The benefits of self-care, especially during stressful times should never be underestimated. People who take care holistically of themselves will overall experience greater health and longevity. Self-care involves taking care of physical, emotional and mental health and understanding how all three elements are equally important and interconnected. If one is out of balance and needs not being met, the other two will be affected. Keeping these three elements balanced involves consistent care and self-love. Self-care is essential and small everyday steps can enhance overall wellness. To promote overall health and well-being activities and habits need to be adopted and practiced until they are part of everyday life.
It is important to take good care of your body, mind and soul. Learning how to eat healthily, reduce stress, exercise regularly and take time out are vital elements of self-care. Practicing self-care isn’t always easy. Many of us have busy lives and stressful jobs and often struggle to make time for ourselves. Starting on a new part of self-care an often be challenging, but finding that time and making space for ourselves is one of the most beneficial things we can do for ourselves and our families ( who will benefit from too from you being happier, calmer, more grounded, less stressed and less fatigued.
There are many ways to engage in self- care:
EAT A WELL BALANCED NUTRITIONAL DIET
The food we choose to eat can keep us healthy or contribute to disease and weight gain. A healthy diet also positively affects our emotions by giving us more energy, regulating emotions and lessening the risk of fatigue helping us to sleep better. It also affects our minds in a positive way by preventing short-term memory loss and lessening brain fog. Incorporating fresh fruit and vegetables including many green leafy vegetables, good fats found in fatty fish, nuts, seeds, avocados and oils will have positive affects on our health.
2,000 years ago Hippocrates, the ancient greek physician said, “All disease begins in the gut”. It seems that now, more than ever, we should listen to this advice and look at the source of many of our health issues – the gut. Hippocrates is known as the father of medicine, but modern day medicine has swayed from his concept, focusing on treatments rather than causes. While Hippocrates message has been overlooked for centuries, current research is beginning to point to the truth of his idea and are beginning to say that healing and supporting the gut will be one of the most important goals of medicine in the twenty-first century.
The gut is the gateway to the health of the brain and the immune system so our gut health can have a significant impact on our health and well-being. Anyone who wants to improve their physical and mental health should incorporate gut healing approaches into their total body wellness. It all begins with the gut. Our guts are a fertile garden where both good and bad bugs take root. 100 trillion bacteria outnumber our cells ten to one, so we are actually more bacteria than human !! An unhealthy gut will affect our weight, our mood, our cognitive functioning, our digestive system, can cause anxiety, depression, migraines, inflammation, fatigue, rashes and auto immune disease. All the systems within your body work closely together to maintain optimal health, so when one system is unbalanced it can trigger a domino effect, causing problems in other areas of your body and creating a cascade of chronic health complications. This is particularly true of the gut and its impact on immune health. Gut health and immune systems are inextricably linked. 70-80 percent of your immune tissue is located within your gut. The gut is not only deeply connected to your immune system; the health of your digestive system will directly impact the functioning of your brain.
SLEEP AS PART OF A SELF-CARE ROUTINE.
Sleep can have a massive effect on our physical, emotional and mental health. Stress can negatively affect our sleep. Eating or drinking immediately before bed can upset our sleep. It’s especially important to stay away from caffeine, alcohol and sugar which tend to disrupt sleep cycles and keep you awake. Whilst alcohol may lead initially to falling into a deep sleep, the quality of the sleep is disrupted. Alcohol is a stimulant so staying asleep is often problematic. A heavy drinking session of more than six units in an evening can make us spend more time in deep sleep and less time than usual in the important Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage of sleep, which is an important restorative stage of sleep our bodies need. This can leave us feeling tired the next day. Drinking can also make you snore loudly. It relaxes the muscles in your body which means the tissue in your throat, mouth and nose can stop air flowing smoothly and is more likely to vibrate. Several sleepless nights have an impact on our day to day mental health – on our mood concentration and decision-making.
TIPS FOR A GOOD NIGHTS SLEEP.
- Stay away from caffeine and alcohol late in the evening. Try a not, milky or herbal drink instead.
- Stay hydrated
- Make sure your bedroom is cool and uncluttered and your bed is comfortable. Have room darkening curtains and ensure your bedroom, especially just before sleep, is free of screens and technology. Blue light disrupts sleep.
- Take exercise to destress but not too near bedtime as the body will then carry extra adrenaline which can disturb sleep and keep you awake.
- Make lists of things to do the next day before going to bed and/or keep a note book next to your bed and write down any thoughts or worries if you wake thinking of them.
- Take a hot bath before bed to relax muscles. Try adding some lavender oil to your bath and some drops on your pillow.
- Do some slow deep breathing exercises before going to sleep. 7/11 breathing means breathing in for a count of seven and out for a count of 11. Make sure whatever count, that the outbreath is longer to calm the autonomic nervous system.
- Meditation, practised regularly will calm the mind and body, help you let go of thoughts and relax you ready for sleep.
Regular exercise has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, cardiovascular fitness and body composition, yet decrease blood pressure and blood fat levels. A lack of exercise can lead to significant belly fat, which increases the risk of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Research suggests that inactivity is a risk factor for many health conditions including depression breast and colon cancer, diabetes, obesity and bone and joint diseases. Daily exercise can help both physically and mentally boosting our mood and reducing stress and anxiety.
