Self-care has increased in popularity over the past few years, and it’s easy to see why, especially as we’ve collectively dealt with increased stress levels amid a global pandemic. But what does self-care really mean?
There is a bit of a misconception that self-care is synonymous with being selfish or self-indulgent. We are here to smash that rumor! The truth is, self-care is a collection of holistic acts that can help you manage stress while promoting wellness and self-love. As a result, self-care encourages you to maintain a healthy relationship with yourself so that you can transmit those good feelings to others. The problem is, you might not be doing enough of it. But before we dive into our top self-care tips, we want to touch on how self-care can help with stress management.
Self-Care and Stress Management
It goes without saying that last year was a pretty stressful year. We were worried about our health, the health of our families, our jobs, our finances, and more. But as we all know, too much stress is not good for our health. Stress causes the body to produce higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Stress can also reduce the number of infection-fighting white blood cells called lymphocytes in the body. And the fewer the lymphocytes in the bloodstream, the higher the odds of getting sick. So what can we do about it? While it is not possible to completely eliminate all stress in this unpredictable world, we can learn to manage it through self-care. Learning how to practice self-care on a daily basis can bolster our physical, emotional, and mental reserves to better manage stress and improve our overall health and well-being.
Top Five Self-Care Tips
Now that you know why it’s so important to keep stress in check, here are our top five self-care tips to work into your daily routine.
Break a sweat. Daily exercise can help you both physically and mentally, boosting your mood (hello feel-good endorphins!) while reducing stress and anxiety. Plus, a regular workout can improve cardiovascular and metabolic health and help you maintain a healthy weight. Make an effort to build time into your schedule to hit the gym, attend a yoga class, or take a power walk around your neighborhood. Need more motivation? We encourage you to find a workout buddy, which can keep you on track both in the short and long term to meet your fitness goals. Also, don’t give up if you miss a workout. Just pick up that routine right where you left off. It’s not an all-or-nothing endeavor.
Nourish your body. Too often you may find that you’re eating meals while multi-tasking, thus denying yourself the pure, pleasurable experience of a nourishing meal. Would you work on the computer when having dinner with a loved one? Treat yourself with that same level of respect and allow yourself to enjoy your meal without any distractions.
Part of nourishing your body also involves taking care of your gut since the bacteria that make up your microbiome can have a significant impact on your health, well-being, and feelings of vitality. Here’s why: about 90 percent of the nerve fibers in the vagus nerve—the longest cranial nerve in the body—transmit information between your brain and your gut and your gut and your brain. Sometimes the information sent from the gut is unpleasant—for instance, when you have a flare-up of a chronic digestive condition like IBS or Crohn’s disease. This can trigger anxiety and negatively impact your mood and well-being.1 But by enhancing gut health, you may be able to alleviate some feelings of stress or anxiety.
Incorporating a clinically studied probiotic into your daily routine is a great place to start. A quality probiotic can help your beneficial bacteria flourish and keep harmful microbes in check. This can also reduce gas, bloating, and other common GI issues. Look for a probiotic that’s shelf-stable and guaranteed to be viable at the time of consumption.
Another way to nourish your body is by eating more fruits and vegetables. Green vegetables are essential for a strong immune system, proper gut health, healthy detoxification, and better cognition. Most importantly, greens help keep your body’s pH in balance thanks to their alkalizing properties. An easy way to get your quota of greens is by incorporating a nutrient-dense powdered green drink mix. Look for ingredients like chlorella, kelp, wheatgrass, and barley grass in your drink mix. These greens are packed with an array of concentrated vitamins and minerals. Just be sure to check the ingredients in your pre-mixed powder to make sure you aren’t getting added sugar or artificial flavors.
Get enough sleep. Sleep can have a significant impact on how you feel, both emotionally and physically. Not getting enough sleep can even contribute to major health issues like cardiovascular disease or dementia. So what can you do to make quality sleep part of your self-care routine? You can start by evaluating your current sleep routine. Are you eating or drinking right before bed? If you are, it’s important to minimize stimulants like caffeine and sugar. Alcohol can also interfere with quality sleep.
Reducing stress before bedtime is important too. If you experience work-related stress, think about the best ways to decompress after a hard day’s work. These might include talking to a friend or family member, going for a run, or unwinding with your favorite book. Next, make sure that your bedroom is truly your sanctuary. Keep work out of the bedroom and also try to limit distractions like a television, computer, or cellphone. Install curtains or shades that will block ambient light and turn down the thermostat to foster a cool environment. The ultimate goal? Make your bedroom all about relaxation.
Get organized. Getting organized is often the first step toward becoming healthier because it lets you figure out exactly what you need to do to take better care of yourself. A small change, like keeping a planner or a calendar on the fridge, can help you keep track of all your responsibilities and appointments. You can also create an area near the front door to keep keys, purses, backpacks, briefcases, and coats to make sure they’re ready to go for the next day.
Learn to say no. Saying no can be really hard. There’s often a sense of obligation to say yes when someone asks for your time or energy. However, if you’re already stressed or overworked, saying yes to loved ones or coworkers can lead to burnout, anxiety, and irritability. It may take a little practice, but once you learn how to politely say no, you’ll start to feel more confident and you’ll have more time for self-care.
It’s not always easy to make time for self-care in our busy lives. But the best way to care for others is to start by caring for yourself. Consider making the time and choosing what makes you happy, rejuvenated, and fulfilled.
- Breit S, Kupferberg A, Rogler G, et al. Vagus nerve as modulator of the brain-gut access in psychiatric and inflammatory disorders. Frontiers in Psychiatry. 2018; 9: 44.
This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.