Self-care is a term which is misunderstood. It is not some airy-fairy notion which has been made up by people who aren’t actually committed to good mental health. Rather, it is a tried and tested strategy of coping with and managing the stress in our lives, be it everyday stresses or debilitating anxiety.
As more and more people suffer with extreme stress and burnout, it is important to seek solutions to lessen this significant health implications of this. Self-care simply means purposefully scheduling time on a daily basis to complete an activity which rejuvenates an individual physically, psychologically and emotionally. It does not coincide with expensive and extravagant spoiling of oneself but rather promotes engaging in simple and personally meaningful daily habits which act as an aid to maintain good mental health and ensure we remain stable and grounded within ourselves.
Self-care is not a luxury, but a necessity, aimed at replenishing mental, psychological and emotional well-being on a daily basis in order to thrive in the fast paced world we live in. Although, self-care skills can be utilised to manage everyday stresses, they have also been proven useful as part of the treatment of depression, anxiety and other mental health difficulties and have been encouraged by organisations such as Mental Health Ireland.
Every person has a window of tolerance; the window represents a state where emotions can be tolerated and information processed. However, when these emotions become too much, for example when we are triggered by stress, we leave the window of tolerance and enter either a hyperarousal zone or a hypoarousal zone.
Hyperarousal is characterised by “fight/flight” response such as increased sensation and flooded emotional reactivity. Hypoarousal is characterised by an immobilisation response such as numbing of emotions and relative absence of sensation. As a result, it is important we maintain our position within the window of tolerance to function optimally.
Self-care is a method of doing so, and the good news is that every individual is an expert on their own life so each person will have a unique self-care plan and different self-care methods will work for different people.
Some suggestions for self-care include:
This may seem like an obvious inclusion but the holistic advantages of exercise are never-ending. From a self-care perspective, it gives a chance to focus solely on self. Whether you are a fan of team sports, a gym goer or just a casual walker put aside 30-40 minutes a couple of times a week to energise your whole being. As well as being a natural mood enhancer due to the release of endorphins in the body, exercise is also shown to play a role in anxiety relief. Exercise also creates the physiological responses mimicking the "fight/flight” mechanism which is synonymous with anxiety and panic and characterised by increased heart rate and heavy perspiration among other symptoms. However, a study carried out by Psychosomatic Medicine in 2011 found that exercise is effective in lowering rates of anxiety due to an improvement in the sensitivity to anxiety brought about by constant activation of the “fight/flight” like response and the occurrence of internal habituation.
Reduce Caffeine and sugar
Caffeine is a psychoactive stimulant meaning it causes changes in perception, mood and concentration by stimulating the central nervous system. Due to this caffeine has displayed withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety like symptoms, insomnia and lack of concentration. Caffeine has been shown to worsen anxiety and stress due to the rise in blood pressure and excessive secretion of the stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine observed after consumption. Caffeine can also inhibit the calming neurotransmitter in the brain. Reducing caffeine from the diet is recommended gradually but incorporating other non-caffeinated drinks could be tested:
- Decaf Tea or Coffee
- Decaf Green Tea (L-Theanine- natural relaxes)
- Herbal Tea e.g. peppermint, camomile, lemon balm or lavender
In addition, sugar and alcohol have also shown potential to interfere with our mood and mental health. Alcohol is a nervous system depressant which may dim emotions temporarily but cause a sharp dip in mood thereafter. However sugar, causes high blood sugar levels which ultimately drop and accentuate mood swings.
Meditate & Breathe
Taking a few moments during the day to check in with your body and mind is very helpful in reducing stress and anxiety. Guided meditation apps such as Calm and Headspace have been found by some to be extremely effective. In addition, simply sitting back fully in your chair with both feet on the ground and hand resting on your lap allows you to close your eyes and breathe normally for one minute while scanning your body and being aware of how each limb feels. Simply repeating “At this moment in time, I am ok” has a calming and reassuring effect on the body and mind and helps you take the power back over your mind during a stressful day.
Writing and Mapping
Begin a diary or even drawings representing your day. This is a very useful exercise which allows you to release a multitude of feelings and thoughts that were triggered during the day. It also allows you to trace where moods stem from particularly if stress evokes a low mood for you. Mapping consists of writing down an event which occurred during the day and then adding the thoughts, behaviours and emotions around the particular events. It is a method used in cognitive behavioural therapy to link thought patterns to behaviour and mood.
Build an essential oil collection
Oils are brilliant for reducing sensations of anxiety and even stress. Ideally, adding oil to a bath would be recommended to maximise the effects. However, they can also be obtained in candles or diffusers to relax the atmosphere around you. Examples include frankincense, camomile or lavender oil.
So, there you have a run down on compiling a self-care plan. Although, this won’t cure stress or anxiety it will certainly help to make it more manageable. It is important to find activities which are meaningful to us and which we enjoy. These may include team sports, club membership, art, music or perhaps a bookclub. The more pleasurable the activity is to you the easier it will be to incorporate into your routine. Always remember to keep hydrated, sleep well and eat a balanced diet; as blogger Silvia Mordini said, “Gotta Nourish, Before You Flourish”.