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5 Self-Care Goals for Better Mental and Physical Health in 2023

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  • Written By: JFCS Staff
5 Self-Care Goals for Better Mental and Physical Health in 2023

When we think of self-care – taking the time to do things that help us live well – we tend to separate our efforts into two categories: physical health and mental health. But the reality is, the two are fundamentally linked. What’s good for the body is often good for the mind – and vice versa.

Understanding the link between mind and body is the first step in developing self-care goals that create opportunities to protect your total well-being and reduce the risk factors related to mental and physical health. It can also help you support the people in your life living with a mental illness or achronic physical condition.

By setting goals that take care of your body and your mind, you’re well on your way to making self-care a priority for 2023.

What Is Self-Care?

When you deliberately take the time to do things that help improve your mental and physical health, you’re practicing self-care. Self-care can play a role in managing stress, increasing energy and lowering the risk of getting sick. Even small acts of self-care, including meditation, taking a walk and connecting with friends, can have a big impact in our day-to-day lives.

Although making self-care a priority seems like common sense, it’s often the first thing to go when we find ourselves in challenging situations such as job loss, divorce or financial struggle. By setting goals that make self-care part of a daily or weekly routine, we allow ourselves to practice caring for ourselves during tough times. Plus, research suggests we feel more confident, make better decisions, and build stronger relationships the more we practice self-care goals.

Everyone’s self-care goals are different, and yours will depend on what works best for you. It’s important to center them around what you need and enjoy, your personality, even your energy levels. Setting self-care goals around how you want to feel physically and mentally – not just what you want to achieve – can be another solution to making them stick. The goal-setting process may take some time and a little trial and error. Enjoy the journey and realize that taking care of yourself is what matters most.

Here are five self-care goals for mental and physical health to help you get started and stay motivated in 2023.

1.) Create Healthy Sleep Habits

If you’ve ever woken up “on the wrong side of the bed,” then you understand how sleep habits are inherently related to mental and physical health: you’re grumpy, you can’t focus, you’re exhausted and want to crawl back under the covers. Not surprisingly, being regularly short on a good night’s sleep can eventually take a toll.

According to an article published in the international journal Nature, there is a connection between sleep loss and poor cognitive performance, car accidents and poor quality of life. “Not only is sleep disturbance linked with hypertension, diabetes, and obesity, but also depressive symptoms, physical illness, and fatigue were reported as associated factors for both poor sleep quality and short sleep duration,” the article states.

The amount of sleep you need, in part, depends on how old you are. The National Sleep Foundation suggests 7 to 9 hours of sleep for adults (18-64) and 7 to 8 hours for older adults (65+). Children (6-13 years) should get 9 to 11 hours of sleep per night and teenagers 8 to 10.

Adopting healthy sleep habits (sometimes referred to as “sleep hygiene”) can improve your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. Here are 15 sleep hygiene strategies to help you make sleep a priority for your mental and physical health.

  1. Wake up at the same time every day – even on weekends.
  2. Don’t go to bed unless you feel sleepy.
  3. If you’re having trouble falling asleep, don’t lie awake in bed. After 20 minutes, if you can’t get to sleep, get out of bed and do a quiet or relaxing activity (no electronics) until you feel tired.
  4. Avoid caffeine and nicotine for at least 4 to 6 hours before going to bed.
  5. Avoid consuming alcohol before bedtime. It disrupts the quality of your sleep.
  6. Try not to use your bed for anything other than sleeping so that you associate it only with sleep.
  7. Avoid taking naps, to ensure you are tired at bedtime.
  8. Establish a relaxing bedtime routine to transition from the day. Try some light stretching or breathing exercises for 15 minutes before bedtime.
  9. Take a hot bath 1-2 hours before bedtime. The hot water changes your body’s core temperature so that you go to bed with a lower temperature, which makes you feel sleepy.
  10. No clock-watching. Checking the clock again and again during the night can wake you up.
  11. Exercise regularly (but not within four hours before going to bed).
  12. Maintain a healthy diet. Light snacks are okay before bedtime, but a heavy meal can interrupt sleep.
  13. Create a healthy sleeping space. Keep your bedroom at a comfortable temperature and use curtains, an eye mask and earplugs to avoid bright light and noise.
  14. Keep the same daytime routine even after a bad night’s sleep. Don’t avoid activities because you feel tired. This can reinforce insomnia.
  15. Limit electronics before bed. The blue light emitted from the screens of computers, smartphones and other devices makes it difficult to fall asleep.

