What comes to mind when you think of self-care?
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Does the term come across as self-indulgent or selfish? Maybe your mind instantly goes to an expensive spa treatments or shopping. Or maybe your current belief is that self-care is only reserved for those with time and money to spare.
If that’s the case, it’s time to rebrand what this term really means, especially to women.
“We often see the message of self-care in advertising directed at women, generally as a sales pitch for something we don’t need,” explains wellness and preventative medicine expert Sandra Darling, DO, MPH. “We’re told, ‘you deserve it,’ so it makes sense that we would associate the practice of self-care with pampering and spending money.”
Dr. Darling breaks down what self-care actually means and why it’s crucial for your physical and mental health.
Why you shouldn’t feel guilty about self-care
“Self-care is just another name for taking care of yourself, which is vital for your health and well-being,” says Dr. Darling. “More specifically, self-care means identifying and meeting your needs, something that most women struggle with.”
In our society (and especially during a pandemic) women often feel obligated to be caretakers. They tend to put others first – children, spouses, parents, friends, even pets. So it may feel awkward (and even selfish) for a woman to suddenly shift the balance from everyone-else-care to self-care.
Yet, Dr. Darling says it’s time for women to view self-care differently and enter into this uncharted territory, however uncomfortable it might feel at first.
“If you don’t properly care for yourself, your body will let you know in negative ways,” she says. “Self-care simply means you’re taking time to care for yourself.”
The toll of chronic stress
Chronic stress wreaks havoc on your health. It weakens your immune system and inflames your body, making you more susceptible to colds, weight gain, sleep issues, stomach ulcers, depression, diabetes and heart disease. (As if we didn’t have enough worries over this past year!)
The physiological changes that result from prolonged stress are compounded by the poor choices you make when at the end of your rope.
What exactly does this mean?
Reacting to stress with numbing activities — like zoning out in front of an electronic screen or bingeing on junk food 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,” says Dr. Darling. “Rather than succumbing to the “rosé all day” approach to managing life’s stressors, treat yourself with love, respect and kindness — but also discipline.”
Wondering where to begin with self-care? Start with creating a pause in your day
Dr. Darling says to start your self-care routine by taking time each day to pause. Find an activity that promotes inner peace and calm. This will allow you to unwind from stress and get in touch with your needs.
Stress-relieving practices quiet the mind, balance hormones, including cortisol (the stress hormone), lower blood pressure and improve brain health.
Here are a few simple self-care ideas for beginners:
- Spend time in nature, like 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.
- Spend 10 to 15 minutes a day on a few simple yoga poses or stretches.
- Try an Epsom salts bath.
- Use a guided meditation app.
- Read a book in your favorite chair before bed.
- Take a walk around your neighborhood without a goal.
- Do a craft.
- Take a nap.
- Sit on your front porch or deck and just sit there. No phone.
Often times, you will have an idea of what type of self-care works best for you. Maybe it’s going for a run, maybe it’s running around the backyard with your kids or maybe it’s cooking up a delicious dinner.