Put on your oxygen mask first is what they say when giving safety instructions on the airlines. How often do you put yourself first? Are you spending all of your time caring for others while you neglect your own needs? How effective can you be when you are tired, stressed, stretched too thin and not spending time on self-care?
Life presents itself with challenges on a daily basis. How effective are you in dealing with stress, keeping cool, calm and collected, thinking clearly, feeling good about yourself and having a direction and purpose? The International Institute of Self Care Research states: “Performing self-care will improve well-being, decrease morbidity and mortality, and reduce healthcare costs.”
Self-care can take many forms and some components involve managing stress, clearing your mind of distractions, prioritizing tasks and seeking guidance, clarity and moving past inertia. Stress can be physical, mental, toxic, hormonal, infectious or nutritional and can have profound effects on your physical and mental health so it is important to have the help of a functional medicine physician who can put all of the pieces of the puzzle together. Your hormones, immune and nervous system will respond negatively without your knowing it. Much of the damage happens beneath the surface until symptoms and then outright illness occurs. Finding strategies to calm your nervous, hormonal and immune system is critical to live a long and healthy life, attain your goals, care for yourself as well as care for others. Adding the other components is a more practical and holistic approach.
Here are some simple strategies
Breath Like a Baby
Check in with yourself when you are feeling stressed. Oftentimes breathing is fast and shallow. You can change your physiology by taking some long slow, deep breaths with your belly expanding as you breathe in and contracting when you breathe out. Pay attention and focus on your breathing. You can breathe in to a count of five, hold for second and breathe out to a count of five and hold a second.
Be sure each count is a full second. You may want to experiment with different counts. For example, breathe in to a count of 5 and breathe out to a count of 10. After several rounds of this, your sympathetic nervous system, the fight or flight system that activates adrenaline, and the stress hormone cortisol will calm down and switch to the parasympathetic nervous system that enables you to rest, digest and repair and strengthen the immune response. This will leave you feeling clear, calm and in a state of rest, digest, repair and rejuvenation. This is a state where creativity and innovation occur. The best thing is that you can do this anywhere at any time and it costs you nothing.
The thoughts in our head can be very distracting, warped and overwhelming. Put them down on paper. What is the situation? What are your choices? What do you need guidance on? Once you write them down, they become clearer and you can categorize and prioritize them. I like to categorize them into – what can I do now in order of priority, what can I delegate and when and what do I need help with. This process also changes your nervous and hormonal system allowing you to sleep and sets the stage for inspiration. When you have a list, you can start something. Start with what is most important or if you are in a state of analysis paralysis, do some of the easiest things first. Any action breaks through procrastination and frees up energy. Once you set an intention to ask for guidance, you may be surprised that someone or something shows up to give you clarity, insight and/or direction and help.
The thoughts in our head only become clear when we put them down on paper and then talk them through with someone who will not judge you. Everyone has their talents and insights and voicing your concerns to an independent third party may give you a different perspective. What is hard for some people is easy for others. Choose someone who you trust; it can be a close friend, a spiritual counselor, a professional counselor or a coach. Talking things through enables you to clarify your needs and releases pent up anxiety which can do damage to your nervous, hormone and immune systems.
Any kind of movement can release pent up tension and anxiety. Walking in nature can be very healing, however some choose jogging, yoga, tai chi, bicycling or other activity. Do it alone and pay attention to your surroundings, focus on something like a tree or a bird, the sky, the clouds and the beauty of nature. If you are not outside, focus on your breath, especially if doing yoga, tai chi and any other activity. The very act of mindful movement can put you in a relaxed state that can enable you to have the energy, motivation and clear thinking needed to tackle your challenges.
Attitude of Gratitude
Gratitude is a powerful emotion that opens up physical and mental channels for healing, insight and inspiration. Keep a gratitude journal and write down 3 things you are grateful for every day. The law of attraction states that what you focus on grows. Focus on things you are grateful for. It changes your physiology, and nervous, hormonal and immune systems for the better and attracts more of what you are grateful for.
Self-care is more than just eating right, exercising and getting enough sleep. Managing your mind, emotions and reactions can have a profound effect on health and happiness and enable you to meet life’s challenges, will improve well-being, decrease illness, prolong life and reduce healthcare costs.