Sarah’s Rap: As I decide what positive habits I’d like to foster in the New Year, one thing I really want to focus on is self-care and ensuring that I make it a priority in my life. This is very important to my healing, sanity and happiness at home and work. Although the habits we each want to cultivate differ based on who we are as individuals and what our needs are, I believe that everyone needs to make time for self-care to be healthy. Self-care, as the name implies, is “care provided for you, by you. It’s about identifying your own needs and taking steps to meet them. It is taking the time to do some of the activities that nurture you. Self-care is about taking proper care of yourself and treating yourself as kindly as you treat others.” *
Does this sound like a foreign concept or an impossible task? As a working mom, I totally understand that setting aside time for relaxation, fun, exercise, meditation, massage or whatever activity one considers as downtime can be impossible to fit in. Well read-on, my friends, and learn more about why self-care is so important and how we can use habits to incorporate more self-care into our day.
EXAMPLES OF SELF-CARE
Everyone’s idea of self-care may differ based on your likes, dislikes, gender and personality. What matters is that we each choose stress-free activities that recharge our batteries and are FUN! I challenge you to find activities that are screen-free. Here are some samples:
- Uninterrupted reading
- Immerse yourself in nature
- A long, hot bath or shower
- Uninterrupted reading
- Progressive Relaxation
- Alone time
WHY IS SELF-CARE IMPORTANT?
Self-care is very important to our emotional and physical well-being, as the activities help recharge our physical and mental batteries, include exercise and healthy eating for optimal wellness, and allow us to cope with the many demands on our time from external forces. In addition, many self-care activities trigger the “relaxation response”, a term coined by Dr. Herbert Benson (also known as “rest and digest”). This is opposite to the “stress response” (also known as the “fight-or-flight response”).
Experiencing the relaxation response is crucial to our physical and mental health as it is essential for:
- Proper digestion
- Stable immune system
- Low heart rate
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Low blood pressure
- Less active stress hormones
- Reduced tension and pain
- Better concentration
- Improved mode
- Less fatigue
- Better confidence
- Brain health
If our bodies are always in a state of stress, then our health begins to break down. When subjected to chronic stress, the human body produces too many stress hormones for our adrenals and thyroid to handle. This can lead to adrenal fatigue, thyroid problems, insulin resistance, weight gain and a breakdown in the digestive and immune systems. Stress can cause bacteria to multiply in our gut, which leads to an imbalance of good-bad bacteria. This can then progress into multiple conditions, including Leaky Gut and autoimmune diseases. You can pretty much look at triggers for just about any illness and you will see stress in the list, including anxiety, insomnia, sexual dysfunction, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease, you name it.
WHICH SELF-CARE ACTIVITIES ARE BEST?
Everyone has different tastes and personalities. What self-care activities work for me may not be your cup of tea. A few of my favorites are massage, yoga and hot baths. This year, I am working to form habits to make progressive relaxation and visualization part of my weekly routine.
Whatever works for you, I suggest choosing 3 activities to mix-and-match throughout the week. Here are the types of activities I suggest, choosing one of each type:
RELAXATION RESPONSE ACTIVITY: Choose an activity that will trigger the relaxation response. These are activities that require an active mind, but not an overactive body. It should not be exercise (other than mild, restorative yoga), watching TV, or reading. Instead it should be done in a quiet environment and allow you to focus on your body or your breath for 10-20 minutes. These activities include massage, mindfulness, meditation, progressive relaxation, visualization and more.
EXERCISE: Choose an activity that will get your heart-rate up. Exercise is imperative to our health, but can also be a detriment if overdone. Minimize high intensity workouts and aim to incorporate more moderate activities such as walking, light jogging, occasional strength training and intervals, stretching, swimming, etc.
ACTIVITY: Something that brings a smile to your face. This is definitely a personal preference and is totally up to you. It should be something that YOU want to do and can be changed up each week, so long as you make time for fun of some sort each and every week (preferably a little every day). It could be gardening, getting a mani/pedi, journaling, reading, boating, dancing, playing board games, whatever makes you happy. I am very guilty of not setting aside time for this type of activity. I work, take care of house and family, blog and write, and my self-care activities usually are solo activities which trigger relaxation (massage, bath, etc) or exercise.But I rarely laugh and let myself go with others anymore. My health issues have made me less social and obsessive about health, cooking, etc that I rarely take time for fun. This is definitely one area where I will be working on this year!
Does this all sound super overwhelming? Well don’t fear… although I suggest incorporating three types of self-care activities in our lives, start with one at a time. Wait until the one you choose becomes a habit and then start to incorporate another until it becomes a habit. Then once it is a habit and you no longer have to think about fitting it in—you just do it, then start working on the third.
You can start to make these self-care activities part of your routine in any order, but I recommend you start with the one that triggers the relaxation response, as it has the biggest potential to recharge your batteries and reduce your stress. Lower stress will allow you to more easily incorporate exercise and fun activities and have a HUGE impact on mental and physical well-being.
Another approach is to start out with trying to do one of each activity type once a week. Even once a week, these can have benefits over “not at all”, especially in combination.
USE HABITS TO INCORPORATE SELF-CARE
Now that you have chosen the three activities that you want to integrate into your life, we need to define them as “habits” rather than “goals”. For example, an exercise goal would be to run a marathon but a healthy self-care habit might be to jog daily/weekly for X minutes. Don’t focus on an end result, but instead on the actions that you can take every day or week to incorporate healthy self-care activities into your week.
Follow along with all our habit-boosting posts this month for more tips. Melissa and I strongly believe that creating positive habits is endlessly more rewarding, achievable and healing than making New Year’s resolutions. Resolutions don’t stick and are often temporary goals. They often don’t get followed beyond the month of January. Creating healthy habits instead are a way to rewire our lives to include wellness every day. It can take time for something to become a habit, maybe even a few months, but once it does you won’t have to think about it anymore. In fact one of the benefits of a habit, once formed, is that it doesn’t require self-discipline or willpower to execute. When was the last time you had to force yourself to wash your hands after going to the bathroom? Hopefully not since you were a toddler!
You are worthy of being on the receiving end of your own caring. Be sure to incorporate at least one new healthy habit that focuses on self-care. It’s not selfish to take time for yourself. In fact, it will help you to better provide care to others! I would love to hear how you incorporated self-care into your life and the impact it’s had on your mental and physical wellbeing.