If sleep problems persist or you continue to experience daytime sleepiness even after getting enough sleep, talk to a health professional.

2.) Exercise Regularly

You already know that physical activity is good for the body. But did you know that regular exercise also promotes brain health and cognitive function (learning, remembering, thinking, etc.)? Physical activity can also help ease anxiety and depression and aid in preventing and improving health problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and arthritis.

Exercise is probably not at the top of your list of things you want to do when you’re feeling anxious or depressed. However, once you get motivated, it can make a big difference. And every little bit helps.

“The good news is that even small amounts of physical activity can immediately reduce symptoms of anxiety in adults and older adults,” says Director of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Paul Reed, M.D. “Depression has also shown to be responsive to physical activity. Research suggests that increased physical activity, of any kind, can improve depression symptoms experienced by people across the lifespan. Engaging in regular physical activity has also been shown to reduce the risk of developing depression in children and adults.”

If hearing the word “exercise” makes you think of running endlessly on a treadmill, take heart. Exercise, defined as a planned and repetitive body movement, includes a wide range of activities (bicycling, lifting weights and brisk walking and running) that get your heart pumping and help you feel better. But so can physical activity (any bodily movement that involves your muscles and requires energy) such as climbing stairs, gardening or taking a walk around the neighborhood.

The point to remember is that no matter how you approach exercise, experts recommend you get around 30 minutes of it each day. Youth need 60 minutes or more and preschool-aged children (3-5 years) need to be active throughout the day. Even smaller amounts of physical activity – as little as 10 to 15 minutes at a time – may make a difference in improving your mood.

Creating and sticking to a self-care goal of an exercise routine or regular physical activity can be challenging. Here are five tips to help you get started and stay motivated.

  1. Identify physical activities you like doing.
    Everyone has their own ideas of what makes them feel good physically. Maybe it’s a morning walk, lifting weights around lunchtime, or playing basketball with the kids after school. To help you stick with your goals, do what you enjoy.
  2. Be realistic about your goals.
    Create an exercise or physical activity goal that’s tailored to what you’re able to do. If that doesn’t include an hour run five days a week, that’s okay. Set guidelines you can meet.
  3. Start slow.
    Generally, 4 days a week of at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity is encouraged to maintain good health. If that’s overwhelming, start with 10 minutes a day for the first week then add an extra 5 minutes every week till you reach your goal.
  4. Get outside!
    Being away from distractions at work and home lets you relax and focus on you. Simple, low-impact exercises such as walking have significant health benefits.
  5. Get a professional's guidance and support.
    Share your exercise program or physical activity routine with your doctor or mental health professional and discuss how it fits into your overall health or current treatment plan.

For more ideas on how to get active, stay motivated and start your self-care goal of exercising regularly, watch this video.

3.) Practice Healthy Eating Habits

A healthy diet, one that is well-balanced and gives your body all the nutrients it needs to function, won’t magically make you healthy, but it will help you develop eating habits that support your physical and mental health – and that can make you happy.

Eating healthier may mean that you need to change some of your daily habits such as the way you shop for food and your environment at home or work. The good news is you don’t have to change your eating habits all at once. Success for this self-care goal consists of small, sustainable lifestyle changes. To permanently improve your eating habits, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend a thoughtful approach of reflection, replacement and reinforcement versus sudden radical changes such as “eating nothing but cabbage soup.”

