In their dedicated efforts to connect rural Americans across the country with existing mental health resources, Rural Minds recently partnered with the National Grange to present a webinar titled “Mental Health Benefits of Sleep, Nutrition, Exercise and Mindfulness.”

In the first two parts of the Country Folks Grower series on this informative session, we covered the benefits of exercise and nutrition and a good night’s sleep; in this article, we’ll focus on the benefits of self-care.

Contrary to what is portrayed in popular media, self-care does not just mean spa days or having an extra helping of dessert.

“What is self-care? It means taking action to improve your own health and well-being. It isn’t always fun or enjoyable; sometimes it’s completing chores, properly fueling your body, having tough conversations and making the right but hard decisions,” explained Em Skehill, director of public awareness and education at Mental Health America. “Self-care is not just doing what feels good in the moment – it’s about setting yourself up for success in the future.”

Skehill said self-care is just one part of mental health – and everyone should be concerned about that.

“Everyone has mental health,” she said. “Just like we move our bodies and eat nutritious foods to maintain our physical health, it’s important to keep up with your mental health. Your brain is a muscle you need to be ‘working out’ to build that resilience for yourself.”

She also noted that one in five American adults will have a diagnosable mental health condition in any given year. That statistic is relevant, because “to put it bluntly, the world is out of control right now,” Skehill said. “There’s a lot going on constantly. But even in times of distress, you do have some control over your well-being. There’s no way you can use tips on deep breathing to put food on the table … but you can give yourself those moments of peace.”

What can farmers do for that slice of self-care? Skehill said it comes down to connection – to yourself (through reflection or journaling), to your community (via friends or clubs or even if it’s only online – people with similar interests and experiences), to nature and to spirituality. Community is especially important because a lot of pain comes from loneliness and isolation, which is common in rural areas.

Another key component of self-care is mindfulness, which is a big word describing a simple practice. It’s about living in the moment and focusing on that moment. Skehill cited a study in which people practiced mindfulness while washing dishes (smelling the soap, feeling the water) saw a 27% reduction in nervousness and a 25% increase in inspiration.

“It just helps you be more in tune with yourself,” she said of the practice. “It doesn’t have to be setting aside an hour to sit in a quiet room – focus on the taste of your food, the sound of the wind in the trees.”

Mental Health America provides resources on community education and engagement, workplace resources, mental health screening and research, advocacy and public policy, youth programs and peer leadership and information and referral services. To view all that they offer, visit mhanational.org.

by Courtney Llewellyn