Thursday, 1 February 2018

Self-care - essential or indulgence?

For anyone who’s been looking for a good reason to book that New Year treat, consider this: You probably don't do it often enough, and putting "me time" on the back burner is a big part of why we can all feel run-down, stressed, and overwhelmed. This is where the much-used term self-care comes to the fore.

What is Self-Care?

Self-care is any action or behaviour that helps us avoid triggering health problems (like increasing our risk for heart problems due to excess stress, for example) and benefits us by improving our mental and physical health. The benefits are numerous, from feeling more relaxed and happy, improved self-esteem and self-confidence, reduced pain and fatigue, improved sleep and less stress. All of these can work hand-in-hand to enable us to feel more balanced and able to cope in an ever-increasing, over-stimulating world. Self-care makes up an essential part of a healthy lifestyle that keeps us healthy, happy, and more in-tune with our minds and bodies.

The problem is, we probably aren't doing enough of it.

We feel guilty when we take time out of our busy schedules to just relax or enjoy ourselves. Even something as simple as taking a break away from our desks to enjoy a cuppa can be a massive benefit, but how many of us actually use this time to switch off for 10 minutes and check in with ourselves instead of checking on Facebook or looking at that email that just pinged in. But ignoring our needs has some dangerous side effects: It makes us more likely to get sick and can make existing conditions worse—not to mention the emotional toll of never taking a break. How can we expect to function to the best of our abilities, and look after those around us (whether that's children, family, work colleagues, friends) if we are not at our best?

That's why self-care is essential, when we take good care of ourselves, we're likely to see an improvement in many aspects of our lives, including our physical health, relationships, productivity and even our income. Plus, by making the choice to practice self-care, we have a tendency to care more for others—proving its importance for not just ourselves, but the world around us. As humans, we mimic each other, others will pick up on our moods and our emotions - as we improve, the effect can have a knock-on affect on those around us.

So what can you do?

Everyone is different, we all need a different solution, there's no set prescription for how or when to do it. That said, mental health professionals recommend taking at least 20 minutes a day to do something for ourselves, which is easy to fit into anyone's schedule. Don't know where to start? Below you will find some ideas to try, some are very simple you just need to take that first step and do them, others require a little more planning and thinking about, but they are all for everyone - you just need to take action.

1. Get outside.
Spending time out of doors, particularly in green spaces, is a great way to boost mental and physical health, making us feel more alive. Similar to meditation, spending time out of doors benefits the brain.

2. Exercise outside.
Why not move your exercise session outside too. Research shows that working out outdoors boosts mental health, and may decrease tension, anger, and depression.

3. Good deeds help us too.
By helping others, we actually help ourselves, too. Lending a hand not only boosts mental health, but may also lead to a longer life . Volunteering also positively affects self-confidence, self-esteem, and general wellbeing.

4. Breathe the right scents. 
We know that breathing techniques can help us relax. But what we breathe might be just as important as how we breathe. While the benefits of aromatherapy are debated, research suggests that citrus scents—orange essential oil in particular—can help slash stress and anxiety, and getting a whiff of rosemary may boost memory.

5. Be mindful.
Mindfulness has been championed in recent years as a way to reduce stress and depression. By focusing on the here and now—without judging how we feel and what we think—can be both a liberating and healthy practice. Mindfulness helps to quiet the constant chatter in our minds, helping us to relax and enjoy our surroundings, in essence slowing us down and allowing us to be present, which in turn can help us focus and be more productive.

6. Meditate.
Meditation is proof that it doesn’t take a lot of time to do our mind and body good. Just a few minutes of quieting your mind can help relieve stress. You can meditate anywhere, at any time, it does take practice and everyone finds their own level and technique that works for them. Everyone can meditate, there are numerous downloadable tracks and apps to help you learn. Stick with it, little and often and see what you can achieve.

7. Dance around.
Shaking your booty doesn’t 
just make for a fit physique. It may also improve both mood and body image, release those feel good endorphins, lead to a better outlook, is associated with a lower risk for dementia, and even help you make friends . Consider this your cue for a silly impromptu dance party.

8. Turn it up.
Everyone has songs that bring a smile to your face, make you tap your feet or play air guitar. Research shows that listening to music makes already positive emotions even more intense, and upbeat music in particular can do great things for your mood. Plus, jamming out can also improve heart health .

9. Eat more fruit and veg.
Adding more fruit and veg to our plate is a great way to practice self-care all throughout the day. Research shows that eating berries boosts brain health while noshing on peppers prevents Parkinson’s. And in case we needed another reason to load up on nature’s goodness, filling up on our five a day might make us happier.

10. F**k it theory.
Yes, I know swearing isn't always appropriate... but in the right scenario it is an easy way to blow off some steam. Research also shows swearing can reduce physical pain, and may even boost confidence and self-esteem. But timing is everything—so be sure to pick your moment to avoid embarrassment.

11. Indulge in some retail therapy.
If you love shopping, now's your chance to have a valid reason for hitting the shops. Shopping can help ease mild depression and make us more confident, according to some researchers. If you can afford to, buying something new can make us feel good about ourselves and lift our mood.

12. Sex.
From the feelings of pleasure, reduced stress, boosted immune system, the closeness with a partner (if you have one), the benefits are well documented. Take some time, get rid of all distractions, relax and enjoy.

13. Become a bookworm.
Reading is excellent for our health, keeping the mind sharp, enhancing creativity and imagination it's not just for the kids. Some people use reading as a way to wind down, to escape to a different world, promoting relaxation it can also help improve sleep.

14. Get enough sleep.
Getting enough sleep is crucial for our brains and bodies, a lot of the repair work and processing of the days activities takes place whilst we sleep. We regenerate our energy stores and the body refreshes at a cellular level. So when we don't get enough sleep - whether that's due to stress, pain or just staying up all night partying we put ourselves at a disadvantage the next day, leading to lower productivity, food cravings and lack of energy. Research shows that lack of sleep can be contributing factors in diabetes and heart disease and use of electronic devices before going to sleep affects melatonin levels - upsetting the body's natural sleep cycle.

15. Declutter.
Some researchers believe that clutter can stress us out and bring us down. Many people find that clearing physical clutter can also help with their mental health, helping them to feel calmer and more settled.

16. Indulge in a massage.
Set aside some time to experience the complete and total bliss of a massage. It soothes both the mind and muscles, improves sleep quality, and reduces stress. Touch is one of the most comforting sensations we can experience, making massage good for the body and soul. Studies show that people who have regular massage sessions sleep better, are less anxious and generally happier. Massage can also help to release emotional stress, we store negative emotions (anger, stress, hate, fear) within our physical bodies without being aware of this, massage helps to promote the release of the tension in our physical body, in turn releasing the stored emotional stress.

17. Unplug.
These days, it feels like everyone’s glued to a phone, laptop, or both at the same time. Deliberately taking a break from social media, e-mail, blogging, and so on can help us recharge and gives our brain the downtime it needs to work at an optimal level. Research shows that by switching off from our electronic screens an hour before sleep helps our melatonin levels regulate correctly, resulting in a better nights sleep.

18. Get away.
How many of us these days take regular holidays away from the daily grind? But skipping out on time away from the 9-to-5 does more harm than good: Studies show that skipping the family holiday is associated with a 
higher risk of heart disease in both men and women. Whether booking a trip to an exotic location or going somewhere nearby, time away from work can help refresh our focus, and being exposed to a new location or experience may boost creativity. Plus, everyone deserves a break!

So, maybe it's time to make yourself a promise... 20 minutes a day is all it takes to give yourself some self-care, we only have one body to live in, we need to start looking after it, we are the only one who can.