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Self-care vs Stress Relief – What works for long-term Mental Well-being

Chocolate cake? Long walks in the park? Chillin’ on the couch?

Would those be self-care or stress relief?

Hey, I’m not one to argue semantics. Really. To each their own.

So I’ll just share my totally personal response.

Those are Stress Relief.

Self-care to me denotes something bigger than an “escape” activity.

Self-care almost seems like a philosophy, a big picture, long-term, sagely notion.

I mean, sitting down for a glass of wine, after a stressful day, that’s definitely a breather in a bottle. I mean, glass.

Or devouring my favourite salted butterscotch brownie when my moody mind decides to manifest in all its glory, that’s a quick mood-lifter.

Or even dragging my sorry ass to the gym shoots me up with endorphins that I forget what I was moping about anyway.

BUT, awesome as they are, they are just reliefs, short-term, much-needed relief.

So what is Self-care?

(It’s gonna sound like a lot more work and a lot less fun. It’s really about managing your mind.)

1. A daily (ok, almost daily) Meditation practice.

A hybrid of Self-care and Stress Relief for me. When I wake up, and my mind’s foggy or racing, I listen to a short meditation podcast. My go-to is The Morning Ritual, super-short 5 minutes or so, and my mind is a lot less foggy. When I have a little more time, say 20 minutes, I pick something from Mindful in Minutes.

I also hop onto these mini meditations if something in the day suddenly threatens to plunge my mind into a whirlpool of unhealthy thoughts. It really helps, even just a 5-minute guided breathing exercise.

2. Working out what your Values are.

This is long-term, big picture stuff. Knowing your Values is important as we tend to get stressed when faced with difficult situations and people, and we don’t quite know how to respond. Making decisions based on our Values leads to a happier mind.

Check out my 2 articles on Values: Guiding You to Better Mental Health and How to Discover What’s Important to You.

3. Boundaries.

So, we probably know about Physical Boundaries. You know when you don’t feel like meeting someone because they make you feel like crap? So, you make a decision not to meet and jump for joy? That’s an example.

But I learned that there are 3 other types of Boundaries that frankly, is all about managing our mind.

An example:

You’re having dinner with friends, and someone says, “Oh, you always love to talk so much.” You’re immediately upset because you don’t believe that’s the case, and this person is supposed to be one of your best friends, why would they say something like that?

a. External Boundaries: This protects you from external insults or injury. In this case, the external boundary helps you figure out what’s real feedback and what you should reject. For example, if this is more about your friend’s insecurity or how much of what they said is really true.

b. Internal Boundaries: This protects yourself and others from yourself. You’re probably starting to get angry or you’re feeling hurt. Internal boundary serves as a filter between your feelings and your response. Instead of immediately reacting, it will help you decide whether you are going to say something, how you’re going to say it, or just ignore the comment.

c. Temporal Boundaries: Often, we already have negative or painful experiences from the past which add on to the current stressful situation we are in. Temporal boundaries help you to sort your old pain from the new. How much of your feeling upset about being told that you talk too much is actually from the current situation vs feelings from the past.

Read: Building your Boundaries Exercise by Dr Jonice Webb.

4. Recognise, Accept, Work on your feelings (RAW).

My acronym for managing our feelings. Something I came up with from my learnings during therapy.

Often, we do not give space to our thoughts and feelings. We squash or shove them aside, and invariably they keep popping back up.

But the next time somebody upsets you, you take a step back and firstly, recognise that you are upset. Maybe your heart’s beating faster, you’re getting warmer, or your stomach’s feeling queasy, all these are physiological reactions and recognising them is the first step.

Next, accept the feelings. They have a right and a reason for being there. You may not immediately know why, but give them the space to be there. They are valid.

And only then will you want to work on them. And be able to. You’ve recognised, accepted and now, in a calmer state, you can start to process why you had the reactions, what the real issues are and what you plan to do moving forward.

All this is much healthier than spiralling into sadness at being hurt or flaring up in anger and destroying relationships.

5. Thank The Monkey Mind

On a related note, I recently learned a wonderful tip from a psychologist. You would not tell your heart to stop beating, right, so why should you tell your mind to stop thinking? That’s its job.

This is for all of us who love to ruminate. Or if you’re struggling with a long-term problem that keeps popping up throughout the day.

It works like this. The next time, the same, old thought pops in your mind, you can tell it: “hi, thanks for reminding me about this issue. I know I need to get on it, in fact, I plan to look into it in 2 weeks’ time, but for now, I need to focus on what I’m doing, so thanks for the reminder. I’ll get on this in 2 weeks’ time.

You gave your thought space but didn’t let it consume you.

Try it. Works for me!

6. And finally, not carrying others’ burdens or worries.

Yes, we are compassionate beings. We feel strongly when our loved ones are struggling/hurting/upset. As if by osmosis, we may even end up absorbing all that pain and hurt.

And, if we’re not careful, this could threaten to take over our day, or even our lives. We become unfocused or depressed.

So the point is, yes, you can be compassionate and listen deeply, but after that, exercise some self-compassion. Listen, help where you can without sacrificing your own well-being, and then let it go. Do something healthy to take yourself out of the moment, such as exercise or have a nice meal. Something, to bring back the balance, the equanimity.

The saying is “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” We need to take care of ourselves in order to be there for others.


Well, I hope you’ve found a couple of useful ways to manage your mind in a healthier manner, and in effect, improve your long-term mental well-being! Let me know what you think or any other suggestions in the comments below!

2 thoughts on “Self-care vs Stress Relief – What works for long-term Mental Well-being

  1. No matter how much I hear you share in person, radio, ig story and now in article..I still find all of your tips very valid and easily applicable from my day to day. Thanks Yasmeen!

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