By Kelly Jo Zellmann, MS, RDN, LD, CLT
We often hear about what good nutrition means for our heart. But, how often do we talk about what else is good for our heart and overall health? Taking care of our heart, mind, and body begins with having positive self-love and correlates to our happiness, which begins with nourishing our heart, mind and body together as part of self-care. By doing so, we are prioritizing our health (and happiness), which naturally boosts our ability to handle all the daily stressors that life throws at us.
The benefits of good self-care are numerous. It can boost our immune system, improve digestion and absorption of nutrients, reduce stress, increase self-esteem and confidence, and support healthier relationships with others. And, since we are not only in the midst of a pandemic right now, we are also seeing increasing numbers anxiety and depression across the spectrum from youth through adults and seniors. So, the need for self-care now is more important than ever before! We all need it and the beautiful thing is that anyone can practice self-care and everyone can benefit from it. So, here is a little more background on what it is, why it’s so important and what you can do to start increasing your self-care today.
What is Self-Care & Self-Love?
According to the World Health Organization, self-care is defined 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.” (1). Self-care encompasses our physical, mental and emotional health.
Self-love, according to Meriam Webster, is defined as “an appreciation of one’s own worth or virtue, proper regard for and attention to one’s own happiness or well-being, and an inflated love of or pride in oneself (narcissism).” (2) Many people think self-love is selfish referring to the third definition, but in reality, this is not the self-love we are talking about. Self-love means you accept yourself as you are, your flaws and weaknesses and you have high standards for your well-being and happiness, which is something we all should have!
If we are striving to be healthy, we need to put ourselves at the top of our priority and “to-do” lists and not wait until we may experience a health scare or new diagnosis that ends up being a wake-up call. Although, this is a good time to make changes too, we can and should be practicing good self-care every day. This starts with having a mindset that true health begins with being kind to our bodies, and also includes good nutrition, getting adequate sleep, stress management and healthy relationships. These are all keys to our self-care puzzle.
In her book, Body Kindness, Rebecca Scritchfield, RDN talks about how we all have choices to make and each positive choice we make is a little investment in our health and happiness. Making positive choices can build on each other and create energy. Being kind to ourselves is about connecting with and make caring and loving choices that can transform our health into enjoyable habits. (3) This doesn’t mean we are perfect and letting go of perfection and giving yourself grace is a part of learning to be more kind to yourself.
So, how are you doing with nourishing yourself with self-care? Do you prioritize self-care and make it a part of your normal routine? Do you struggle with it being the last on your to-do list that often gets overlooked – easy to do for so many people who juggle working full time, are caregivers, and have little time left over at the end of the day. And/or you may think taking time for yourself is too “woo-woo,” not important or even selfish. However, wherever you are with self-care, let’s take a closer look at why it is so important to your overall health and well-being and some simple ways you can start to cultivate more self-care into your life.
Where do I Begin with Self-Care?
Beginning to embrace self-care is a journey and can improve your overall health and well-being. It can be hard at first and there’s no road map or cookie cutter approach. Much like how diets don’t work, self-care must be individualized to work for you and what your body needs at any given moment. It starts by becoming more aware of and listening to your body. So much of the time we are too busy going about our day to notice how our body is actually feeling and once we pause to just breathe and slow down, we may be surprised at what it is trying to tell us.
There’s one question you can ask yourself in regard to your habits and choices: “Is this (habit or choice) helping me to create a better life for myself?” This can help guide your choices and determine whether a certain habit is helping or harming your self-care.
Start with simple steps and with the area you are struggling with the most can help. Is it managing your time to fit self-care in? Perhaps, starting your day with journaling about what you are grateful for; spending 5 to 10 minutes focusing on daily gratitudes can help start your day with a positive mindset. Another option can be to read or do a daily meditation to help you feel more grounded and relaxed; there are numerous daily meditation apps and books that can aid in this practice. Or, maybe you could benefit from getting a better night’s rest? Whatever area it is, you can make small, simple changes that will have a big payoff on your health.
5 Simple Steps to Self-Care:
Sleep – The secret superpower of self-care.
If you are like many Americans who are chronically sleep deprived or who are experiencing sleep issues as a result of the pandemic and added stressors, this may be your first place to start and it may involve asking for help. Without good sleep, everything can feel off. Think about your energy, mood, eating and motivation when you don’t get a good’s night sleep. Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to serious health issues and deserves to be checked out. There are many ways to work on getting better sleep and it depends on what you may be struggling with such as relaxing and winding down for sleep, or do you wake up frequently and can’t fall back asleep? Having a good bedtime routine to help you relax and wind down for sleep is a good start. Eliminating “screen time” – including television and devices – in the hour before bed helps get our brains and bodies on the side of sleep. Keeping a sleep journal can help identify what you are struggling with and then you can work on ways to get better night’s rest. For more information, check out the Sleep Guidelines During the COVID-19 Pandemic from the Sleep Foundation (link at the end of the post). (4)
Starting or ending your day with writing and reflecting can really change your outlook by reminding you that no matter what your circumstances are, there is always something to be thankful for. Every day is a gift and we should take time to notice the people and things around us that make us happy and bring us joy. Better yet, seeking out ways to bring joy to others will reflect back to you in a positive way and provides a ripple effect. When we express gratitude our brain releases dopamine and serotonin, the two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions, and they make us feel ‘good’. They enhance our mood immediately, making us feel happy from the inside. Try writing down three things every day that you are grateful for over the next two weeks and see how it changes your day.
If only there were a magic bullet, pill of potion to take all our stress away, we’d all be living our best lives, right? Unfortunately, stress is not going to go away, but learning how to better deal with it can make all the difference in the world. Identify your major stressors and try to come up with ways to help manage them. Could it be taking the time to meal plan for the week reduce your daily stress of “what’s for dinner?” Or, maybe you can enlist the help of your spouse to watch the kids while you take 30 minutes to do something for yourself (i.e., call a friend, take a bath, lay down for a nap, go for a walk).
Nourish to Flourish & Mindful Eating
Good nutrition is a foundation of self-care. If we don’t eat nourishing foods, our body and brain won’t have the energy and nutrients to feel good and do all the things we want it to. Becoming a more mindful eater can help to slow down and enjoy every bite of food and the experience of eating. Remember, it’s not about following a diet to lose weight to magically be healthier, rather it’s about making peace with food and your body and learning to enjoy food for pleasure and comfort when desired and be ok with that.
Getting outside for as little as 15 minutes during the day can be a quick energy boost and de-stressor. Better yet, combine it with a brisk walk around the block or down your driveway breathing in the fresh air and noticing how your body feels. Reconnecting with nature can be a natural benefit for your overall self-care and well-being. Yet, in today’s world, so many of us are stuck behind our screens or working indoors all day, we’ve lost our connection to the outside world and the amazing sights and sounds that nature has to offer.
Saying “Yes” to you and prioritizing your self-care can have positive benefits to your overall health and well-being. The choice is yours and after all, the most important relationship you will ever have is the one with yourself. Why not be kind to and love yourself more. In the end, you’ll be much happier and healthier and your heart will you thank you for it.
Curious for more information, check out the resources below and/or contact Kelly Jo Zellmann, MS, RDN, LD at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- What Do We Mean by Self-Care? World Health Organization. Retrieved from: https://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/self-care-interventions/definitions/en/. Accessed Feb. 24, 2021.
- “Self-love.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/self-love. Accessed Feb. 24, 2021.
- Scritchfield, R. (2016). Body Kindness. Workman Publishing.
- Sleep Guidelines During the COVID-19 Pandemic – Sleep Foundation
Kelly Jo Zellmann, MS, RDN, LD