One question I often ask clients is “what do you do for self-care?” Some clients are unfamiliar with the term. Self-care, according to Wikipedia, is “any necessary human regulatory function which is under individual control, deliberate and self-initiated.” I like to explain self-care as taking care of ourselves in the same nurturing way we would take care of a loved one. It can also be thought of as something that is missing in the lives of those who are extremely busy and under a good deal of stress.
When we are stressed, self-care is usually not on our minds. We have a million other things to think about and taking care of ourselves doesn’t seem like priority though in those moments, if none other, it should be at the top of the list. We live in a society where the prevailing mentality is to get ahead and we believe that doing that entails pushing ourselves to our limit. We may fear being called lazy so we overwork, over commit, overdo and before we know it we are at or near our breaking point. We all know stress isn’t good, but what effect does stress actually have on our bodies and minds?
To answer this, let’s dig a bit deeper. Our adrenal glands produce two main stress response chemicals – cortisol and noradrenaline. These chemicals are responsible for our “flight or fight” response to stress. Cortisol is responsible for maintaining the health of and communication between all of the cells in our bodies. It is at its highest in the morning, giving us the energy to get everything done and is at its lowest at bedtime…ideally. With our busier-than-ever lives and high levels of stress, cortisol levels can become off-balanced resulting in sleep problems (insomnia and/or hypersomnia), hormonal imbalances, anxiety and/or depression and decreased memory, focus and power. A myriad of physical symptoms such as blood sugar and metabolic problems, weight issues and decreased immune system functioning can also occur as a result of inadequate cortisol levels.
Resetting our cortisol rhythm and adrenal stress responses can get us back on track. Cortisol actually regulates melatonin which we need not only for sleep but for detoxification and immunity. Elevated cortisol levels suppress melatonin production which can lead to inflammatory conditions such as diabetes, dementia and cancer. Getting into healthy sleep patterns and getting plenty of sleep each night can help cortisol production levels remain normal. Sleeping regularly is a great form of self-care in that it literally reduces stress and makes us healthier, happier and more productive. In addition to regulating our sleep cycles there are many things we can do to manage stress. Get creative and come up with unique and fun things you can do that best suit your lifestyle based on the following suggestions.
1) EAT WELL:
Poor eating habits and consumption of foods that are high in fat, salt and/or sugar can literally and figuratively weigh us down. Foods that lack protein, fiber and the nutrients our bodies need can place us at a higher risk for depression and anxiety. Find a well-balanced menu that accommodates your lifestyle. Attempt to plan ahead for times you may be on the go. Pack non-perishables in your purse or car to maintain healthy habits no matter where you are. Consult a physician or dietician for specific needs or before beginning a diet.
We all know exercise is good for our physical selves, but exercise can actually improve our mental health. It relieves stress, improves memory function, helps us sleep better and actually boosts our overall moods. Assess your physical limits and capabilities then research some activities and exercises that may be right for you. Set some goals and go smash them!
Finding ways to decompress throughout the day, can improve our overall wellbeing in addition to reducing stress. Our brains need moments of pause throughout the day to help us reset mentally. Take a walk or spend 10 minutes meditating if time permits. For clients that do not have this option, I suggest they physically move away from the work area and turn and face another direction, preferably a window, walk down the hall, walk out to their car for some fresh air etc. Just removing ourselves from the desk and screen for a few minutes can allow us to feel refreshed and refocus upon our return.
4) FEED YOUR SPIRITUAL SELF:
This will look different for everyone and may include praying, attending a religious service or event, meditating, acknowledging gratitude, or even being immersed in nature by walking or observing a sunrise or sunset.
5) LOVE YOURSELF:
Do nice things for yourself. If you have negative self-talk (“I’m not smart/good enough…” “I don’t deserve this…”), try to change that inner voice by writing mantras (eg. “I am beautiful” “I am worth it”) on post-it notes and placing them around your home or office. Set a reminder on your phone to go off several times throughout the day, to remind yourself that you are worthy and deserve love. When you have a chance, do something nice for yourself – get a massage, buy a new outfit, go skydiving – splurge on something you wouldn’t normally do for yourself.
Practicing good self-care on a regular basis can really improve overall functioning and is one of the major factors in successful stress management. I help clients manage stress as well as symptoms of anxiety and depression. I also assist clients with difficult life situations (work or home) transitions and difficult relationships. To book a session, click here and select Sarah Winders or any of our competent licensed therapists and start doing something healthy for yourself today.