The Science of Self-care Backed by Proven Strategies
Recent events have shaken the world and changed the way we live. Professionally, front-line workers and essential service employees are working harder than ever before. Others find themselves out of work. Meanwhile, entrepreneurs are trying to recreate their businesses to stay afloat.
On the personal front, many families are together 24-7 and taking on new relational dimensions. Parents have become teachers and facilitators overnight, and suddenly everyone is disconnected from their loved ones through physical distancing.
With all this change happening around us, we need new ways of thinking and new paradigms for everyday living. Self-care and balance must come to the forefront to not only survive the new normal but learn to thrive.
Research On Self-Care
- Cognitive restructuring/reframing. Quieting the inner toxic critic; practicing self-compassion.
- Lifestyle medicine. Sleep, nutrition, hydration, exercise habits.
- Community. Spending time with loved ones; having a support system.
- Leisure and fun. Finding time to relax and take part in activities in which you get lost in time and space and can really enjoy the moment.
- Quiet space. A place away from distractions, screens, and duties. 1
“Self-care plays a significant role in keeping oneself physically and emotionally healthy. When self-care strategies are used, it increases a person’s self-worth and allows them to feel more resilient when stressful situations occur.” 2— “Self-Care.” Brock University.
Self-care isn’t all about adding things to our lives. Sometimes it means choosing to eliminate activities and responsibilities for better health. “Create a “no” list, with things you know you don’t like or you no longer want to do. Examples might include: Not checking emails at night, not attending gatherings you don’t like, not answering your phone during lunch/dinner.” 3
The Top 3 Myths Of Self-Care
1. Self-care is Selfish
Right out of the gate, let’s tackle the misconception that self-care is selfish. Self-care is essential to affording us a life that reaches out to others and makes the world a better place. Whether your world has suddenly shrunk to the confines of your house or has expanded to encompass new roles and duties, you must care for yourself to care well for others.
2. Self-care means becoming a Yogi
Self-care encompasses the overall health of a person. It is not, by definition, limited to the physical self. While exercise is essential, so are an array of methods that care for our physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and relational needs.
3. I don’t have time for Self-care
The truth is, we all have to take responsibility for our wellbeing even when it seems impossible. Boundaries are difficult for most of us, but by establishing healthy ones for ourselves and others, we can carve out time to find enjoyment in caring for our needs. By not carving out the time for self-care, we may find ourselves in a position of needing care 100% of the time when a physical or mental crash occurs. A little prevention in time and effort can make a significant difference in outcomes.
Applying 5 Spheres Of Well-Being
1. Physical Health
Movement: What exercise are you getting regularly? Consider walking, running, hiking, biking indoors or outdoors, stretching and following online exercise videos.
Nutrition: Are the foods you eat nourishing your body or taxing your system? Enjoy adequate fruit, vegetables, meat and alternatives, nuts and seeds, legumes and lots of herbs and spices.
Sleep: Are you getting enough sleep? Practice good sleep hygiene. Keep your cell-phone out of the bedroom, sleep in a dark, cool room, and get up at the same time every day.
Nature: Is your time spent entirely indoors, or are you taking opportunities to get into nature? Social distancing may limit available options, but consider taking a walk, sitting on a balcony or terrace, or open the windows to let in the fresh air.
2. Mental Health
Mindfulness: Are your thoughts scattered, jumping from one thing to the next, or unable to focus? Mindfulness means focusing intensely on your experience. Take time to breathe and focus on your five senses one at a time and see the difference this simple mental break can lend.
Learn: What are you learning? Perhaps your learning curve is huge in this new season; take satisfaction in acquiring this new knowledge. If you find yourself scrolling through social media and binge-watching TV shows, turn that time into one of learning. Enjoy a new book or take an online course.
3. Emotional Health
Creativity: Is your emotional energy sending you over the top or draining you of energy? Creativity is a beautiful way of exploring emotions and becoming rejuvenated. Write, draw, dance, paint or sing. Spend at least 20 minutes expressing yourself and see how the creative output fills you with inner peace.
