You’ve probably seen the term “self-care” thrown around a lot lately. But what does self-care actually mean? And why is it so important, especially now?
Many people seem to equate it with going to a spa for a massage or getting a mani/pedi. And those can definitely fall under the category of self-care. However, self-care is so much more than that.
The Oxford Dictionaries definition of self-care:
“The practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health.”
And thanks to bio-individuality—every “BODY” is different—self-care may mean something different for each and every one of us. But no matter what form of self-care speaks to you, we all need to start embracing it sooner than later. Truth: living in a Covid-world, with a war going on is stressful, there’s no way around that. The good news is self-care helps to balance out the stress. Yet most of us are woefully deficient in this important wellness concept.
It’s part of our Western culture of doing more, bigger, faster, better…the go-go-go mentality. We wear our super-cape as we strive to be the super-mom, the super-employee, the super-boss, super-homemaker, and the super-spouse. Yet we often end up with the short end of the stick. Best case, we may feel like we’ve only done a half-assed job at any one of those things, feeling completely exhausted as a result, and potentially becoming hypo-adrenal…
Tired But Can’t Sleep?
When your body is in a hypo-adrenal state, your adrenal glands become overworked—pumping out adrenaline and cortisol (both hormones) for every minor “crisis” that stresses you out. Over time, this can lead to hormonal imbalance in melatonin (our sleep hormone) too. Cortisol and melatonin are always in a delicate dance with each other.
Cortisol is intended to increase in the early morning helping us wake up. As cortisol falls throughout the day, melatonin increases in the evening to help us sleep. So having out-of-balance cortisol can affect your melatonin and sleep, leading to a vicious spiral downward. Hypoadrenal people tend to be tired-and-wired—exhausted but also having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or getting enough quality sleep. Can you relate?
It’s a great reminder that we are human BEINGS, not human DOINGS. Something we humans seem to have forgotten in the past 100+ years. And without proper self-care—over time, running on empty—we can actually become really sick. Worst case, we may wear that super-cape right into the hospital when all that stress compounds to give us a giant wake-up call.
Self-Care: The Foundation of Your Health
What might start out as some hypoadrenalism, can turn to chronic fatigue, or hypothyroid issues (usually always preceded by hypo-adrenal issues), and eventually more severe autoimmune diseases if we don’t STOP, breath, rest, sleep, laugh, and ENJOY life. So self-care really is the foundation of your health.
As a functional wellness coach, I see more and more clients experiencing this downward spiral of health. Women who are so busy, they forget to take care of themselves first. They start eating poorly, stop getting enough physical exercise, their hormones get out of whack, they have poor quality sleep, and the downward spiral begins.
These are women who should be in the prime of their life, who should be totally vibrant and healthy and energetic, but they are not. (And I’m sure it’s happening in men as well, although men don’t tend to talk about it as much.) Does any of this ring true with you? If so, I can help!
Take a Deep Breath, and Take Stock
- What Does Self-care Mean to You?
- Do you practice regular self-care?
- Do you put on your own oxygen mask first, taking care of yourself first, so you can support others?
- Do you put everybody else first, ending up feeling exhausted?
Consider journaling on these topics to see what comes up for you. Be honest with yourself, and show yourself some compassion too.
Self-Care is NOT Selfish
One thing that self-care is NOT, is selfish. In fact, regular self-care is about the least selfish thing you can do. To be healthy, strong, and energetic enough to help and support others in your family, your business, your community, is not selfish at all. It’s how we were all meant to function and live.
Most of us probably need to set healthier boundaries on our time. We need to remember to put on our own oxygen mask first. We need to think about what is truly important in our own lives. The last two years really put that into perspective, right? And what’s most important will be different for everyone.
Yet, what’s the same for all of us is that everyone needs to make their own wellness their top priority! Because no one else can do that for us. When we don’t feel truly well, we don’t show up as our best selves in the world. We cannot take care of our kids, our spouses, our pets, our parents, our friends, help our communities, or even get our own work done when we’re under the weather. Not to mention that disease (dis-ease) is much more expensive than wellness.
Self-Care Through the Ages
In fact, if we look to our indigenous, hunter-gatherer ancestors, they practiced self-care on a regular basis. They went to bed when it got dark, and got up when it was light, likely getting 10-12 hours of sleep a night. That’s very beneficial to overall health, as the body really only repairs itself while we’re sleeping. Take a look at your dog or cat, chances are they are sleeping right now! Humans are the only animal on the planet that don’t sleep when they are tired. “Let me just finish one more thing before I go to bed…” like that is actually more important than sleep!?
