JACKSON, Miss. - When mom tells her millennial "Take care of yourself," eating a healthy diet and getting enough sleep and exercise might seem like it's enough.
But for true self-care, young adults in the millennial age group of about 23-38 must also take care of their mental and emotional health. That can be a tall order for a population that's big on technology, but perhaps not so big on routine preventive care and consistently good decision-making on health issues.
"A lot of times, millennials will talk to me and say that when they're overwhelmed or stressed, they will watch Netflix for two or three hours, or thumb through Facebook on their phones," said Dr. Danny Burgess, associate professor of psychiatry and director of University of Mississippi Medical Center's Center for Integrative Health.
"There's nothing wrong with disengaging, but it's a passive coping behavior. With self-care, you need to recognize what your body needs, and you need to be intentional about it."
Taking good care of your body at any age is a key to good health, but in young adults, getting into a mindset of self-care might be necessary in order to achieve health goals.
"Self-care has to do with your physical body, your emotions, and your spiritual, social and leisure time needs," Burgess said. "I want my patients to think of care in all of those areas, and then ask themselves: 'What is it that works for me, and how can I intentionally incorporate that into my life?'
"For some people, it might be going to yoga, or going for a run. For some, it might be journaling. It's not just going home and crashing on the couch," Burgess said. "You deliberately engage in activities that are good for you."
Third-year internal medicine resident Dr. Meredith Sloan is preparing to go into study mode for her boards. She finishes her residency in May, but is continuing for another year as chief resident.
"It's definitely not something that I've given up on," she said of practicing self-care as a millennial, and at one of the busiest times in her life. "I'm about six months out from finishing, so self-care is taking a back burner."
She has several favorite ways to de-stress. "Sometimes, it's just taking the evening off and watching Netflix," said Sloan, who lives in Ridgeland. "I enjoy running whenever there's a nice day, and to just get out of the hospital and enjoy the outdoors."
Millennials would do well to practice boundaries between work and their personal life, said Dr. Daniel Williams, division chief in the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior. Williams also is associate director of UMMC's Office of Well-being.
"This balance may be slightly different for different people and different jobs, but having a way to separate yourself from work is important," Williams said. "Consider some boundaries such as not answering the phone or texts during dinner, or not checking work emails after hours unless it's a true emergency"
The biggest hurdle to millennials practicing self-care, Burgess believes, is the guilt they might feel. However, "self-care is not selfish," he said. "Taking time for yourself isn't a selfish thing to do. That might be treating yourself to a nice dinner, or taking a bubble bath, or just cocooning in your bed. You're not doing something at the expense of someone else, but instead, taking care of yourself so that you can be productive in life and in relationships."
Sloan understands the guilt thing. "I call it study guilt," she said.
"It starts in med school, when any time you're not studying, you feel like you should be. You have to forgive yourself for not getting everything on your to-do list done in a day," she said.
It can be hard to achieve a guilt-free balance, Sloan said. "It's something you have to learn, and some people come by it more naturally than others."
Even small, quick actions can contribute to self-care, Williams said. "Learn fast-acting ways to relax. Practicing mindfulness, deep breathing or meditation can be done in several-minute blocks and can significantly improve how you feel," he said.
"Taking a few minutes between meetings, at lunch or when you get home from work to center your thoughts and bodily responses can make a surprising difference."
And if running or a yoga class seem impossible in your schedule, you can still move toward fitness—at the office, Williams suggests. "A good first step is to take a few minutes at work to get up, out of your chair, and move your body in a gentle way," he said. "Stretch your muscles to let your body get out of your usual computer posture. Walk down the hall and get a drink from the water fountain. Maybe even take the stairs to your next meeting."
Self-care in millennials, Burgess said, "is not always well-modeled for us. It's always, 'How are you helping other people?' or 'Are you working as hard as you can?' There's not enough emphasis on the balance. You need to pause and be deliberate about your self-care and not feel guilty."
Burgess advises planning self-care into your schedule, just like a doctor's appointment. "You need to say that on Wednesday at a certain time, I'm going to read a book. That's you planning and being deliberate about your self-care, and making it as much of a priority as going to a doctor's appointment. Treat it as if it's just as important."
Reschedule your self-care if you have to delay it. "If your bath time gets interrupted, reschedule your bubble bath to tomorrow. Make sure you keep your self-care behaviors as a priority, and not something easily canceled or dismissed," Burgess said.
"You want to feel good about those behaviors, and feel good about yourself and taking care of yourself."
"It's natural for our time and attention to focus on our problems, worries and concerns," Williams said. "Sometimes, this means that we don't take time to savor our accomplishments, appreciate our successes, and be grateful for good things in our lives.
"Write down a few things you are grateful for, tell a friend or family member why you appreciate them, and take stock of progress you have made recently. You may be surprised at what you find when you intentionally appreciate positive things in your life."