As a society, we have been craving more information about (and focus on) self-care, especially in recent years. In the year between 2019 and 2020 as the pandemic ramped up, Google Trends indicated a 250% increase in searches related to self-care. This trend continued throughout the pandemic. Now, as the economy struggles and as financial pressures increase, we need self-care more than ever.
Self-care is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “the ability of individuals, families, and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider.” In this definition, self-care is so much more than just taking a yoga class or meditating for 10 minutes. Self-care is a way of life and contributes not only to the overall well-being of individuals but also their longevity. As noted in a previous blog, there is a nearly 20-year difference in life expectancy in the United States, depending upon the county in which you live. Self-care also contributes to that difference.
So, how do you focus on self-care amidst all the stress that we are experiencing? Here are my top 5 tips to consider:
Exercise… and I don’t mean “good judgment.” Get your body moving. I talk with people all the time who struggle with finding time to exercise. The CDC guidelines feel too overwhelming for many people. I encourage people to focus on what you CAN do as opposed to what you cannot. Take the stairs as opposed to the elevator when you can. Park your car further away from the store than usual. Take 5 minutes and walk around the building at work. Find small opportunities to move your body when you can.
Nutrition. We are what we eat. Our nutrition intake impacts not just our physical health but also our emotional health. Review the latest dietary guidelines for Americans and see if there are any small changes that you can make.
Sleep. We as humans need between 7 to 9 hours of sleep at night when we are adults. Unfortunately, a third of Americans fall short of this range and report getting less than 7 hours of sleep each night. This can lead to difficulties with concentration and attention but even more dangerous circumstances, like falling asleep at the wheel. There are numerous medical conditions and medication side effects that contribute to sleep difficulties. Talk to your primary care doctor if you struggle with sleep.
Fun. I have worked with many people over the years who are beginning a process of recovery from substance use. One of the major goals of that work is to help them reconnect with ways to experience pleasure without the need for their substance(s) of choice. Learning to have fun and its importance is not just something for people in addiction recovery. So many adults have become disconnected from ways to relax and have fun because they “have to be serious and take care of things.” Yet, we all need escapes from “adulting” and learning to have fun is an essential part of that. When we relax and take a break, we are often better problems solvers around some of those tasks of “adulting.” Having fun is also good for our health. When we engage in fun activities, our bodies are flooded with endorphins and other pleasure-related chemicals. These substances can have direct benefits for our mood, our stress level and our health.
Socialization. I’m sure that you have heard the notion that we as humans are social beings. We tend to do better when we are connected in some ways with others. Some of my clients have tried to argue with me that they are introverts and “we don’t need people.” I gently challenge this notion by noting that introverts may benefit from time on their own to recharge, but they will need time with others for overall health. Lack of time with others can lead to loneliness and depression. There have also been cases in which people “shunned” in a society end up dying of loneliness. Socializing has direct benefits for our health. It is likely not surprising to recognize that being with others benefits our mood. You may however be surprised to learn that socialization contributes to better PHYSICAL health. We are better able to fight off colds and the flu as well as more serious illnesses, such as cancer and dementia.
So, there you have it; five different life areas to focus on when thinking about self-care. Don’t try to tackle all five at once. Focus on one at a time and build your skills at self-care over time.