Exercise produces changes in the parts of the brain that regulate stress and anxiety. It can also increase brain sensitivity for the hormones serotonin and norepinephrine which relieve feelings of depression and anxiety. It can also increase the production of endorphins, which are known to help produce positive feelings and reduce the perception of pain.
Exercise can help with weight loss. Whilst dieting where calorie intake is reduced will lower your metabolic rate which will delay weight loss, regular exercise has been shown to increase metabolic rate which will burn more calories and help with weight loss.
Exercise plays an important role in building and maintaining strong muscles and bones. Practising regular physical activity is essential to reducing muscle loss and maintaining strength as you age. Exercise also helps build bone density in addition to helping prevent osteoporosis in later life. Exercise can increase energy levels and reduce feelings of fatigue.
It can help with skin health by increasing the body’s production of natural antioxidants which help protect cells. Exercise can stimulate blood flow and induce skin cell changes that can help delay the appearance of skin ageing.
Exercise can help with brain health by increasing the heart rate and therefore promoting the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain. It can also stimulate the production of hormones that can enhance the growth of brain cells. Exercise has been shown to cause the hippocampus, a part of the brain that is vital for memory and learning, to grow in size.
It can help to reduce and control pain that’s associated with various health conditions. Exercise offers incredible benefits that can improve nearly every aspect of your health.
Regular practice can offer many physical and mental health benefits. It can provide mental clarity and stillness as well as stress and anxiety reduction and an overall increased feeling of overall wellbeing. It improves flexibility, builds strength, increases muscle tone and definition, improves balance and core strength, supports joint health, prevents back pain, teaches breathing and meditation techniques that foster mental calmness and reduces stress.
SAYING NO TO OTHERS
Learning to say ‘No’ can feel hard – many of us feel obligated to say ‘Yes’ when someone asks for our time or energy, however, if you’re already stressed saying ‘Yes’ to loved ones and colleagues this can lead to burnout, anxiety and irritability. With practice you can learn to be more assertive and calmly and politely be able to say ‘No’ without excessive justification. This will lead to increased self- confidence, self -acceptance and more time for self- care.
Spending time outside can help reduce stress lower blood pressure and help in being more mindful. It can help reduce fatigue and overcome symptoms of depression. Getting outside in nature can also help you sleep better at night and improve overall mental and emotional health. When we are indoors we get 100 units of light per hour filtering through the retina of our eyes, going directly to the brain and releasing Serotonin, the body’s ‘feel good’ hormone. Outside on an overcast day we get up to 10,000 units of light and on a sunny day we get up to 100,000 units per hour. This gives an explanation to SAD (Seasonal affective disorder) and why being outside makes us feel mentally and emotionally better as well as physically.
Try switching off an active mind whilst out walking by practising Mindfulness – engaging all senses and focusing on what you can see, hear, smell, touch and taste.
Meditation a technique for resting the mind and attaining a state of consciousness that is different from the normal waking state. It helps the mind become clear, relaxed and inwardly focussed. With practice it can help the mind not focus on the external world and events around you. The mind can become still and silent bringing peace and a feeling of calm.
Journaling has been shown to offer numerous benefits such as improving clarity, regulating emotions, working through conflicts etc., Writing down our thoughts and feelings can be a powerful tool to help make sense of what is going on for us – to unravel confusion. It can greatly improve aspects of physical and mental health. There are, however, possible drawbacks to a regular journaling practice, for example, focusing on and reliving (especially without support) upsetting or traumatic events rather than processing the meaning of those events can sometimes lead to increased distress.
Journaling for many can be a great resource to help work through arguments and decisions, to express and process anger. It is a resource to allow yourself to be honest without any fear of judgement. It can provide a time of deep reflection and to work through difficult issues of situations. It is a safe space to explore and work through unexpressed emotions – sometimes feelings that have been bracketed off for a long time.
GRATITUDE – The simple act of writing down things we feel grateful for can bring many benefits such as better sleep, fewer symptoms of illness and more happiness. It can be easy, especially during stressful times to focus on worrying and negative thoughts, to become numb to the goodness in our lives. Forcing ourselves to pay attention to the things we take for granted can be incredibly healing and grounding.
WRITING UNSENT LETTERS without the intention of sending them can be a really therapeutic practice. Journaling unsent letters can help you find closure with someone without ever having to talk to them.
It can feel hard to find extra time but it is extremely important to plan regular self- care time. Time alone can help to figure out best ways forward and to stay grounded whilst time with family and friends and engaging in hobbies will help to keep you connected. It is all about balance. Look for small ways to incorporate self-care into your everyday life, for example:
- Wake 15 minutes earlier to practice meditation and some deep breathing.
- Take a walk outside (even if only for 15 minutes)
- Stretch – exercise – practice some yoga poses.
- Do everything more mindfully – eating, driving, walking, household tasks – slow it all down.
- Eat nutritious food and stay hydrated.