Physical Touch: When is the last time you felt the hand or paw of another living being? While this overlaps with relational health, physical touch can encompass more than what may quickly come to mind. If living with loved ones, find ways of creating positive contact. Perhaps rub the back of your child, sit close enough to touch your spouse or sibling while watching TV, and take the time to hug. Pets are a fantastic source of the benefits that come from physical touch. Hug your dog or pet the cat. Plants can be a source of touch when human and furry friends are unavailable.
Music: Are you listening to music that inspires you? Music is a serious mood changer, so embrace this art, but be careful what you listen to and the messages it delivers. Indulge while completing household tasks, and if you play an instrument, or have always wanted to, now is a great time to explore your talent.
4. Spiritual Health
Gratitude: Are you focusing on all that is wrong in the world or limiting your exposure to what you need to know? Instead, fill your tank with a positive attitude. Practicing gratitude, whether by intentionally naming the things you are thankful for independently, sharing around the dinner table with family, or keeping a gratitude journal, this positive exercise will transform the way you experience the world.
Solitude: Do you gravitate toward filling quiet spaces with noise? More than anything, quiet and solitude tend to bother people because all that’s left is one’s thoughts, and that can be disconcerting. While music, conversation, and entertainment all have their place, solitude is a highly underrated resource. Once you become comfortable with your own company, the loneliness and stress of isolation will decrease dramatically.
Spend quiet time alone in your home or out on a walk. Explore the thoughts and feelings that arise from within you. Rather than pushing them down, or eliminating them with distractions, become curious about them. Ask yourself what they are about, what they mean, and listen to your intuition. Perhaps you may uncover what you truly need. Then, nourish yourself by fulfilling the need and becoming your own best friend.
Faith Community: Have you found a group of like-minded people in which to explore your faith? While spirituality has its individual components, it is not meant to be a solitary experience. Many faith communities, such as churches, have their services recorded online, and some even offer an open invitation to interact with others through online video chat applications and phone calls.
5. Relational Health
Connection: Do you regularly connect with other people via phone, internet or live video? Although physical distancing has changed the way we connect for the moment, technological advances provide novel methods to stay connected. Hearing another human being’s voice or seeing another’s eyes and a smile can make an enormous difference in your life. Imagine being a light in someone else’s life.
Who can you reach out to with a phone call or video application? Consider people who are self-isolating, seniors living in a nursing home or on their own alone, or single friends and acquaintances that need connection.
The Lost Art of Letter Writing: When is the last time you wrote a hand-written note? While phone and video chat and online messaging are great for many, some seniors and people on meagre incomes may not have access to cell phones, computers, or the internet. Besides, who doesn’t love to receive a hand-written card or note in the mail? Open your creativity and let your thoughtful words bring comfort to another.
Community-based Opportunities: Are you finding yourself looking inward due to isolation and the feelings that come from social distancing? Reaching outward can have profound effects on you and the lives you touch. Food banks and faith-based groups are working to make a difference in people’s lives. Join along and be a part of creating the change you wish to see. One person can help to change the world.
There are multiple methods for enhancing your health, even under unusual circumstances such as these. With a little attention to your inner and outer world, you can gain momentum and bring about vital change.
1. Lee, Kristen. “Self-Care Isn’t Selfish or Superficial.” Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, October 4, 2019. https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/rethink-your-way-the-good-life/201910/self-care-isn-t-selfish-or-superficial.
2. “Self-Care.” Brock University. Accessed April 9, 2020. https://brocku.ca/mental-health/wellness/self-care/.
3. Michael, Raphailia. “What Self-Care Is – and What It Isn’t.” World of Psychology, July 8, 2018. https://psychcentral.com/blog/what-self-care-is-and-what-it-isnt-2/.
Bonita Eby is an executive coach and the owner of Breakthrough Personal & Professional Development Inc., a company that specializes in burnout prevention and wellness.
Bonita has a professional healthcare background and extensive research knowledge combined with over 20 years of experience developing leaders, training teams, and coaching people to become the best they can be.
Combined leadership, business, health-care, and coaching experience provides you with a broad scope of knowledge and expertise for burnout prevention and wellness. As a certified coach, Bonita can guide you and your team to greater wellbeing.
Contact: [email protected]