Our ancient ancestors lived synergistically, in tune with the rhythm of the seasons. They walked barefooted on the ground, getting grounded in nature. They ate seasonally and locally—since there was no grocery store to buy bananas year-round at latitude 48°N. They ate heavier, higher-fat content meals in the fall/winter, to store up for when there was less food available. And they slept more since it was dark and they didn’t have lights. They ate lighter meals, with more fruits/plants in the spring/summer when the daylight hours were longer and they needed more energy to hunt and gather. They held rituals, sang, danced, and gave thanks. All of these things are forms of self-care.
Evolution of Our Nervous System
Since the industrial revolution, mass food production and electricity may have made our lives “easier”—and enabled us to eat bananas out of season anywhere in the world. However, our human bodies have not evolved to sit on our butts, in front of blue lights for 8+ hours a day, eating synthetic processed foods that come in cans, boxes, and bags. Today, our brains take in more bits of data in a single day than our cavewomen ancestors did in their entire lifetime! Our nervous system has NOT evolved to catch up with all this data processing, and we are literally short-circuiting.
And we certainly have not evolved to thrive on 5+ hours of sleep a night, which has become the “badge of courage” of so many. People actually compete to see who can get by with LESS sleep!? “You think that’s bad, I only got 4 hours of sleep, but give me 3 cups of Joe and I’m good to go…” We’ve been hearing for years that “stress is killing us”. But we seem to ignore that factoid, while we take on more, and rest and rejuvenate less. At some point, something’s going to give. And it may be your health.
Living in a Sympathetic Nervous System World
When we embrace self-care as our ancestors did, we thrive in a parasympathetic nervous system mode (rest/digest mode). And it turns out, our bodies are meant to thrive in parasympathetic nervous system mode 95% of the time. However, in Western cultures, the reverse is happening…
When we continue living in the doing-and-going rat race, we live in a state of sympathetic nervous system mode (fight/flight/freeze mode). Most of us spend 95% of the time in this mode. And chronic sympathetic nervous system mode starts to shut down vital biochemical processes and create dis-ease in the body, which eventually leads to disease.
What Kind of Environment Are You Asking Your Body to Thrive In?
Did you know when your body senses you’re not “safe” (from the boss/spouse who’s yelling, the traffic that’s beeping, the bank account that’s dwindling, whatever your particular stressor is…), your digestion will start to shut down?
The body’s reasoning “you don’t need to be digesting food if you’re not going to survive this crisis”. So it diverts all your energy into increasing blood sugar (to fuel your fight), increasing heart rate and blood pressure (so you can flee), and thickening your blood to help it clot faster (in case whatever is chasing you takes a swipe at you, so you won’t bleed to death). The body isn’t dumb, it’s prioritizing survival given the environment YOU are asking it to live in.
Did you also know by stopping what you’re doing, and taking just FIVE deep breaths, you can totally reset your nervous system mode from fight/flight/freeze into rest/digest? It’s pretty cool how quickly the body reverts to what it knows is best, when we give it half a chance.
Disease Care vs. Self-Care
But if we don’t give our body half a chance…this is what happens from a physiological standpoint. When your digestion shuts down, you may feel bloated, gassy, or constipated, and you likely won’t absorb many nutrients from your food (if there were any nutrients in there to begin with—hello McDonald’s Big Mac and Dairy Queen Blizzard).
When your blood sugar increases and stays that way day over day (scary boss), and your heart rate and blood pressure stay up (hairy commute with drivers cutting you off), and your blood continues to thicken (stressful news and artificial blue lights)… thee things all add up and take their toll over time. It’s not each individual stressor that is a problem. It’s the accumulation of all of them, day over day, month over month, year over year that lead to chronic inflammation and chronic disease.
“What we have in America today in America is a ‘disease care system’, not a healthcare system. 70% of annual deaths in the US are caused by chronic diseases; these preventable conditions are also the leading cause of disability, and they’re everywhere.” — Dr. Mark Hyman, MD
Not only does this impact our own health and well being, it also impacts the national economy to the tune of over $1 trillion a year. As you can see, we clearly need to step up to the plate and take our own health into our own hands, and practice self-care, so we can avoid “disease-care.”
Even Health Coaches Aren’t Immune!
