With Labor Day approaching, we mark the end of summer qnd the start of school and the Fall season. Historically, the Labor Day holiday is a tribute to the contributions that the American worker and organized labor unions have made to our country.
In addition to its social significance, I want us to recognize the contribution Labor Day has made to America’s mental health, i.e. its appreciation of the importance of self-care. APPRECIATING THE DEEPER SIGNIFICANCE OF LABOR DAY: The importance of leisure and self care | Pastoral Counseling Syracuse NY (revmichaelheath.com)
It must not be forgotten that the American labor movement gave us important self-care structures such as the week-end and the 40 hour work-week. These work-limits, which we now take for granted, were mightily opposed by many and were difficult to attain. Implicitly, these work-rules recognized the necessity for workers to have time off from work and to enjoy leisure and rest .
Despite the immense work-place progress which allows for self-care, many still minimize the importance of self-care. So, today I want to take a deep dive into the basics of what real self-care involves.
Specifically, having restful sleep, good nutrition, physical activity, adequate leisure, knoiwing effective stress management, having strong social relationships and getting regular medical/psychological wellness exams are vital for us to be at our best. In doing so, we can learn how these 7 elements work together to promote our mental health and happiness.
1) SLEEP Over a quarter of Americans have a serious sleep disorder which detracts from their overall mental and physical health. The good news is that with a combination of better sleep hygiene, a medical evaluation and/or cognitive psychotherapies, the problem can be solved. Unfortunately, many erroneously believe that sleep problems require medication or are untreatable. Understanding that sleep is an essential part of self-care and wellness prevents this situation from being ignored or worsening.
2) NUTRITION Most of us know that proper nutrition is vital to good physical health. What many don’t understand is that it is also important for good mental health. Paying attention to what we eat and making sure that we receive the important nutrients in our diet is a crucial part of a self-aware life-style.
3) PHYSICAL ACTIVITY There is growing research data which reveals that a sedentary life style is harmful to both mind and body. Having at least 30 minutes a day of sustaining movement (aerobic activity) promotes not only better health but secretes endorphins which generate the experience of well being.
4) LEISURE Medical science has known for a long time that the body and brain need sleep to recover from the stress of day-to-day living. More recently we understand that conscious rest, that isn non-demand neural activity, is also needed to allow the brain to heal broken neuro-pathways and keep us sharp. Such activities as meditation, listening to music, dancing ,playing games or just going for a walk can provide this needed rest.
5) STRESS MANAGEMENT Another important aspect of self-care is the ongoing mindfulness of one’s stress level. Learning to recognize stress build up and then utilize effective stress lowering techniques to lower it is crucial for effective self-care. Deep breathing exorcises, journaling , exercise and playing or listening to music are helpful ways to lower stress levels.
6) SOCIAL RELATIONSHIPS Adequate self-care also means having and nurturing close relationships. People who do poorly with self-care often neglect social connections or, worse , are socially isolated. Mindfulness in this area is important especially if one discovers that his/her support network is lacking. In that case, intentionally seeking out new social connections is necessary.
7) MEDICAL/PSYCHOLOGICAL WELLNESS EXAMS In addition to all of the above factors, self-care also requires regular wellness exams to detect any medical or psychological problem early on. As one ages, the number of doctors one sees for annual checkups grows and adequate attention to self-care makes scheduling these appointments a high-priority.
This year, let’s appreciate Labor Day , not simply as a day off from work or a chance to watch a parade but also as a reminder to pay attention and attend to our basic physical and emotional needs. In addition to work and helping others, we need to include ourselves as deserving of our care and energy.
Rev, Michael Heath, LMHC. Fellow AAPC 9/01/ 2023