Make It Personal: The Importance of Self-Care
February is probably best known for that most indulgent of holidays: Valentine's Day! Valentine's Day is an opportunity to remind your loved ones of their importance to you, but it doesn't have to be only about others—it's also a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with yourself.
Even though Valentine's Day is past, you can still renew that relationship with yourself by practicing self-care. It doesn't have to revolve around a holiday; instead, it's something to do every day. By setting a few habits into your daily routine, you can improve your physical and mental health, essential components of living a full, satisfying life.
"To set myself up for a day of presenting a balanced approach with a free and open mind, consistency with morning daily habits is necessary," explains Jamie Johnson, National Sales Executive with Maple Ridge Farms. "I don't think of it as a chore or challenge; it's habits that present me with freedom to just be the rest of the day."
Let's take a look at some habits to help you prioritize yourself:
Everyone knows that regular exercise can benefit you physically, but did you know it can also have a direct effect on your mental health? According to Mayo Clinic, exercise can help relieve stress by boosting production of endorphins, the feel-good chemical of the brain, and providing a sort of "moving meditation" to give your brain the opportunity to reset. The US Department of Health and Human Services indicates that adults should do at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity physical activity and 2 or more days a week of strengthening activity for all major muscle groups for substantial health benefits. Not exercising now and don't know how to get started? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have a helpful guide to launch your journey to overall wellbeing!
Meditation offers numerous benefits, including improving anxiety, depression, memory and mental clarity, and sleep quality. While meditation is well-known for improving mental health, it has physical health benefits, too. A 2012 study found that inflammation caused by the release of hormones due to psychological stress could be alleviated by meditation and mindfulness. Additionally, meditation has been found to provide better tolerance of and even relief from chronic pain.
There are many different types of meditation, so you can find one that fits you. Meditation can even be combined with exercise by the practice of yoga, qi gong, tai chi—or, really, any gentle type of rhythmic movement.
If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.
- Dalai Lama
Compassion may be difficult to practice at times, as it involves a level of empathy that might be painful as we feel the pain of others. It's a valuable practice, however; compassion has been found to provide psychological benefits that feed into physical and mental wellbeing. It can lower blood pressure, decrease symptoms of depression, improve social relationships, and increase your overall happiness, among other things. Additionally, it can breed compassion in return, thereby extending those same benefits around you in a ripple effect.
Compassion is important to practice not only with others, but also with yourself. Regarding yourself with compassion helps you understand yourself and accept or let go of stressors, just as you would by empathizing with others.
"When offering compassion in life, the acceptance of the unknown is freeing and being free is all the self care I need!" adds Johnson.
All progress takes place outside the comfort zone.
- Michael John Bobak
Physical discomfort after exercising is a signal that your muscles have been used in productive ways and is a positive aftereffect of exercising. Mental exercise is much the same! Whether it's placing yourself in an uncomfortable situation (such as giving a speech, learning a new skill in a class, or even eating foods you don't like) or confronting uncomfortable ideas (such as politics, the COVID-19 pandemic, or gun violence), discomfort can allow you to expand beyond your present limitations. We all love our comfort zone, but by staying within it, we aren't allowing ourselves to grow as people. As the saying goes: "No pain, no gain."
Human beings are inherently social creatures—even those of us who identify as introverts benefit from at least occasional social interaction and close friendships. Supportive social relationships have numerous benefits to mental and physical health. This is found in part to be due to the release of oxytocin, a hormone that affects levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, but is also related to the support shared amongst groups. Are you more apt to stick with an exercise regimen or healthy diet when sharing the experience with supportive friends, rather than going it on your own? You aren't alone!
Many of us spend hours a day with our nose to the grindstone, sometimes too busy to even look away from our screens and papers. Did you know, though, that taking breaks can actually increase your productivity? Studies have found that working in bursts with short breaks in between, following schedules like the Pomodoro Technique, allows your brain to go into diffuse mode—basically, to integrate all of the information you've been loading into it while you were focused. Taking a break—even a short one—also gives you time to practice other methods of self-care, whether going for a short walk, socializing with coworkers, or just taking a few deep breaths.
Self-care is a conscious effort that can reap fantastic rewards. Whether you're taking some quiet time to practice mindfulness or hanging out with close friends, there is a method out there to help you prioritize yourself. All you have to do is take the first step!
The secret of getting ahead is getting started.
- Mark Twain
P.S. Don't forget to spoil yourself every now and then! Indulging on occasion is more than acceptable—it's key to enjoying life. Whether that means bingeing your favorite series or enjoying a delectable piece of chocolate (like a chocolate covered Oreo®—my favorite!), make time to treat yourself.