I have a confession to make – I really don’t like the term ‘self-care’. I think it has been overdone to death in wellness circles and women’s magazines. But, short of coming up with a new term (maybe you have a better phrase?) I must say that it really is a good way of describing what should be something we all make a priority. The trouble is, that’s not always the case…
Over the decade I’ve been working in the natural medicine and nutrition field, I’ve learnt a lot about how the body works. And whilst my initial training focused mainly on things like biochemical pathways, nutrients and how they work in the body, gut health and the medicinal actions of herbs, over time I have found that these are only part of the equation. More and more often I notice the difference our mind, the impact of stress, and the priority we are putting on our own health to be just as important.
Now more than ever there is a need to stop and check in with ourselves. We have been living in unprecedented times – there has been a lot of fear, worry, uncertainty and separation since the beginning of the pandemic. During these kinds of challenges it is all-too-easy to revert to habits like overdoing the alcohol, mindlessly reaching for the junk food, and falling down the rabbit hole of social media – those things that make us feel good for a little while, but worse in the long run. You know what I’m saying, right?
After having hit burnout a few years ago I’ve learnt a lot about myself. Namely, that I’m not a machine and eventually, if I don’t listen to my body when it starts to whisper, it will start shouting until I hear and take note. Usually in the form of sheer exhaustion, waking up during the night unable to get back to sleep, skin breakouts, hormonal issues or tummy upsets. Thanks, body!
I’ve learnt that when these signals come along, it’s a message that something needs to change. I can either listen – or I can ignore it to my peril. Maybe I’ve been burning the candle at both ends – and need to just say ‘no’ to a few things for a while. Perhaps there’s been a few less-than-ideal-foods or wine sneaking in a bit too often. Or I’m overdoing the caffeine, and not getting enough water. Thankfully, I’ve become a lot better at listening over the years. Staying one step ahead of my self-care is now something that I do, as a matter of course. It means that I can function at my best – not only for myself, but also for my family, and my clients.
So here I thought I would share an insight into my own routine, and what self-care looks like for me:
- Eating well. It is an ‘inconvenient truth’ that what we fuel our body with impacts our moods, and how resilient we are to stress. There's actually an emerging area of interest known as 'nutritional psychiatry' that is looking into the link between foods and mental health, as we speak. Personally, I find that the quality of the food I'm eating makes a massive difference to my experience of the day. Because of this I aim to eat protein with each meal to keep my energy levels steady, reduce cravings and support my hormones and immune system. My favourites are nut butters, goat’s/sheep’s cheese or yoghurt with fruit, chicken, prawns, steak or pulses like lentils and chickpeas.
- Getting enough water. Dehydration places an extra stress on the body – and when you have a lot going on, this is not going to help you cope with all that the day throws at you! We all have different requirements (different body sizes) so a good rule of thumb is to aim for 35ml/kg of body weight (capped at 4L) per day.
- I am careful with caffeine. I’ve heard of many naturopaths warning their patients off caffeine completely – but I am not one of them. I LOVE coffee! And in fact, there is evidence emerging that caffeine may be beneficial for reducing risk of stroke, diabetes and dementia. But we also need to remember that caffeine is tough on your adrenals. And while it can be tempting when you are busy, stressed and tired, having coffee to pep you up on an empty stomach is a no-go – it will cause your blood sugar to spike, and give you a temporary energy boost at the expense of your longer-term vitality. I always make sure I have my coffee after a meal where possible (rather than before or between) for this very reason. That way I can enjoy it, without it robbing my vital energy reserves.
- Keeping alcohol to a minimum. I’m not going to lie…I do love a good wine (or 3!). But I have realised that alcohol really takes more from me than it gives. It makes me tired and grumpy, and it interferes with my sleep. It mucks my hormonal balance around and it’s just not worth it. But, because I find that the routine of pouring a drink at the end of the day - while I chat to my husband and family - is something I didn’t want to do without, more often than not I stick to soda water (a few frozen raspberries added make it a little spesh), kombucha or a low/non-alcoholic product.
- I schedule some movement – but I listen to my body as well. We can really call exercise ‘the universal vitamin’ because of the effect it has on so many areas in the body (and mind!). And when it comes to movement, it really is a case of putting it in your diary as a priority (otherwise it just doesn’t happen, hey?!). I aim for a strength training session at least once a week, some walking/gardening and some yoga or stretching on a few other days.
- I support my system with targeted, high-strength supplements when I need them. If I find that I am going through a time where I am super-busy, I make sure I increase my intake of B-vitamins, zinc, magnesium and stay one step ahead with medicinal herbs for my adrenals and sleep. The key here is that I don’t wait until I get to a point of needing these – I’ve learnt that it is far better for me to listen to my body when it tells me it needs a bit of extra TLC – and usually I only find I need support for a week or two until the balance is restored. Believe me, it's far easier to stay proactive than having to do the repair work from rock-bottom.
- Plus all the other little things that add up. Staying mindful. Recognizing those times when I am getting sucked into a negative energy spiral from social media, the news, or overwork. I use breathing exercises, meditation (no, it doesn’t have to be tricky, or hippy!) and getting out into nature where possible, to ‘unplug’ for a while. Taking a mental health day when I feel overwhelmed. Saying ‘no’ to commitments if I need to. Scheduling some downtime to watch a movie or listen to some music.
What does self-care look like to you? I'd love to hear your thoughts!