April 26

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Making time for self-care is not optional

By Sunny Brigham, MS, CNS, LDN

April 26, 2022

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Self-care is a trendy term these days – ‘take time out for yourself’, ‘prioritize you’, ‘did you get your self-care today?’. We see people on social media showing their relaxing baths, salon appointments, comfy nights in front of Netflix. 

These seem like nice activities, but you might be thinking ‘I have no time for this!’ Maybe when the kids are grown or maybe when things calm down at work. I am guilty of saying these lines to myself as well!

But self care is more than a nice thing to do – it is crucial for your overall health. The intent of all those nice self-care ideas is to inspire you to add calming and enjoyable moments to your day. It is easy for us to go months (or more) without truly relaxing or feeling happy. This can lead to chronic stress, which causes inflammation and contributes to a wide range of health issues. 

So let’s dive into the idea of self-care. How it improves our health, how it can reduce certain symptoms (looking at you IBS!), and how to find what works for you. After reading this I hope you will be inspired to dedicate a small part of your day to YOU, and you will have the tools to get started. 

Why self-care is more than a trend

Making time for self-care is an important part of healing and maintaining great health. It helps reduce the effects of stress and makes us better able to manage future stressors.

Our body can only heal when it is at rest and when the nervous system is calm (the ‘rest and digest’ mode). Many of us spend most of our days in an active and reactive state – solving problems, rushing to appointments, getting the errands done, at work as well as home, and so on. The problem is that we stay in this mode even when the events are over because of our thoughts. We can mull something over, recreate conversations, or ruminate for hours. All of this has the same stressful effect on our body as the real-life situation. 

Chronic stress is a huge trigger for Hashimoto’s, as well as many other health issues. 

This ongoing stress causes a range of symptoms:

  • general inflammation
  • fatigue
  • tense muscles
  • decreased immunity (getting sick more often)
  • poor sleep 
  • shallow breathing
  • irregular digestion
  • over or under eating
  • increase ‘soothing’ with alcohol, smoking, sugar
  • irregular menstrual cycle
  • decreased libido
  • depression
  • anxiety, and so on..

Taking the time to bring your body and mind into a state of calm each day can go a long way in reducing these symptoms. 

Ways to include self-care into your day

There is a spectrum of self-care activities. On one end are the simple activities that bring moments of joy to your day. These can be getting your hair done, reading a fun home decorating magazine for 10 mins, taking yourself out to dinner. 

On the other end of the spectrum are more deeply calming activities that help reset your nervous system. These can be a regular massage, daily meditation, deep stretching, and so on. 

Any type of self-care is worthwhile. But some activities are more beneficial during certain times of life. Choosing what to focus on depends on how you are feeling. 

  • Are you feeling fatigue, experiencing high stress, having trouble sleeping? Focus more on the deeply calming activities. 
  • Are you feeling a case of the ‘blahs’ and uninspired? Try adding in daily moments of joyful self-care.

Read through the list below and choose a few activities that seem interesting to you. Experiment by including one into your day, everyday for a week. Even just 15 minutes per day can bring benefits. Next week try something new. If you enjoy the activity, keep it. If you are not feeling good from it, let it go. Finding what works for you is key!

Self-care ideas for inspiration

  • lay down to rest
  • take a bath with pretty-smelling herbs
  • pamper yourself (manicure, new hair color, etc)
  • buy a special food item to enjoy
  • sit and enjoy tea time
  • buy yourself flowers
  • feel the sun’s warmth on your face
  • read a book for fun
  • buy and enjoy a magazine
  • call a friend for fun
  • do a gratitude meditation
  • hug someone
  • watch a child play (and play along!)
  • laugh (watch this video to get you started!)
  • start a craft – knit, sew, crochet, collage, paint, etc.
  • go to a museum
  • write a gratitude list of 15 things that make you happy
  • declutter your space
  • do a deep stretch
  • watch a happy-cry movie (like The Notebook) 
  • find a fun recipe to try
  • do an ayurvedic self-massage

When self-care isn’t caring

There are times when the idea of self-care can actually produce the opposite effect of what we want. We can add stress to our lives without even realizing it. If any of these scenarios below sound familiar, consider changing up your self-care to make it more relaxing.

Stressing about getting in your self-care for the day? Not helpful! The purpose of adding these types of activities into your day is to help reduce the feeling of stress. If you’re feeling angst about “getting it in”, it could be time to choose another activity. OR, reduce the time you set aside for it. 

Watching dramatic or violent shows. Watching these types of shows can raise your cortisol the same way as if it were real. Your fight or flight response can activate, even mildly, causing increased inflammation and cortisol. They can also affect your sleep, causing increased stress the next day. If watching TV is relaxing for you, try a show that makes you laugh, feel excited, or even feel neutral (like a nature show!).

Reading engaging books before bed. Interested in World War II novels? While they can be fascinating (I love reading historical fiction!), they are not a great bedtime choice. This type of subject matter is activating your brain instead of calming it down. This can lead to reduced sleep quality. Instead try a non-dramatic fiction book or something less activating. I like to look at pretty cook books while listening to music before bed!

How to realistically get started

Adding in a self-care habit to your day can be simple. Actually it should be simple so you want to do it each day.

ONE Start by committing to 15 minutes per day. That’s it! Just 15 minutes of time dedicated to you

TWO Choose your self-care activity. The list above can spark some ideas. While reading the list, make note of the options that make you say “that would be fun” or “that would be so nice”.

THREE Commit to your choice for 1 week at a specific time. Plan your activity in connection with something else you already do. Such as, right after brushing your teeth (everyday activity) sit and enjoy a tea while reading a great book for 15 minutes (self-care activity). The specifics are the most important to actually making it happen. We all know that adding an extra task to ‘when I’m done with everything else’ will not happen!

FOUR At the end of the week evaluate your self-care choice. Keep it if you like it, add something else, or change it if you didn’t feel like it made a difference in your day.  

Making time for self-care is important – it is not just a pretty picture on social media! And now you understand why. Dedicating time to yourself improves your health and increases your joy each day. Over time the habits you choose will no longer be just activities in your day – they’ll be as crucial as eating and drinking water.

Let us know what you do for self-care below!

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