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To take care of others, start with self-care

We might not all be doctors and nurses, but we can all play a front line role in providing emotional support to those around us. The pandemic saw a great rise in our collective awareness of the effects of loneliness and isolation on mental health. The positive outcome is that lots of us are taking proactive steps to look after our own emotional wellbeing as well as others. However, experts will tell you that before you can help someone else, you need to begin with self-care.

The Harvard Business Review wrote an article on the topic of how to shore up your mental health and deepen your own emotional reservoir. The author’s first piece of advice was:

“Start with self-care. We can’t share with others a resource that we lack ourselves.”

It’s sage advice. Board a flight to anywhere in the world and the now familiar safety protocols will tell you that in case of emergency, put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. The same applies to emotional wellness.

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Top tips for self-care

The advice for self-care begins with things that many of us know we should be doing, but that can easily fall by the wayside with busy lives and plenty of things to do.

1.Keep to your normal routine

Do all the normal things that give structure to your day, even if you don’t feel up to it. Shower, brush your teeth, get dressed (especially important if you’re still working from home).

2.Take regular exercise

You don’t need us to tell you that exercise has proven benefits for supporting mental as well as physical health. One study found that:

“Compared to people who reported doing no exercise, people who exercised reported 1.5 fewer days of poor mental health each month - a reduction of 43.2%.”

If you can get that exercise outside in the fresh air then it’s even better. Fresh air makes an enormous difference to how we feel.

3.Eat well

Eating healthy foods that support the body’s wellbeing, including gut health. That includes limiting alcohol intake. The Mental Health Foundation said:

“There is a growing body of evidence indicating that nutrition may play an important role in the prevention, development and management of diagnosed mental health problems.”


Sleep is something that eludes many of us, and in particular the quality of sleep we have is often limited. Speak to most people and they will tell you that they don’t get enough sleep. However, we all know that being tired can wreak havoc with our emotions. Mental health charity, Mind, says:

“Living with a mental health problem can affect how well you sleep, and poor sleep can have a negative impact on your mental health.”

5.Stay mentally engaged

Keeping those little grey cells working is key to mental health. When we’re feeling low we might just want to hide under the duvet and watch Netflix, and that’s ok - sometimes. However, staying mentally engaged is key to self-care. That can be through a combination of work, activities such as crossword or jigsaw puzzles, games, reading, or writing. Writing a diary to help you self-reflect can help you to make sense of how you’re feeling.

6.Stay connected with friends and loved ones

Staying connected with friends and family is part of self-care, so book in those coffee dates (and spa breaks) and arrange Zoom calls if you can’t be with people in person. In this respect, technology is our friend.

7.Ask for help

Asking for help isn’t something that comes naturally to a lot of us, and if we’re spiralling then somehow it seems even less possible to reach out. We might not even know what help we want or need. It might be speaking to friends, family, parents, children, partners, bosses and line managers. Or it might be seeking professional support with the help of coaches or therapists.


Supporting others with self-care

Of course, the other side of self-care is supporting those around us as well. As long as we’re taking care of ourselves, providing emotional support to those around us is also essential for our collective wellness. When you’re in a place to offer support to others, make sure they know that you’re there for them too.

Checking in with others

Asking people how they are and really observing their response is a simple, human and important part of making sure people are ok. Of course, most of us usually respond with ‘I’m fine’, without even thinking about it. We might not want to bother people or be seen to be complaining.

One great idea to ensure employee wellbeing is Mental Health First Aid. Businesses can enrol team members on training courses in Mental Health First Aid with the likes of St John’s Ambulance. It allows companies to then allocate a dedicated Responder At Work. It’s ideal for helping line managers to gain understanding of common mental health illnesses, provide support and recognise when someone is struggling.

Highlight the positives

While you don’t need to turn up to meetings or coffee dates with pompoms and cheer routines, expressing appreciation for the positive things, observing achievements or simply giving compliments can provide a lift to individuals as well as the general atmosphere. Never underestimate the power of positive feedback and happy thoughts!

Book time for self-care

A spa break can be a wonderful way to practice and supercharge self-care or to spend meaningful quality time checking in with a loved one, friend or colleague. Short days and half days peppered throughout the year provide positive things to look forward to, and corporate retreats or spa voucher gifts for your team can be an excellent way to nurture the people around you as well.

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