Self-care, more than face masks and cups of tea (although there’s nothing wrong with that either)

When faced with constant stressors in every aspect of life, self-care isn’t a want; it’s a need. And it’s more than just a facemask when the world feels too much (although that can be very necessary too). Self-care is vital to maintaining health and wellbeing. Stress increases cortisol levels in the body. This hormonal release is a protective and adaptive response designed for short term use. However, in the long term, elevated cortisol levels can cause more harm than good by relocating fat to the abdominal region, reducing the quality of sleep, reducing immunity, impairing gut health, increasing insulin resistance, hunger & appetite. Long term stress impairs adaptation and may contribute to the development of several disorders, including anxiety, depression, cognitive dysfunction, nutritional deficiencies, sleep disorders, autoimmune diseases, digestive problems, chronic pain, rheumatoid arthritis, hypothyroidism (under-active thyroid), cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and osteoporosis.

Cortisol levels in the body can be reduced by many self-care activities, improving health outcomes, vitality and life satisfaction. Self-care is like emotional first aid, it involves checking in with your physical and emotional health because they have to be in balance to maintain overall health and wellbeing. All of the body’s systems are dependant on each other, and an imbalance in one system can present itself elsewhere in the body. Mental health is an example where digestive and gut health can influence anxiety, and anxiety can impact digestive and gut health. Everyone feels stress differently in their bodies, and it is essential to reflect on how stress affects you and where you feel it.

It is important to think about self-care daily and weekly rather than waiting for it to build up. Only using self-care in a crisis is like putting a bandaid on a deep cut; it doesn’t fix the problem because many self-care activities require practice. And, by practising them, we keep our cortisol levels lower and at a more manageable level. For me, self-care looks like this:

  • Having a morning routine that includes meditation, journaling, reading and visualisation
  • Daily exercise might be a netball game, a pilates class, or a 10-minute walk at lunchtime
  • Nourishing my body with healthy food
  • Limiting my phone use by using do not disturb and turning off notifications
  • Having regular catch-ups with friends balanced with time for myself
  • Physically writing my plan for the next week on a Friday afternoon
  • Looking after my physical health and managing fibromyalgia with a combination of acupuncture, floatation therapy, infrared saunas and regular blood tests.

“True self-care is not bath salts and chocolate cake, it’s making the choice to build a life you don’t need to escape from”

Brianna Wiest

Below are some self-care ideas. What does self-care look like to you?

Physical self-care

  • Relaxing or doing nothing
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Fueling your body with nourishing food
  • Taking charge of your health
  • Getting enough exercise
  • Deep breathing
  • Gentle stretching
  • Gentle massage
  • Dancing to your favourite song
  • Gardening
  • Spending time in nature
  • Waking a dog
  • Yoga

Emotional self-care

  • Meditation
  • Going on holidays
  • Exercise
  • Keeping routines
  • Doing things you enjoy to de-stress
  • Incorporate activities into your life that help you feel recharged
  • Checking in with a therapist, mentor, or other counsellors
  • Practising gratitude
  • Mediation
  • Journaling/storytelling
  • Spending time in nature
  • Mindfulness
  • Meditation
  • Daydreaming
  • Getting absorbed in something you love (flow)
  • Escapism (reading, gaming)
  • Be creative to express and explore rather than achieve

Social self-care

  • Setting boundaries with friends and family
  • Getting enough face-to-face time with your friends
  • Scheduling regular catch up with friends 
  • Writing a letter to someone special 
  • Getting enough alone time
  • Cancelling plans
  • Alone time or ‘Me’ time
  • Spending time with pets
  • Phone a friend
  • FaceTime or Zoom a friend
  • Have a virtual dinner party
  • Organise a care package for a friend

Practical self-care

  • Life admin
  • Organising your wardrobe
  • Cleaning your house or your bedroom
  • Writing out your plan for the week
  • Book those appointments and checkups
  • Writing to-do lists
  • Practice general hygiene 
  • Write a menu for the week
  • Reduce the clutter in your environment
  • Check-in with your goals in different areas of your life
  • Clean your inbox
  • Put fresh sheets on your bed
  • Sort any important documents

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