No matter our age, we have a vast array of needs that we must care for throughout our lives. Caring for our physical health, emotional wellness and social connections is an ongoing process that requires consistent attention.
Self-care becomes all the more important during times of transition, periods of stress or as we face uncertainty about our health, relationships and futures. As we age, practicing good self-care plays a vital role in allowing us to form the social, medical, emotional and financial support structures needed to age successfully.
How are you caring for your physical health?
Caring for your physical health can take many forms. We’ve all heard how exercise and diet can benefit our physical well-being and prolong our lives. But exercise doesn’t have to strictly be working out in a gym. Consider doing yoga, tai chi or Pilates, all of which can be done at varying levels of intensity and impact. Find daily activities and hobbies that have a physical component, such as gardening, bike riding or playing with a pet. Simple changes to your daily routines, such as walking more and spending more time outside, can improve your self-care practices.
Even if you lead a healthy lifestyle, occasionally physical ailments develop that require the attention of medical professionals. An important part of your physical self-care is knowing how and when to access care. Do you have a primary-care doctor? Do you have your insurance or Medicare information accessible? Do you keep a record of all medications that you are taking?
How are you caring for your emotional wellness?
We can often tell when there is something ailing us physically, but we aren’t always as tuned into our mental-health needs. But caring for our mental health is an ongoing process — not just something to pay attention to when feeling depressed or anxious. There are times when speaking with a mental-health professional or participating in a support group will be useful. There are many types of mental-health services available that utilize different settings, clinical approaches and payment options (including some that are covered by Medicare or Medicaid).
There are also activities we can incorporate into our daily lives that can aid our emotional wellness. Exploring creative outlets, such as painting, writing poetry or learning a musical instrument, can positively impact our mental health. Getting out of the house more often, even just to take a walk or sit in a park, can have a positive effect. For some, expressing our spirituality can tie in with our emotional wellness. Attending religious services, praying or meditating have all been used as effective self-care tools to maintain emotional health.
How are we caring for our social connections?
In many cases, our mental health is closely tied to our relationships and social connections. Aging comes with an increased risk of becoming isolated, especially within LGBT communities. Good social self-care will help us to fight against this isolation by maintaining connections and forging new relationships. Organize outings with friends and family members. Attend community events, join social groups or take classes where you can meet new people who share common interests.
Technology can also be a useful tool in staying connected and forming social relationships. You can email or video chat with friends you can’t spend time with in person. While meeting new people online comes with some risks, people of all ages utilize online dating sites and apps to meet prospective partners. Even if you are not looking for romantic relationships, there are plenty of online communities and discussion groups where you can interact with people from around the world who share your interests. The use of technology shouldn’t replace all face-to-face interactions, but can be used as a self-care tool to improve your social connectedness.
How is your self-care?
There are several free tools available to help you take stock of your self-care practices. Self-care checklists on the Internet can help you identify areas for improvement and activities to incorporate into your daily life. Talking to a health-care provider, spiritual leader or mental-health professional can also enable you to evaluate your current self-care practices.
David Griffith is the director of programs and outreach for the LGBT Elder Initiative. To learn more about the LGBT Elder Initiative and upcoming programs for LGBT older adults, visit www.lgbtelderinitiative.org.