Contributor: Sandra Darling, DO, MPH
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What does self-care mean to you? Does it comes across as self-indulgent, even selfish, or limited to those with time and money to spare?
That may be because we often see the message of self-care in advertising directed at women, generally as a sales pitch for something we don’t need.
We are told, you deserve it. So it makes sense that we would associate the practice of self-care with pampering.
Why you shouldn’t feel guilty
It’s time to view self-care differently. After all, it is really just taking care of yourself — which is vital for health and well-being.
More specifically, self-care means identifying and meeting your needs, something women often struggle with. We tend to put others first – children, spouse, parents, friends, even pets.
We feel obligated to be the caretakers. Shifting the balance from everyone-else-care to myself-care is uncharted territory for many women and can feel uncomfortable at first.
However, it is important to do so. If you don’t properly care for yourself, your body will let you know.
The toll of chronic stress
Chronic stress wreaks havoc on our health. It weakens the immune system and inflames the body, making us more susceptible to colds, weight gain, sleep issues, stomach ulcers, depression, diabetes and heart disease.
The physiological changes that result from prolonged stress are compounded by the poor choices we make when at the end of our rope.
Reacting to stress with numbing activities — like zoning out in front of an electronic screen, and bingeing on junk foods and alcohol — contributes to obesity and disease, poor sleep and ultimately, an unhappy existence.
I advocate for self-care to prevent patients from getting to this point.
Rather than succumbing to the “rosé all day” approach to managing life’s stressors, treat yourself with love, respect and kindness — but also discipline.
Make a pause in your day
Start by taking some time each day to pause. We all need activities that promote inner peace and calm, that allow us to unwind from stress and get in touch with our needs.
You may enjoy spending time in nature, gardening, or walking barefoot in the grass or sand, a practice called grounding.
If you’re especially tired, make an effort to go to bed early. All you need is 10 to 15 minutes a day for some simple yoga poses, an Epsom salt bath, or a guided meditation.
These stress-relieving practices quiet the mind, balance hormones, including cortisol (the stress hormone), lower blood pressure and improve brain health.
Practice mindful eating, too
Who craves broccoli, or anything healthy, when feeling stressed out?!
In a shared appointment for weight loss, I advise women to slow down, breathe deeply, and tune in to what their body needs. With this simple practice, a transformation can take place.
Eating transitions from a mindless practice of filling the void — both physical and emotional — to a pleasurable experience of tasting and enjoying food. Less food is needed to feel satisfied, and addictive foods lose their power.
I have seen women begin to speak up for themselves and set boundaries in order to meet their needs. Many patients adopt a new outlook on life, one that is more positive and hopeful, once they make self-care a priority.
Consider your larger goals
We all deserve optimal health and a meaningful life.
If you cannot give yourself permission to take time for yourself, look to your goals that serve a larger purpose:
- Do you want to be a healthy role model for your children?
- Do you want the energy to pursue your life purpose?
- Do you want to be the best version of yourself?
Stop and take three slow deep breaths right now. Listen closely. What do you need to be well today?