You’re feeling down. Your energy is lagging. Going out and engaging with the world seems like so much work. Here are some ways you might think about addressing this state of affairs:

  • Eating an entire carton of ice cream
  • Going on a Netflix binge
  • Just going back to sleep

You’ve got to take care of yourself, right? Surely one of these things will revitalize you.

Ha, only kidding! If you’re anything like me, you’ll struggle to think of a single time a Netflix binge pulled you out of a funk.

The reason comes down to what physicists call inertia. Simply put, inertia is the idea that things tend to stay the way they are. If an object is at rest, it’s going to stay at rest unless some external force acts on it. Likewise, if an object is in motion, it’s going to stay in motion unless something stops it.

This same rule often applies to our mental health.

If we’re feeling worn out, the natural impulse is to do something passive that doesn’t take a lot of work. So we isolate ourselves, neglect day-to-day tasks, stay at home – which only makes us feel more worn out and demoralized. We become the object at rest that stays at rest.

How do we escape this vicious cycle of inactivity and not taking care of ourselves? The trick is to find a way of forcing ourselves into a new state by changing ourselves from the object at rest into the object in motion. That transition is the key – once we become the object in motion, we tend to stay in motion.

The initial action that precipitates this change will depend on our situation. It could be taking a shower, going for a run, going out to dinner with friends, or making an appointment with a therapist. This is the essence of self-care: not indulging our impulse to hide from reality and do nothing, but finding a step we can take, no matter how small, that starts moving us from being the object at rest to the object in motion.

In this Ask the Therapist video, Marie Hartwell-Walker and Daniel Tomasulo cover some forms this step might take and talk about how self-care can make a difference in our mental health. Watch the video below, and see the Psych Central YouTube channel for other mental health videos:

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