Maintaining Health with Self-Care
February 6th, 2019
by Léanne Hodgson RMT
“As the health benefits of mindfulness based practises such as yoga, meditation and tai chi are receiving more recognition, so is the term “self-care”. Self-care is more than a catch phrase. It is essential in maintaining emotional, psychological and physical health. It can also act as a preventive measure against poor health and stress related illness, especially during cold and flu season.
What is Self-Care?
Self-care is defined as “health care provided by oneself without the consultation of a health care professional”. It is largely based on personal needs and intended to accommodate an individual’s current state of health, schedule and resources. Many people that I’ve discussed developing a self-care routine with have openly admitted that they have never made themselves a priority and don’t know where to start, or that they are overrun with responsibilities and simply don’t have the time. Often self-care practices are first taken up when a person becomes critically ill or injured, is forced to take a time-out and prioritize themselves. It can be a challenging and painful process but usually results in the development of a self-care routine that eventually becomes a preventative measure against further illness or injury.
The first step in self-care requires creating an internal dialogue that is focussed on your well-being. To do this, set aside a few moments daily to ask yourself some key questions. “Have I eaten a good meal yet today? Do I feel rested when I wake up/how is my quality of sleep? Are there tasks on my to-do list that I can eliminate or save for another day? Can I ask someone to help me with any of these tasks? When did I last spend time with a friend or had a good laugh? Am I getting outside and/or exercising regularly?” It is key to start small, keep it simple and cost effective.
Developing a self-care practice also means prioritising activities that routinely bring you joy and calm. If you can take five to fifteen minutes a day just for yourself, whether it be to sit in silence, read a book, put on your favourite music, take a hot bath, candle gaze, journal, practice deep diaphragmatic breathing, or take a nap, you will feel more rested and reduce your stress levels significantly. If you are able to set aside more time, some great self-care activities include taking a class that leaves you feeling refreshed, scheduling regular massages, planning a vacation or a day trip, spending time in nature, or developing a hobby.
The goal is to find activities that reduce stress. When you are calm, you activate the parasympathetic nervous system, a branch of the autonomic nervous system that triggers a relaxation response which decreases heart rate, reduces blood pressure and slows breathing, counteracting the fight or flight response. The more you engage your parasympathetic nervous system through self-care techniques, the more you will have increased energy levels, improved sleep quality and immune function.
As you spend time cultivating a self-care routine that suits your lifestyle, you will also develop an awareness of your body and mind, knowing when and what you need at the appropriate time. As your build upon your routine, you will be able to meet life’s challenges with more ease. Self-care can begin as a small commitment but if you stick to it, you will see an improvement to your overall health and well being.
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