Most people who live with chronic stress are aware of the stress but attribute the effects of it to age, heredity, or even a worn out mattress!
Stress is inflammatory, much like an allergic reaction. Just like allergies, everyone’s reaction can be slightly different. What is not different is that chronic stress has a harmful effect on the mind and body. While a massage or bubble bath is fantastic, most people don’t have time for that kind of self-care, and feel guilty about making time for it, which only serves to create more stress. The solution is to be targeted in self-care efforts and consistent in implementing them.
The benefit of consistent self-care is that you inoculate yourself against further stress reactions. It’s like taking an allergy pill before you head outside to contend with the pollen.
The Foundation of Self-Care
In 1943, psychologist Abraham Maslow presented a paper that introduces the Hierarchy of Needs. The premise was that in order to achieve greatness (self-actualization) there must be progressive and complete fulfillment of each level, starting with physiological needs like food, shelter, and physical activity. Without these basics, Maslow theorized that people could never achieve true greatness. He went on to add that if the basic needs weren’t met, any progression through the hierarchy would be held together with unhealthy coping strategies and disordered relationships. Maslow believed that only rare individuals successfully fulfilled each level to achieve self-actualization. Stress is created when there is a gap between where you are and where you think you should be. It’s also created when there are gaps in basic needs that are either ignored or met with a response that isn’t on target. For example, if you’re exhausted and you have another cup of coffee instead of a nap, you’re missing the mark and adding to stress.
Most people resist self-care because it seems impossible to make time for one more thing in an already overbooked and overwhelming day. This approach to self-care is so efficient because you’re not adding a whole segment to your day. You’re doing what you already do. By making small adjustments in your day, you reduce the pressure to find time. Efficient self-care bridges the gap between your need for self care and your daily activities so that you have no guilt, less stress, empowered health.
Sleep is a basic physiological need. Without it, food cravings skyrocket, brain function is reduced, immune system is weakened, and it can even lead to cardiovascular effects like high blood pressure. Making sleep a priority has life-changing effects.
Food is a basic physiological need. Unfortunately processed foods like the ones in a snack machine are little more than chemical combinations that you can consume without immediately becoming ill. While your growling stomach and pained emotions are satiated for a short time, the rest of your body and your mind are not fooled. Meet your basic need for nourishment by eating real food. If one of your coping strategies is to overeat, try focusing on exciting flavors and increasing the volume of vegetables. Let go of the need to create Pinterest-worthy meals. It’s all good as long as this basic need is truly being met with real food.
Our bodies were designed for movement. Not only does it keep us in shape, but it helps burn off anxiety and relieve depression. Many people find themselves glued to their desk chair; but even people who walk (store clerks, nurses) are affected. One common coping strategy for stress is to hold tension in the body. Release stress and meet the need for exercise by incorporating a variety of simple exercises throughout the day. No need to make exercise extreme — the best results come from consistency, not intensity.
This is much higher on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs but it is a powerful and often overlooked self-care strategy. Spiritual practice is not the same as religious practice; however, it’s okay to overlap the two as long as that feels comfortable. Spirituality can also take the form of meditation and affirmations.
Again, this is higher on the hierarchy of needs, but it is absolutely essential to care for yourself in this way. Sometimes, however, the most efficient thing you can do is to ask for help. For example, if I had broken dishwasher, I could likely find a troubleshooting video online to identify the problem, try to figure out what parts I need, search for the parts, probably buy the wrong parts, watch another video on how to repair it, give it a try, and hope for the best. Or, I could call a repairman and have it done in a couple of hours while I have a cup of tea or go for a run. The same is true for your mental health. There is a lot you can do on your own for mental health like exercise regularly, talk to friends, journal, create a consistent mindfulness routine, but if you’re struggling with something more complicated, the most efficient solution is to find a therapist that you like so that you can sort it out more efficiently.
People have a remarkable capacity for stress; however, just because you can handle something doesn’t mean you should. Examine what you tolerate and trust that you can feel better. Self-care is not a one-and-done event, it is a lifelong process. By folding it seamlessly into your day, you uplevel your entire experience and create lasting wellbeing.
Originally published at medium.com