September is Self-Care Month! Self-care can be defined as anything you do to take care of your physical, emotional, and/or mental health. Self-care should be actively-sought, individualized, and ever-changing. Since the needs of our bodies change over time, our self-care routines need to be fluid and adaptable.
2020 has been a particularly stressful time for many people. Fears surrounding our own health, the health of our family members and friends, changes in our everyday work and school-life, and the stress of an uncertain future seem to abound. All this stress and negative emotion can create a powerful cascade of negative events in the body. Before you know it, you may feel depressed, fatigued, moody, and anxious. You may experience digestive distress, weight gain, and difficulty sleeping.
You may not realize it, but you actually have a significant amount of control over how your body responds to stress. And you have the power every day to create health and happiness for yourself. A personalized self-care routine is a great first place to start to begin reversing the negative effects of unmanaged stress on your body. Just a few changes and you can dramatically improve your quality of life and overall health.
When it comes to self-care, the options are endless. We are all unique and different, so you must decide what works for you personally.
Here are a few ways to practice self-care:
- Schedule time for self-care and do not compromise. Work with your family to create a schedule that is doable for you and avoid letting your self-care be placed on the back burner.
- Keep a healthy sleep schedule. Try to follow the rhythm of your own biological clock – this is different for everyone. Go to sleep when you feel sleepy and don’t set an alarm. The time you naturally wake up is likely a good indicator of your biological clock. While this isn’t always possible due to work and school schedules, working in this direction and focusing on getting a solid 7 to 8 hours of restful sleep each night is crucial for overall health.
- Consider practicing meditation daily. Meditation helps to normalize the stress response. Even if you only have a few minutes each day to devote to focusing on your breath, take that time for yourself! Sit with your back straight, feet on the floor or sit cross-legged on the floor and breathe in for 4 counts and out for 6 counts. Repeat for 3-5 minutes or longer.
- Keep your body flexible. Consider taking a yoga class or just stretching your body every day. When the body is more physically flexible, we are better able to adapt. The physical benefits are great, but yoga is also a form of moving meditation and improves mental health by bringing down that stress response.
- Nourish your body with healthy foods. There is no one right diet for everyone. We are all different and need different amounts of nutrients. But, in general, avoiding sugar, processed foods, and unhealthy oils will help reduce fatigue, moodiness, and cravings. Add in healthy fats, lots of vegetables, fermented foods, and water for an even greater benefit. Learn to cook your own meals and bring your own food to work.
- Get outside every day. Even if it’s cold or inclement weather, it’s important to be grounded in nature. It’s healing for the mind and body. Take a walk on your lunch break, sit with the sun on your face, and/or eat your meals outside. Breathe in the fresh air and listen to the sounds of nature – this would also be a perfect time to do some meditation.
- Move your body in mindful ways. If you don’t like exercise, find active hobbies as a substitute. If you sit at a desk all day, get up and move frequently.
- Consider medicinal plants. Medicinal plants have been used for thousands of years to naturally support health and they continue to hold the answer to so many of our modern-day ailments. See our notes about Hemp, Elderberry and Ginseng for more information.
Creating your self-care plan doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s all about what makes you feel great (as long as it’s health-promoting) and what will help you manage stress.
Some additional tips include:
- Eating a home-cooked meal with your family
- Meeting a friend for a walk
- Drinking a nutrient-dense green smoothie
- Watching a movie
- Reading a book
- Getting a massage
- Having a date night with your spouse
- Going on vacation
- Learning a new hobby,
- Taking a bath before bed
- Hiking your favorite trail
Written by Kellie Blake RDN, LD, IFNCP