During the month of March, we’ll explore habit-forming and how a self-care checklist can help you attain mental, academic/artistic, physical, and spiritual wholeness. Come back each Sunday for a new self-care checklist and suggestions about how you can form healthy habits.
Let’s face it. Forming new habits takes time and energy. You may wonder if spending time and energy on forming healthy habits will actually pay off in the end. According to the experts, you can form simple habits in about 21 days. Those new habits will not only give you a sense of accomplishment, but they will also improve your overall sense of control and satisfaction with life. Good habits breed good habits.
For example, I set out to change my ‘flat surface freak’ habit. According to my husband, anytime I see a flat surface, I fill it with something…and then leave it there forever. His gentle chiding finally got to me (after 30 years), and I decided to do something about it. I broke the task down, though, because keeping ALL of the countertops in the house clear of clutter at once seemed too daunting.
I started with the kitchen island. I made the habit of keeping it wiped down and clean from clutter each morning before I left for work and each evening before I went to bed. The counter has remained clean for four months now. About a month ago, I added the bathroom counter to the list of flat surfaces I wanted to keep tidy. This involved cleaning out the medicine cabinet and drawers in the bathroom and assigning everything a place.
My success in the kitchen made it easy to incorporate the new habit in the bathroom. I’ve also discovered that by keeping those two areas clean, I have more time in my day. And believe it or not, I have more energy and more free time.Forming healthy habits frees up your emotional energy and adds time to your day. #selfcare Click To Tweet
Why a Self-Care Checklist for Mental Health is Important
I once worked at a job where every single day seemed to fill with drama and annoyances. The boss would continuously remind me what I should be doing and how I should be doing it—without even checking to see if I had followed his previous instructions or not. Whenever he left the kitchen, the cooks, waitresses, and busboys would bellyache about the boss, the job, and life in general.
A job that had started out as a delightful boon to a high school kid turned into drudgery. By the time school started again in September, I couldn’t wait to get out of a difficult situation. In retrospect, I realize that I contributed to the problem. Because I wanted to fit in, I joined in the bellyaching. I didn’t have the social skills to communicate with my boss about his annoying habit.
Eventually, I went off to college and took classes to become a teacher. That’s where I learned about the toxic teacher lunchrooms. Sure, every business or line of work can have toxic lunchrooms, but for some reason, teacher lunchrooms have gained notoriety as especially toxic.
When I started my first student teaching internship, I quietly slipped into the lunchroom, opened my brown bag, and took a bite out of my sandwich. I also listened. Sure enough. Within five minutes the room filled with veteran teachers complaining about this or that student, the so-and-so administrator, and how they couldn’t wait for the weekend.
I decided to find a different place to eat lunch. Now that I’ve taught for thirty years, I’ve learned a lot about communication skills and how to ensure that work doesn’t drag me down. I use a self-care checklist for mental health to help me form healthy habits. The acronym WAGS helps me remember the four keys to forming positive mental health habits.
‘W’ Stands for Write it Down
First of all, I learned to write stuff down. Rather than whine to another person, I get all of my frustrations out on paper (or keyboard—whichever works for you). Writing acts as a catharsis to my negative feelings and allows me the opportunity to assess my feelings.
Many times, I’ll start out griping about one thing, only to realize that something else has actually caused my discontent. You don’t have to write a book, but taking time to write a few simple ‘I statements’ can sure help you blow off some steam!
- —I feel annoyed when the boss tells me how to do something without checking to see if I’m actually doing what he wanted.
- —When my co-workers complain about other students, I feel uncomfortable.
- —I feel angry when coworkers don’t do their jobs—it makes all of us look incompetent.
Writing down your feelings allows you to own and acknowledge them in a safe place. It also lets you decide which situations you want to act on. You have space to ask yourself if that thing that drives you crazy is a hill worth dying on. If you answer yes, then you’ll need to come up with an action plan.
I’ve discovered that writing about my feelings on a daily basis helps give me clarity about situations. And self-knowledge makes a wonderful basis for self-care.
‘A’ Stands for Affirmations for Everyone (Including Yourself)
Sometimes, I affirm other people. Just acknowledging how other people influence me positively puts me in a more positive mood. Even better? When I give a verbal affirmation to someone else, I can make the world a better place. It doesn’t cost me anything but time, but knowing it can make a world of difference in someone else’s life boosts my mood.
I’ve also learned to make affirmations on a daily basis. Sometimes, I affirm myself. Researchers have discovered that talking to yourself and using your name (third-person) actually helps you maintain a positive attitude about messing up. Psychologists have also discovered that self-affirmations also help us perform better under stress. One of my favorite self-affirmations comes from the Bible in Philippians 4:13.
I can attest to the power of stranger affirmations—I started running again after a winter of trying something else. My go-to app, Nike Run Club, has a free coaching program. They called today’s run a ‘benchmark’ run. A nice guy affirmed me all throughout the run, assuring me that I was a runner, that I could do this, that it felt good. And boy, did I need that encouragement!
I detest running in the afternoons (I’d rather exercise first thing in the morning). After not running since early November, my first run on Sunday gave me shin splints. I did NOT want to run today. But Mr. Nike Nice Guy made it a decent experience and I feel pretty good about myself for having completed the run.
‘G’ Stands for Gratitude
When you fall into a negativity trap, choosing an attitude of gratitude will take self-discipline and daily practice. I have a generally sunny disposition, but in the past ten years, I’ve developed a horrible habit of negativity towards church. My husband would say that the habit coincides with the advent of smartphones and constant stimulation.
I concede to some of what he says, but my negativity also stems from other sources. I have a difficult time staying awake if asked to sit still for 45 minutes. Shoot, if I sit still on the weekends for 25 minutes without some form of interaction, I find myself drifting off. In order to keep myself awake, I either let my mind wander (and it usually takes a Judgy McJudgerton path) or I fact-check on the preacher on my smartphone. Neither one keeps me positive or grateful.
I’ve decided to work on a new habit of gratitude about church and worshipping with fellow believers. In my prayer journal, I’ll list one thing each day that I enjoy about church. I’ll also write down an affirmation for the people who lead out in church. I’ve discovered that when I build things up, it’s harder to tear them down.When I build things up, it's harder to tear them down. #selfcare Click To Tweet
‘S’ Stands for Sharing
Sharing can take myriad forms. Perhaps you share an affirmation with someone. Maybe you give up your seat on a crowded train. When a driver tries to merge onto the freeway as if he owns it, you move over to the fast lane without getting angry. I’ve discovered the easiest commodity I have to share with everyone is a genuine smile.
According to a post on Psychology Today, smiling not only releases feel-good, natural chemicals in your body, but it also makes the person who sees your smile feel rewarded. Sharing a genuine smile will not only make you feel better, but it will also make everyone around you feel better, too! Better yet? Smiles don’t cost a cent. They may require forming a habit, but the return on your investment is exponential.
If you suffer from anxiety, low self-esteem, a consistently negative attitude, or poor interpersonal relationships, you may want to check your mental health habits.
Forming new habits on your own may provide relief for your mental stress. But in some cases, it takes the help of a professional to regain your mental health. You can check out this article on WebMD to assess whether or not you need more help.
Download a Free Self-Care Checklist for Mental Health Habits!
If you’d like a free printable self-care checklist for mental health habits, just click here. It comes with instructions and takes about 15 minutes to complete at the start of each week.
You can also join the Self-Care challenge for fun ideas on self-care right to your inbox.