Mother and son have fun practicing meditation on couch.Stock Photo

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, self-care can play a role in maintaining your mental health and help support your treatment and recovery if you have a mental illness.

Treat Yourself

Self Care is Essential to Mental Health

By Kendra Germany-Wall
May 3, 2024

When it comes to mental health, how you treat yourself is essential. Experts agree that self-care promotes wellbeing, prevents disease, and improves health outcomes.

Self-care can take on many forms, from taking the time to do things you enjoy or vacations to simply taking the time to breathe or meditate. Even the most minor acts of self-care can greatly impact your mental health and wellbeing.

Here are some self-care tips from the National Institute of Mental Health:

Eat Healthy, Regular Meals and Stay Hydrated

A balanced diet and plenty of water can improve your energy and focus throughout the day. Pay attention to your intake of caffeine and alcohol and how they affect your mood and wellbeing — for some, decreasing caffeine and alcohol consumption can be helpful.

The Choctaw Nation offers several nutritional programs to help its members.

  • Seniors Farmers Market Nutrition Program – Eligible seniors in the Choctaw Nation service area can receive $50 in benefits that can be exchanged for fresh fruits and vegetables from authorized area farmers.
  • Children’s Nutrition Programs – Provides a bag of shelf-stable meals to children who are in need at the Grab and Go locations, as well as our approved feeding site that children attend.
  • Senior Nutrition – Provides meals, information, referral, transportation, wellness activities and arts and crafts to Native American elders.
  • WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program – A USDA-funded program that provides local, fresh fruits and vegetables to WIC participants.
  • Nutrition Services -Helping navigate healthy eating practices to improve overall health and help in fighting disease.
  • Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC) – A federally funded supplemental nutrition program that contributes to healthy pregnancies, healthy babies and healthy children.
  • Healthy Lifestyles – Promotes and hosts community events and advocates for policy changes that focus on physical activity, nutrition, tobacco prevention and overall healthy lifestyles.
  • Healthy Aging – Provides wellness, social services, behavioral health services, case management and providers in geriatric-specific care to assist elders achieve a higher quality of life or maintain an optimal level of functioning and wellness.
  • Food Distribution Program – Provides healthy, nutritious foods to income-eligible households.
  • Summer Food Service Program – Nutritious meals offered at various locations for all children under the age of 18.
  • CDC National Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) – A lifestyle change program to help participants prevent type 2 diabetes.
  • Diabetes Wellness Center – Designed to treat diabetic patients for symptoms arising from their disease in a safe, comfortable environment with certified diabetes educators throughout the reservation.
  • Masali Program – The Masali Program was created by Wellness Center, doctors and clinic administrators to help lead patients to a healthy, more productive life. This program is designed to promote mobility, improved glucose levels, improved weight management, improved flexibility, improved fitness levels, and improved diet and lifestyle.

When it comes to eating healthy and staying hydrated, several apps help track and maintain goals.

Apps like NOOM and Weight Watchers offer paid plans, but there are also free options like MyFitnessPal and Fooducate to help track and maintain food and nutrition goals.

As for hydration, according to the Centers for Disease Control, getting enough water every day is essential for your health. Drinking water can prevent dehydration, a condition that can cause unclear thinking, result in mood change, cause your body to overheat, and lead to constipation and kidney stones.

Sugary drinks like soda and sports and energy drinks are the leading sources of added sugars in the American diet.

According to the National Library of Medicine, intake of sweet food, beverages and added sugars has been linked with depressive symptoms in several populations.

Water is proven to help keep a normal temperature, lubricate and cushion joints, protect the spinal cord and other sensitive tissues, and get rid of wastes through urination, perspiration and bowel movements.

For those who struggle with water intake, apps like WaterMinder are an excellent way to help stay on track. Or even a bottle with goal marks written on it can help keep those hydration goals moving.

Get Regular Exercise

Just 30 minutes of walking every day can boost your mood and improve your health. Small amounts of exercise add up, so don’t be discouraged if you can’t do 30 minutes at one time.

The Choctaw Nation Wellness Centers offer a wide range of services to communities throughout the Choctaw Nation.

Each facility offers top-of-the-line fitness equipment and a wide variety of fitness classes. The Wellness Center also conducts comprehensive fitness assessments and challenges to incentivize healthy lifestyles.

