“Self-care” – it’s a term you likely have heard quite often. From café conversations to self-help books, it is a common term in most social circles.
So what exactly is self-care?
In a nutshell, self-care is care that is initiated by an individual to promote well-being in their lives. In other words, it is the act of caring for yourself in a way that nourishes your health and soul.
In today’s stressful society, self-care is becoming more important to incorporate than ever before.
A recent Statistics Canada report showed that about 1-in-4 Canadians described their day as highly stressful, with 62% stating that work was their main source of stress. While some stress is a part of everyday life, ongoing chronic stress may create health issues within the body and mind.
For example, high blood pressure, depression, digestive issues, infections, migraines, thyroid issues, anxiety, depression and ulcers can all be consequences of stress and lack of self-care and self-nurturing.
Taking this into consideration, there is an increased need to incorporate self-care practices in each of our lives.
Within the realm of Naturopathic Medicine, these practices may include adaptogenic herbs, nervine tonics, multivitamins and acupuncture.
On an individual and personal level, self-care practices are key to decreasing and managing stress in your life. Lifestyle modifications, such as recognizing chronic stressors, working on self-development (e.g. personal time, setting boundaries), sleep hygiene, and exercise are all important factors that can help create a healthy self-care routine.
There are many ways you can practice self-care
Each person’s self-care can be based on their personal interests or needs as not all people need or find comfort in the same things.
Below are 10 things that may get you started in promoting healthy self-care in your life:
- Exercise – should match your energy level. Starting gradually with a restorative exercise is best. For example, yoga, tai chi or swimming.
- Address coping patterns – try to avoid staying up late to finish projects, try to set realistic goals, reduce or eliminate alcohol, caffeine and sugar intake.
Alcohol, caffeine and sugar have been shown to raise cortisol levels. Consuming refined carbohydrates raise insulin levels, which results in lowered glucose and this triggers more cortisol to be released in the blood (source).
- Set boundaries – Create a list of things that you know you like and make you feel good and also things you find uncomfortable. This could include activities, or certain relationships in your life. It can be very difficult to learn to say no to people and events in your life.It may take some practice, but once you identify what you prefer and what you do not feel okay with, you may learn how to politely say no and feel more empowered and thus have more time to incorporate self-care into your days.
Examples might include: Not checking emails at night, not attending gatherings you do not feel comfortable in, not answering your phone during lunch/dinner. You can title this your “no” or “not okay” list.
- Use relaxation exercises and/or practice meditation. You can do these exercises at any time of the day.
- Get enough sleep – aim for 7-8 hours per night. Even though some people may say, “I only need 5 hours of sleep a night to be functional and productive”. It is not a competition to see who can function on the least sleep. The winner is the person who aims to get adequate and refreshing sleep. Rest is essential for a healthy body and mind. Being well rested flows into other healthy areas in your life.
- Do at least one activity every day that replenishes you. Maybe it’s a relaxing bath, cooking a meal, taking a walk or spending 30 minutes unwinding with a book or a loved one. Spend enough time with your loved ones or people who make you feel safe and comfortable.
- Laugh! Try to have a good, hearty laugh everyday. Laughter can decrease stress hormones, increase immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies and triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Watch a short funny video of cats, dogs or kids playing. Read the comics section, watch a monologue of a talk program or check out some stand-up comedy.
- Listen to music – Listening to music can have a tremendously relaxing effect on our minds and bodies. There is growing scientific evidence showing that the brain responds to music in very specific ways, and that it can have a beneficial effect on our physiological functions, slowing the pulse and heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and decreasing the levels of stress hormones.
- Talk – talk to family, friends or a professional about things that might be weighing on your mind or that you are struggling with (career, social or work pressures, health issues, etc).
- Practice – just like any routine, self-care takes practice. Try it daily. In time, it will be a part of your everyday norm. Acts of self-care can have many positive health benefits.