10 ways to take good care of yourself
Making time to practice self-care can benefit your mind and body enormously, especially during challenging times. Start incorporating healthy habits (there’s no time like the present!) with our handy guide.
1. Eat a balanced diet
Boost your energy with regular meals and healthy snacks.
Constant access to the kitchen during lockdown has made many of us slip into bad habits with snacking.
Get your diet back on track by eating three square meals a day, advises nutritionist Eleanor Strang. “The process of digestion works best when it has four or five hours to complete before the next food arrives,” she explains. “Keep your blood sugar balanced by choosing foods with fibre and include protein with each meal as this will help to sustain your energy throughout the day.”
If you fancy the occasional snack, you can make healthier choices by opting for rice cakes or oatcakes with nut butter or mixing raisins with nuts. These options will help to keep your blood sugar levels stable.
2. Get active!
Exercise your way to a happier, fitter you.
New research by Total Fitness has found that one in three of us regularly exercises to relieve stress and boost our mood. The most popular form of exercise is walking with 94% of adults surveyed enjoying regular walks.
“Walk or cycle to work if at all possible (when you can safely return to work),” says Dr Carey Wolfe, a GP and sports medicine specialist. “There is no better time to get out to exercise more while the air quality is still so much better than it was before lockdown. Exercise improves your endorphins (known as our feel-good hormones), which makes you feel so much better.”
3. Be health savvy
Know when to go to your GP
We tend to know our bodies well and can spot when something doesn’t feel quite right. Waking up with a headache after a poor night’s sleep or experiencing sore muscles after a vigorous workout are two instances where we can easily identify the culprit and be reassured it’s nothing to worry about. These examples of discomfort tend to improve within a day or two and we soon feel better.
But it’s not always easy to spot when a recent change is something that might require a little more attention. Here are some examples of symptoms you may need to have a chat with your doctor about:
You may be pleasantly surprised to find you’ve recently lost weight and that’s great if you’ve been dieting or have upped your exercise levels. But if your weight loss is unexplained, this could suggest anything from a digestive issue to a potential undiagnosed cancer so it’s important to get checked by a GP.
If you find you’re going to the toilet more than usual, particularly at night, this could be due to taking on too much liquid just before bed.
Try reducing your fluid intake an hour or two beforehand to see if this helps.
If your urge to pee persists, it’s well worth having a chat with a GP as this can be a warning sign of conditions including prostate cancer.
Frequent headaches, a persistent cough and changes to your bowel habits are also symptoms to be cautious about.
A chat with a GP can help to tackle health problems early and allay any worries you may have.
If you’re a Benenden Health member, you can access expert medical advice 24 hours a day, seven days a week via the GP 24/7 helpline.
4. Make time for you
If you're a Benenden Health member, you can access counselling support via our Mental Health Helpline 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Counsellors can provide emotional support, guidance and signposting for problems such as anxiety, depression, bereavement, navigating change, relationship or work difficulties plus legal and debt concerns.
Helpline counsellors advise that doing something you enjoy is one of the best ways to tackle stress and worry. Switching your focus to an activity you like can invoke calm and may help to change the way you look at a problem or concern. Whether it’s listening to music, gardening, going for a walk or relaxing with a book, making time for you is one of the best ways to beat stress.
5. Manage your anxiety triggers
Recognise when to step away from social media and news overload
It’s all too easy to become overwhelmed by news and social media at the moment as we try to stay updated with everything that’s going on. Knowing when to step away is important says TV psychologist Dr Becky Spelman.
“It can be very tempting to endlessly scroll social media,” she says. “While it’s important to stay connected, constant exposure to a growing pandemic of conspiracy theories, fake news and misinformed advice is not at all useful.
“For those who find that their time on social media is getting them down or causing anxiety, it’s important to know when to step away. Set aside a specific time every day to check social media and then put your phone away and do something different or explore other interests.”
6. Learn something new
Is baking your boredom buster?
Boredom can really take its toll on your mood. Keep yourself occupied by trying something new.
If you’ve always wanted to learn a language, Duolingo enables you to study at your own pace while keeping you on track with daily reminders to take a lesson.
Or you could learn to bake, master calligraphy, write a novel, start a blog or try your hand at painting. There are numerous free online courses to choose from. Have a look at FutureLearn for starters.
7. Schedule in worry time
Plan time to think about problems
Constant worrying can affect your emotional resilience and trigger low mood and anxiety. An effective way to take control is to schedule in worry time.
“By giving yourself a specific time slot to worry each day, it can help to limit worrying so it doesn’t become overwhelming,” says Sarah Lewis, a chartered psychologist (www.acukltd.com). “Try scheduling in 15 or 30 minutes to focus on what’s worrying you. When worry time comes, you may find you don’t feel the need to worry. If you do want to use your worry time, try to establish what you can do and what first step you might need to take.”
Sarah also recommends scheduling your worry time for mornings as we tend to be more resilient then.
To access the Mental Health Helpline, Benenden Health members should call 0800 414 8247 and select option 2. If you are calling from abroad, call +44 800 414 8247. The helpline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
8. Look on the bright side
Train your brain to find the positives
It’s all too easy to miss what’s made a difference during the day if you don’t make a conscious effort to think about it. Before you go to sleep, chartered psychologist Sarah Lewis recommends reflecting on three things you are grateful for that happened that day.
“It’s great to get in the habit of doing a daily gratitude exercise and it only takes two minutes,” she says. “Doing this regularly helps to train your brain to look for the positives and find those silver linings.”
9. Keep hydrated
Top up your fluids and keep an eye on your alcohol intake
It’s important to take on regular fluids every day but it doesn’t just have to be water. For most people, two litres of fluid a day is ideal and it can include herbal teas. If you’re not a big water drinker, you can add fruit squash to water to help up your intake.
Coffee counts – but caffeine is a diuretic which means you may not be taking on as much fluid as you think. Don’t forget milk counts too and also offers benefits such as being a good source of calcium.
A handy way to monitor how you’re doing in terms of hydration is to check the colour of your urine. It should be straw or champagne-coloured if you’re well hydrated.
You may have found your alcohol consumption creeping up during lockdown or, equally, you may have ended up drinking less. As we start spending more time indoors again during the colder winter months, keeping track of your intake is a great idea. Drinkaware’s app tracks and calculate units for you to take the stress out of monitoring. You could also try low- or non-alcohol alternatives. This mocktail is ideal for cold nights.
Pineapple and orange hot toddy
You will need: 60ml orange juice, 90ml pineapple juice, a teaspoon of honey and ½ lemon (juiced).
To make: heat the orange, pineapple and lemon juice in a small saucepan, then add the honey and continue to stir until dissolved.
To finish: remove from the heat, pour into your chosen serving glass and garnish with pineapple.
10. Master your routine
Function better with regular sleep patterns
“Routine and rhythm are very important to how we function as humans,” says Dr Ellen Welch, a GP and member of the NHS 111 Covid-19 response team online. “If you’ve ignored this over recent weeks, work towards re-establishing a new pattern.”
This includes trying to maintain a regular sleep routine where you get up and go to bed at the same time each day, even on weekends. Ellen also recommends sticking to regular mealtimes.
Weathering the Storm by Gael Lindenfield (£9.99, Trigger Publishing)
How Can I Help? by Lauren Callaghan (£12.99, Trigger Publishing)
First Aid for Your Child’s Mind by Alicia Eaton (£12.99, Practical Information Publishing)
Big Boys Don’t Cry by Patrick Addis and Fabian Devlin (available as an eBook, £10, via bit.ly/BBDCbuy)
ABC of Feelings by Bonnie Lui (£6.99, Upside Down Books)