home obligations, and sometimes work. Minimize the amount of sleep you sacrifice, and your body will thank you.
Meditation and Spirituality
Meditation and spirituality are excellent ways to learn how to center yourself during stressful moments like homework assignments that make it hard to focus and challenging exams. The deep breathing you do in meditation lowers cortisol levels, directly impacting stress levels.
Meditation, yoga, and stretching are all offered in-person and online, making them easily accessible anywhere you have a device and an internet connection.
When you gradually work your way up to meditating for 15 minutes a day, you can rewire your brain in about three weeks. You could experience better self-esteem, memory, reduced blood pressure, and more.
The YMCA of Greater Charlotte has chapels for praying as well as classes that will assist you with learning how to meditate, practice yoga, and stretch. See our website for locations and classes: www.ymcacharlotte.org.
Connecting with Others
There’s research that supports connecting with peers to talk about what’s going on in your life as a great preventative measure for burnout. Whether you discuss what you're going through now or process something from the past, your well-being will thank you. Another critical benefit of discussing mental health is that it can help ease lonely feelings.
If you prefer activities that don’t require talking, that is okay! Gaming, working on projects, or hanging outside with friends are good options to help release feel-good chemicals in your brain. The simple act of connecting is what does the work.
Both experts and teens agree that social media and technology have positive and negative impacts. Technology and social media mean we are more connected than ever. With more opportunities to connect, we can do more. But conversely, with more opportunities to connect, there are more opportunities for unhealthy comparison and miscommunication.
You can’t always tell what someone’s intentions are when they post something online, and you can’t read the tone of the text on a screen. Social media is more like a life highlight reel, and people tend to post their best moments. When you compare your real, authentic life with a curated, perfect life online, it can bring up some negative feelings.
Your best bet is to set boundaries with your technology. For example, take a break, go outside, or even use screen time controls to limit time spent on apps.
Research shows a strong connection between social isolation and anxiety in young people. When you’re with people, your brain releases feel-good chemicals. When you’re alone, your brain releases chemicals that make you feel nervous or sad. The chemicals that make you feel lousy also lead to poor brain development.
Building a solid foundation for personal hygiene is vital for everyone, but it’s essential if you struggle with mental health issues. Sometimes, the struggle with mental health issues is so intense that small things that provide comfort feel unachievable. Personal care tasks like hygiene may start to feel overwhelming. In reality, personal care tasks will make you feel better. So, having a routine you can stick to and maintain (however minimal) is beneficial even when you aren’t feeling your best. Your routine should include the following:
- Washing your body thoroughly with soap and warm water. Pay careful attention to areas where there are creases, folds, and sweat glands to avoid body odor. Be sure to use deodorant afterward.
- Brushing your teeth, mouth, and tongue. Floss daily and visit the dentist twice yearly to maintain oral health.
- Changing menstrual protection regularly. This will help you feel clean, smell fresh, and other avoid menstrual-related illnesses like toxic shock syndrome.