Although I’m self-employed, and “should” be able to make time for self-care, I’ve let a lot of things slip myself recently. I’ve only been moving my body 2-3 times a week instead of 5-6 times a week. I haven’t been reading any books for fun, only for school. I haven’t been drawing or coloring as much, something that I absolutely love to do, and that sparks my creativity. So what gives? I’ve been prioritizing my schooling and work over myself, even though I know better. The cobbler’s kids have no shoes! Do as I say, not as I do… yadda, yadda, yadda. LOL…
But not really so funny when I recently got some tough love from my Naturopath who recommended I start paying more attention to my own health. Yikes… Don’t ask why I know so much about hypoadrenalism mentioned above!
As a solopreneur coach and author, I wear several hats. From coaching to sales and marketing, writing and graphic designer to student, wife, daughter, and cat mama. And I often bite off more than I can chew, even though I know better.
Thankfully I have the tools…I just needed to remember to use them more often!
Questions to Ask Yourself
When I start to feel overwhelmed by everything on my plate, I sit myself down and take several deep breaths. And then I do a grounding meditation. I visualize tree roots growing down from my “sitz bonez” deep into the ground, and my body as strong and solid as a tree trunk to ground me.
Then I asked myself these questions:
Me: “Why am I feeling all this pressure to do so much?”
Also me: “Because I have all these crazy deadlines!”
Me: “Well, who set those unreasonable deadlines?”
Also me: “Oh, that would be my big scary boss… Me!”
LOL!! And then I burst out laughing my head off! And I re-prioritize my to-do list. Lately, I’ve been loving Asana.com (free version) for managing my projects and to-do lists. It helps me not feel so overwhelmed. Even if you’re not self-employed, you can learn to ask for extra support, or push back on deadlines with clients or bosses when things are truly unreasonable.
As one of my functional medicine instructors, Tracy Harrison, often reminds us, “Overwhelm is a CHOICE”. So when I need to put my life back in perspective, I try this trick: I take a deep breath and think about the Big Bang—the whole 4.5-billion years from then till now. It helps me remember that my life, as important as it might be to me, is nothing but a blip in the grand scheme of the universe! Then I laugh some more… because, laughter is the best medicine! And if you can’t laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at?
Who’s In Control of YOU?
Consider asking yourself the questions I ask myself above, or journaling on them.
Ultimately, if you’re not taking care of yourself first, nothing else matters. You’ve got to keep your own batteries charged up before you can help anyone else or do anything else from tending to your family, to growing your business. Because self-care really is the foundation of your health. And like a car running out of gas, you won’t go far when you’re running on empty.
So I’ve recently recommitted to putting my own self-care FIRST. I’ve started using the Oak Journal, a structured, 90-day journal that helps you achieve your goals. It was created for entrepreneurs, but can easily be used by anyone. With daily prompts for journaling, meditation, morning routines, evening routines, and so much more, I look forward to filling mine out each day. (And I’m not affiliated in any way, just love the product and wanted to share!)
Here’s another self-care hack that may help you. I set up custom alarms on my phone for taking breaks, complete with emojis and songs for each one, like Meditation time (Ziggy Marley’s “Beach in Hawaii”), Get Outside in Nature time (JJ Cale’s “Call Me the Breeze”), and Naptime (Jack Johnson’s “Sleep Through the Static”). When I hear those songs start to play, it’s a signal to stop whatever I’m doing and take a break. My mind is so much clearer afterward, and I’m more productive than if I hadn’t taken a break.
My Challenge to You
When I think of all the self-care practices I would love to do each day, there are enough to fill up an entire day, LOL! However, filling my whole day with self-care practices isn’t very realistic or sustainable.
To help you kick-start your self-care journey, I created a FREE A-Z Self-Care Guide with 100+ ways to get more self-care into your life.
Here is my challenge to you: download my FREE A-Z Self-Care Guide today. Then check the ones that speak to you most, and join me in making a conscious choice to make self-care your top priority. Choose one or two of your favorite self-care practices to do each day (it could be different ones each day, there are so many!) And keep a journal of how these practices make you feel (the Oak Journal is great for this). If you miss a day or two here and there, don’t stress. Just pick up again the next day.
Are you in? What’s on your self-care list? What’s something you would love to do every day, but don’t currently make the time for? Can you ditch 30 to 60 minutes of Facebook or Instagram scrolling a day, to make time for something else that really sparks you?
Your body will thank you! And if you need more help, I’d love to chat. Book a FREE 30-minute call.
Please leave a comment to let us know some of your favorite self-care practices, so we can all expand our own horizons. You’ve got this!