In terms of your mental, emotional or physical well-being; if I was to ask you what you need right now, what would your answer be? Sometimes self-care involves implementing practices that allow us to withstand, work through (and then recover) from issues and challenges that come our way; every so often, self-care is survival.
Over the last couple of years, I experienced a number of situations (one after the other) that collectively combined to create overwhelming stress and anxiety. I’m ordinarily a very pragmatic person who acts immediately and pushes through to seek out some kind of resolution; but these particular struggles impacted me in a way that left me less effective than usual at untangling these types of problems.
When it comes to self-care, I tend to fall into a pattern of only making use of it after an issue has improved or settled. However, there was something about this particular cumulative shit storm that required a different approach. Asking myself what I needed during a very specific moment of intense stress was hard to answer. Initially, I listed all the situations that were causing so much stress and anxiety, but all that did was cycle through negativity without finding a solution. I got frustrated with myself that I wasn’t as capable as before at dealing with challenges. And then it hit me clear as day; I was drained — burnt out physically, depleted emotionally, and mentally exhausted. It was essential I proactively took charge of my health; introducing self-care practices that would support me as I worked through some of the toughest moments I’ve experienced. It couldn’t wait until a more convenient time; I needed it right now.
Self-care isn’t a magical cure-all that overcomes our issues or automatically uncomplicates the ups and downs of life; it’s about ensuring a journey through struggles is traversed in the healthiest way possible. It develops checks and balances alongside actionable items to build ourselves up when the strain of what we’re working through wears us down.
It’s also worth noting that self-care isn’t meant to be perfect; I’d take a guess that many of us are relatively haphazard about implementing it. As a highly personalized, individual endeavor; setting up a self-care routine has to reflect our own needs and be as effective as possible at maintaining our general well-being — which is not simple, quick or easy to get right. We will stumble through obstacles every now and then, including loss of interest, energy and time for taking care of ourselves. However, possibly the most beneficial aspect of showing ourselves love in this way is that it can be picked up and started again at any time. Ideally, self-care would be habitual, but for the vast majority of us it’s a work in progress — and that’s okay.
It all starts with paying attention to the signals that may indicate we’re in need of some self-care. Knowing ourselves and being able to identify physical and mental responses to stress, anxiety and depressive episodes; including triggers and subtle hints that point to becoming increasingly overwhelmed will encourage us to take care of our well-being. It may require a little practice (many of us ignore, sideline or excuse how these clues manifest), but we should get used to listening to our minds and bodies.
Common signs of stress/overwhelm can include:
- Increased headaches
- Painful/tense body aches
- Heart palpitations
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Poor memory
- Lack of concentration
- Disrupted sleep
- Decreased libido
Important Note: Always seek the advice of a doctor or other qualified healthcare provider if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms; get them properly assessed/diagnosed.
The good news is there are some simple self-care practices we can put into action that bolster and boost our health and wellness; most notably when we establish them as part of an ongoing routine. We’ll be better equipped to manage situations in the future that cause hardship, worry or strain if we continually invest in ourselves. We shouldn’t wait for collapse before we reinforce; self-care is for the here and now during good times and bad.
Here are some everyday self-care ideas to help maintain our mental and physical well-being:
- Stay hydrated by drinking enough water throughout the day; not only does it help flush out waste, support healthy blood flow, regulate temperature and deliver vital nutrients to cells; it also improves mood and cognitive ability.
- Ease body aches and pains by taking an Epsom salt bath; although there aren’t any conclusive scientific studies proving its benefits, the use of Epsom salt is believed to relax muscles, provide calm stress relief and reduce inflammation.
- Aide slow- and deep-wave sleep by using lavender essential oil; add a few drops to your pillow before you get into bed and/or use a diffuser to assist relaxation and reduce anxiety and stress.
- Regulate mind and body by reducing overconsumption of caffeine; this chemical commonly found in coffee, tea, chocolate and energy drinks stimulates our central nervous system — which can raise blood pressure, inhibit restful sleep and make feelings of anxiety worse. In moderation, caffeine can provide some essential health benefits; the good news is it does not need to be avoided completely and can remain part of a healthful diet.
- Promote physical and psychological well-being by making sure you set aside 10 minutes each day to do something that you enjoy; focusing on quick, easy activities that support relaxation and/or provide a mental lift.
- Fuel your body with trytophan by introducing foods that naturally boost energy and mood; this essential amino acid that supports brain function and sleep regulation is not produced by the human body so has to be obtained through what we eat and drink. Try adding things like chicken, tuna, lentils, chickpeas, cashews, almonds, oats, broccoli and mushrooms.
We’re all likely to experience situations in life that cause us significant uncertainty, worry and anguish. Working through the concern and anxiety that stress can place on us is not going to be straightforward; finding self-care habits that work for us does not guarantee we’ll come out the other side unscathed. They will, however sustain a level of well-being that allows us to remain grounded and resilient in as healthy a way as possible.
So, I’ll ask you again … what do you need right now?
What self-care tips can you share that work for you? When was the last time you took care of yourself?
How Mental Stress Can Affect Physical Health – Psychology Today
NAMI Helpline – a free, nationwide U.S. resource that offers experienced peer-support guidance and advice
CheckPoint – global (by country) resources for mental health support