People who try to do it all—take care of family, support their friends, contribute to society—often fall short when it comes to taking care of themselves.
For women who tend to shoulder extra responsibilities at home, this is especially true.
But to be your best for others, you can’t neglect your own physical and mental health, said Natasha Peoples, NP, a certified family nurse practitioner with the Spectrum Health Women’s Health & Wellness Center.
These two components of health are inextricably linked—when you practice good self-care on one front, you’re ensuring good health on the other.
“I often say to patients, ‘I think it’s good for your kids and your family to see you taking care of yourself, too—that’s also setting a good example,’” she said.
Peoples suggests eight ways for women to look after their physical and mental well-being.
Self-care for physical health
1. Regular exercise
“Find the thing that brings you joy in exercise so that you’ll want to do it,” Peoples said.
The amount and type of exercise? That depends on your physical fitness and limitations. A combination of cardiovascular and strengthening or weight-bearing exercise is ideal, but if that doesn’t work for you, choose something that does.
2. Healthy sleep habits
Good sleep eludes many of her patients, Peoples said, so it’s become an important focus of her work.
“Sleep has benefits for mood, energy and physical health, but it’s also super important for brain health and mental health,” she said. “It helps our immune system all through our lives, and it helps with the prevention of dementia and memory loss as we age.”
For those who find sleep a challenge, Peoples offers a few tips:
- Develop healthy sleep hygiene: Avoid caffeine, stay off screens before bedtime, have a consistent bedtime and wake time, and send your brain cues that it’s time to sleep by following a bedtime routine.
- Encourage physical comfort: Is your mattress a problem? Is your room too warm? Do you have aches and pains? Take steps to ease your discomforts.
- Seek to solve sleep disruption: If you’re lying awake and can’t turn your brain off, try a few minutes of meditation or deep breathing. Or keep a notepad next to the bed so you can jot down random thoughts and set them aside till morning.
- Check out the book “Why We Sleep,” by Matthew Walker, PhD.
3. Spending time outdoors
Getting outside brings a range of physical benefits, such as getting vitamin D from the sun, acclimating ourselves to allergens, lowering the stress hormone cortisol and decreasing our heart rate.
4. Listen to your body’s cues
When your body sends you signals of hunger, sleepiness or stress, pay attention and respond. Slow down when necessary. Lean on your support network when you need help.
“You can’t fool your body,” Peoples said. “You can’t pretend that stress is not there—or you can, but only up to a certain point. And then it comes out in other ways.”
Self-care for mental health
Sleep and exercise topped Peoples’ list of tips for promoting mental health, too. In addition, she offered four more strategies for effective mental self-care:
Getting your thoughts, feelings and stressors out of your head and onto the page can help you process them and gain perspective.
6. Volunteering or pursuing a hobby
Find an activity or cause outside your routine that sparks joy or a sense of meaning.
“When you find something or some organization to put yourself into, you often get more out of that than what you give,” Peoples said.
7. Engaging with music
Whether you’re listening to music or playing an instrument, music has powerful psychological benefits, Peoples said.
“It stirs memories, it brings feelings, it just is a form of enjoyment. Finding the music that you love can be such a mental health boost.”
8. Lifelong learning
Stimulate your brain by learning something new, whether through formal education or informal exploration—books, audiobooks, podcasts or community classes.
“It’s definitely a way of keeping yourself young and mentally energized,” Peoples said. “I have a colleague who graduated with her doctorate of nursing … and she had turned 70 the same year. It’s never too late.”
In all these steps, remember that self-care doesn’t mean self-indulgence—it’s essential to ensuring sound physical and mental health.