Group classes such as CrossFit, yoga and spin are available, as well as one-on-one training with a certified trainer. The Wellness Centers are designed to help members reach their goals however they feel comfortable reaching them.

For those who are just starting their wellness journey and might be a little nervous, Autumn Benson, Masali Program Coordinator at the Durant Wellness Center, has some words of encouragement.

“We all have been there. For anyone who is just starting to exercise for the first time, going to the gym can be intimidating. Everyone comes in with the assumption that ‘everyone is looking at me. I’m freaking out. They’re judging me.’ Usually, that’s not the case. Most people are thinking the same thing and stressing about it themselves or they are just focusing on what they’re doing. They’re not even paying attention,” explained Benson. “It’s just encouraging to see more people come in, and you get to build that community.”

Benson also suggests determining your big “why” is essential to getting your journey started.

“Why do you want to start exercising and focusing on how you want to feel,” said Benson. “How you want to show up in your life and the lives of your friends and family is more important than focusing just purely on things like weight loss and what your body will look like.”

For those who are considering being more active, but have reservations about starting that journey, Benson’s suggestion is to just start with moving.

“You are never too old, too big, too busy, too anything to start moving. Even just 20 minutes a day, a couple times a week, even if it’s just walking– moving can make a big difference.”

There are 14 locations throughout the Choctaw Nation, and hours of operation vary. To obtain a membership, visit the location nearest you. There is a one-time $10 fee for an access card and a $10 fee for any future card replacements.

The eligibility requirements are as follows:

  • Choctaw Nation tribal members, their spouses and dependents up to age 26
  • Choctaw Nation associates, their spouses and dependents up to age 26
  • CDIB cardholders of a federally recognized tribe, their spouses and dependents up to age 26
  • Military service members, their spouses and dependents up to age 26
  • LEO, FIRE, EMT, their spouses and dependents up to age 26

For those who are older or have preexisting conditions, it is a good idea to check with your doctor before starting your journey with the wellness center. If you are a patient within the Choctaw Nation Health Services Authority, your doctor can work with Wellness Center staff to make sure you are getting an exercise program that is right for you.

Make Sleep a Priority

Stick to a schedule, and make sure you’re getting enough sleep. Blue light from devices and screens can make it harder to fall asleep, so reduce blue light exposure from your phone or computer before bedtime.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, more than 50 million people in the United States have a sleep disorder. In addition, more than 100 million Americans of all ages report that they don’t get an adequate amount of sleep.

The Choctaw Nation Health Services Authority offers a sleep lab at the Talihina Clinic, which provides a comfortable place for patients to sleep overnight to study their sleep disorders.

Schedule an appointment with a Choctaw Nation Family Practice doctor to determine if a sleep study is needed. Please call 918-567-7000 or 800-349-7026 for additional information.

Eligibility requirements:

  • Must reside within the Choctaw Nation Service Area
  • Must be at least 15 years old or 10 years old if diabetic
  • Must have a medical chart with a CNHSA health facility or: CDIB, letter of descendancy, or tribal membership card from a federally recognized tribe
  • Social security card
  • Photo identification card (driver’s license)
  • Current insurance information such as Medicare, Medicaid, or Private Insurance

For children under 19 years of age, the following documents are required:

  • Child’s CDIB or a copy of either parent’s CDIB
  • State-issued birth certificate or hospital birth record issued by an Indian Health Service or tribal facility

Try a Relaxing Activity

Explore relaxation or wellness programs or apps, which may incorporate meditation, muscle relaxation, or breathing exercises. Schedule regular times for these and other healthy activities you enjoy, such as listening to music, reading, spending time in nature, and engaging in low-stress hobbies.

Apps like Calm and InsightTimer are designed to help users reach their inner peace through guided meditation, breathwork, sleep sounds and other relaxation tools.

According to In mindfulness meditation, we’re learning how to pay attention to the breath as it goes in and out and notice when the mind wanders from this task. Returning to the breath builds the muscles of attention and mindfulness.

Relaxing means everything from mindful breathing to taking a vacation. If taking a vacation is more of what you need, check for ways to find your escape right here in Choctaw Country.

Visit the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) for more information on self care.