Here are 10 tips to make healthy changes in your eating habits:

  1. Add healthy snacks to your grocery list and pack them (and a healthy lunch if possible) for work to help you control how much you eat.
  2. Add healthy food to your diet instead of just taking unhealthy foods away.
  3. Keep more fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products and whole-grain foods at home.
  4. To focus on eating healthy meals, try to eat at the kitchen or dining table once each day.
  5. Turn off the TV, tablets and smartphones during meals.
  6. To make healthy eating more enjoyable and less of a chore, buy a healthy-recipe book and cook for yourself or others.
  7. Take it slow. Don't eat too fast and put your fork down between bites.
  8. To control how much you eat, put your snacks on a plate or in a bowl instead of eating straight from the package.
  9. Don't skip or delay meals. You can eat too much or choose unhealthy snacks if you ignore your feelings of hunger.
  10. Drink lots of water and replace high-sugar drinks with it.

Like most things in life, moderation is key. Practicing healthy eating habits can help you develop an eating style that supports your physical health, mental health and overall happiness. If you have a health condition, talk to your doctor or medical professional before making changes to your eating plan.

4.) Spend Meaningful Time with Friends and Loved Ones

There’s a reason spending time with friends and loved ones makes our self-care list: It’s a necessary investment in your overall well-being. More than just having a good time, friendship offers a multitude of long-term physical and mental health benefits. And no matter who your network is made up of – family members, friends, a partner, coworkers, neighbors – every type of positive social support is beneficial.

Friendships can increase your sense of belonging and purpose, boost your self-esteem and improve your self-confidence. Friends are by our sides through difficult periods in life. When they make healthy choices, they can encourage us to do the same and are the first to speak up if they see us engaging in unhealthy habits such as excessive drinking or lack of exercise.

Staying socially connected to others plays a significant role in promoting our overall health and may lower the risk of long-term health problems such as depression, high blood pressure and an unhealthy body mass index (BMI). A review published in Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews found that isolation and loneliness may be linked with inflammation. According to Harvard Health Publishing, unhealthy levels of inflammation can be dangerous and may lead to heart disease, stroke, arthritis or Alzheimer’s disease.

Our busy lives can sometimes mean our support network takes a back seat to other priorities. Developing and maintaining good friendships takes effort. Be intentional (and persistent) about scheduling time to catch up, whether it’s face-to-face, over the phone, or via a virtual call. Investing time in strengthening your friendships now can pay off in better health and a brighter outlook for tomorrow.

5.) See Your Doctor

Most of us are pretty good at calling a doctor when we’re experiencing an illness or injury or when our prescription refills run out. But when it comes to seeing one when we’re feeling healthy and well, not so much.

“It’s an often-overlooked tip when discussing self-care,” says Bob Ouimette, director of Jewish Family & Children’s Service’s East Valley Healthcare Center in Gilbert, Arizona. “Seeing your doctor, at least annually, will help you to stay focused on health-related goals while making sure you are current with preventative care.”

In addition to prevention and wellness, periodic doctors’ appointments help you stay on top of the various vaccinations, screenings, and tests recommended for your demographic. They can also detect early signs and symptoms of a health issue before they cause a problem.

For adults and children with more complicated behavioral needs, integrated healthcare may result in getting the care they need with fewer appointments. Integrated healthcare is a unique approach to healthcare that joins mental health, substance abuse and primary healthcare to create a more collaborative approach toward caring for those in need. With integrated health care, accessing a wide variety of medical and behavioral services is more convenient and offers more support for a person’s emotional and physical well-being.

Jewish Family & Children’s Service (JFCS) is one of Maricopa County's largest integrated behavioral and primary care health providers. It offers primary care ranging from pediatrics to geriatrics, behavioral counseling, therapy for mental health and virtual care options. To learn more or to get started as a new patient at one of its four healthcare centers, visit the locations page on the JFCS website. All AHCCCS plans are accepted.