Love yourself. Doesn’t that sound somewhat spoilt and self-entitled? (Even Justin Bieber sings it with disdain.)
And yet it is the most important gift we can make ourselves.
Easy to say right? And what does that have to do with sleep?
I will reveal the connection in a bit.
But before that I have to make a confession.
In the past, when I saw or heard the word “Self Care” I flinched because I had an aversion against the word.
It is probably (or most likely) just me, but it reminded me so much of a female hygiene care product that it was utterly unsexy and unappealing to me.
On top of that self-care was something for hippies who had too much time on their hands and I was busy. I had a new business to build, a family to tend to and a social life to foster.
Who has time for “self-care”? How self entitled. I don’t have time for that and I am feeling great anyway.
Yet the more I dove into the entrepreneurial world, the more I saw the word creeping up. And it wasn’t by far only hippies using it.
When listening to interviews and reading articles about my idols, who are very successful in their business, I noticed that putting your self first, aka self-care, was a common thread.
And so I realised that it’s not something for the weak (as I had judgingly thought before, I admit it) but that it is a discipline for the successful.
Because it takes a lot of strength and discipline to embrace self-care. Even though it should be the most natural act in the world.
So why is it so difficult? And what exactly is it and why is it connected to sleep.
A lot of us are great at focusing on one area of self-care. We focus on our bodies by hiring a personal trainer. We sign up to the brand new gym in our town and we invest in top notch running shoes and yoga mats.
Or we focus on our nutrition. We go organic, throw everything out that is not paleo and order 3 months worth of supplements.
Don’t get me wrong. All of those efforts are applaudable and important and they will relieve your body of a lot of stress.
Yet what we tend to neglect is the self-care of our mind.
This is astonishing when we consider that our whole perception of what we experience goes through our mind.
Yet we let it be beaten up, through failures, disappointments, memories and we don’t take the time nor care to help it heal. Even though it needs it just as much as our biological organisms.
It is of course more difficult because our mind is not tangible. If you exercise your body will change its shape. If you change your nutrition you will most likely lose weight and feel better.
If you have a physical wound you disinfect it and put a band aid on it. Or if it is worse you immediately have a doctor or the emergency room take care of it.
Yet when you are hurting psychologically we tend to push it aside and don’t tend to that wound.
After a while though all those wounds create emotional stress which is equal to any physical or biochemical stress.
And that is the crux of the matter.
Our body does not make a difference between stressors.
It sends the exact same signal from the brain down to the body. It doesn’t matter whether you had an accident and your body was damaged. Whether you have a food sensitivity and your gut is stressed. Or whether you heard an unpleasant comment about your performance and felt hurt.
Any of these mean stress and your body will deal with it the same way. Your adrenal glands fire up and your cortisol levels rise.
This is where sleep comes in.
Not being able to sleep is rarely exclusively due to something physical. Most of the time sleeplessness is a symptom of an underlying cause triggered by stress.
So even if you have tried it all from acupuncture to nutrition or from brain wave stimulation to sleeping pills. As long as you don’t address what is going on in your mind it will be difficult to foster great sleep.
Because cortisol is a stimulant and completely counterproductive when it comes to sleep. So your goal would be to keep those levels down.
On top of that chronic stress will create metabolic chaos. Your body can’t keep up with the cortisol production and needs to compensate through other areas. This in turn leaves other functions reduced. As a result your body spirals into disease and releases symptoms.
Self-care therefore also means to take the time to heal your mind. By meditating, journaling, or by talking to someone you can help to change your thinking paths that keep you stuck and stressed.
Because if you keep on thinking all by yourself your thoughts will never take new tracks. They will take the same route over and over again and your stress levels will stay the same.
But if you choose to take out some time of your day to tend to you mind and to help your thoughts to go new paths, you will heal.
You will be able to catch yourself when you have stressing thoughts and you will start to be able to diffuse them more and more quickly. This will not only reduce emotional stress and help your body to sleep better. You will train your mind to be more positive and less brooding leaving you a happy person.
This is completely logical so why are there so few of us who do this consistently?
The reason is that we are not used to the thought of putting ourselves first. Most of us were raised in a social model where you had to be humble and anything else was self-centred and selfish.
So when you think about taking time out “just” for yourself then these old voices tend to kick back in and you dismiss the idea.
But here is a strategy that will hopefully help you to get motivated in practising self-care.
If you are having difficulty shedding those beliefs of selfishness then look for a purpose that is higher then yourself.
Then understand that that purpose can only be reached with you in tiptop shape. And that is only do-able through self-care.
Need help implementing this?
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Originally published at medium.com