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 a 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?
THE EFFECTS OF STRESS
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, depression, and/or 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 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 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.
WHAT IS SELF-CARE?
One question I often ask clients is “what do you do for self-care?” Some clients are unfamiliar with what the term actually means. 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.
One aspect that is important to note is that self-care is intentional. Sleeping regularly was mentioned as a great form of self-care. However, it’s important to note that sleeping or napping to avoid conflict or situations during the day is not always the recommended form of self-care and can turn into an unhealthy method of avoidance.
Furthermore, people may misconstrue self-care as being selfish. On the contrary, practicing regular self-care allows us to keep functioning in many ways. Self-care is simply promoting and tending to your health—whether that includes nutrition, hygiene, mental health, etc. So how is that selfish?
Self-care is being discussed and mentioned now more than ever. People are finding it more difficult to slow down, unwind, stop overthinking, or even complete the simplest tasks. Though self-care is being mentioned more in the news, articles, and on social media—it has always been a necessary way to better cope with daily stressors or even used preventatively.
5 WAYS TO PRACTICE SELF-CARE
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 for times you may be on the go or have a busy schedule. 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 us physically, though there is more to it. Exercise can improve our mental health. It relieves stress, improves memory function, helps us sleep better, and boosts our overall mood. Assess your physical limits and capabilities then research some activities and exercises that may be right for you. Establish SMART goals to be the most effective in achieving those goals.
S.M.A.R.T is an acronym that stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound. These are key points that create a framework for being most successful in achieving those goals. For example, going to the gym every day is not ideal. Instead, the goal may include doing a 20-minute yoga video or meditation exercise at least 3x a week in the mornings. If you find it hard to meet that goal, it’s okay to make some adjustments, either with your schedule or with the goal so it is more realistic.
Finding ways to decompress throughout the day can improve our overall well-being in addition to reducing stress. Our brains need moments of pause throughout the day to help us reset mentally.
Take a walk, spend 10 minutes meditating if time permits, get a snack or make coffee/tea, etc. 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, or take a moment to stretch areas that are tense. 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. It is a way of achieving calmness or inner peace.
5) LOVE YOURSELF:
Do nice things for yourself. If you have negative self-talk, (“I’m not smart or good enough…” “I don’t deserve this…”) try to change that inner voice by writing mantras (“I am beautiful.” “I am worth it.”) on post-it notes and placing them around your office or get one framed in your home.
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 such as getting a massage, buying a new outfit, making a new dinner recipe, going skydiving, or splurging on something you would not 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 start doing something healthy for yourself today.
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