Why is it that when we are busy, self care is the first to go?
‘I have a deadline at work’, we tell ourselves, ‘I don’t have time to rest’. We skip the gym, or we just grab a cheap takeaway on the way home – ‘I’m too tired to care right now’.
When we are busy, we are extremely good at justifying to ourselves why skipping exercise, eating fast food or skipping an hour or two of sleep is necessary. We focus on the here and now and slowly chip away at any dedicated time to care for ourselves.
But, the difficult part is: we are always busy. We will always find something else to prioritise, unless we reframe our priorities; unless we start to reframe self care as a necessity, rather than a nice to have.
The beauty of taking time out for self-care is that it gives you so much more time back. We think we’re savings ourselves time by cutting back on an hour of sleep or skipping dinner, but in fact – we’re slowing ourselves down.
When we take time to nurture ourselves, we refuel and improve our ability to think faster and to move faster, and to make smarter decisions. When we sleep enough, exercise regularly and eat the right foods, we expand our emotional resilience. Something we could all benefit from more of.
“Self care pays back, in dividends.”
The problem so much of us have is that we feel guilty for investing time in ourselves. If we take time out to just ‘be’, we think about the never-ending to-do list and guilt starts to seep in; before you know it, you’re up and ‘pottering’ around the house or taking care of someone else. Self-care is not selfish and it is not something you should feel guilty about.
You cannot pour from an empty cup. It may sound cliché, but it is true. You’re not helping anyone by denying yourself a bit of R&R.
So let’s look at a few ways you can introduce more self-care into your life.
Build a routine
During this time it may be difficult for many of us to follow our normal routine, however, maintaining some form of routine is essential for our wellbeing.
Our brains love routine. We are creatures of habit, and when our brains have a routine to follow, it creates a feeling of security and safety. Two feelings we really need right now.
Here are a few tips that may help you to build a sustainable routine that will keep your brain happy:
- Decide what activities you want to be in your daily routine – this includes making time for play and self-care.
- Set small goals – small goals are key for a sustainable routine during during times of uncertainty. Managing your expectations when you are operating under increased levels of stress is incredibly important to avoid burnout.
- Layout a daily plan – but, wherever possible, make your routine fun – if you feel like your day is too strict or monotonous, you will very quickly look for ways to rebel.
- Don’t be disheartened if you don’t manage to follow your routine everyday – we ‘should’ on ourselves way too much and overtime, this can wear us down. Understand you are doing your best in the current circumstances.
Maintain a consistent sleep routine
The British Sleep Council reckon 70% of us in the UK feel we are not getting enough sleep… with 1/3 of us struggling with some kind of sleep disorder.
Now the interesting thing about this is that, just like mental ill health, there is not one single cause that determines whether you have a sleep disorder. Sleep disorders can be caused by chemical imbalances, by a sleeping environment that isn’t conductive to a good night’s sleep, or even from behavioural habits that have been learnt over time and have disrupted your sleep cycle.
That last point is what I want to draw your attention to today: learnt sleeping habits can be a huge factor in determining the amount of sleep we get. An important first step we can take to improve our quality of sleep is to try and keep a regular sleep pattern. When we mess with our routine, going to bed at 10pm one evening, 11pm another and then midnight on the weekend, we can cause a lot of disruption to our internal body clock – to our circadian rhythm. This is hugely important; a continuously disrupted circadian rhythm can lead to quite a lot of illness overtime.
Therefore, even on the weekend, create a consistent pattern of going to bed and waking up within an hour of your regular sleeping time.
Eat your greens
When we are tired and stressed, our body naturally craves carbohydrates. We have all experienced this, we feel so tired we just need to eat all day long and our bellies feel like a bottomless pit. Now, this is actually because of two hormones. One hormone called leptin – that regulates the appetite, and another called ghrelin – that stimulates the appetite.
As luck would have it, when you are sleep deprived, your hormone that tells you your satisfied reduces, whereas your hormone that tells you to eat increases. With that in play, if we don’t sleep well, our hormone levels play Ping-Pong – leaving us wanting to eat not only more food, but carb heavy, rich foods.
In order to keep yourself from feeling worn down and burnt out, we not only need to get enough sleep, but we need to feed our bellies with nutrient dense foods. There are so many reasons we should eat our fruits and veg, but I’ll give you one extremely important reason: the gut-brain axis.
How often do you think about the health of your gut? When we eat, sometimes very little thought goes into what happens to the food once we have swallowed. However, did you know that 70% of our body’s immune cells reside in our gut. 70%! Our gut is so complex and so intelligent, it has been called our second brain.
Studies have started to show that not only does our brain affect our gut health but our gut may also affect our brain health – and it is this channel of communication between our gut and brain that is known as the gut-brain axis. This is really exciting stuff, because a lot of research is now focusing upon how an imbalance in our gut could affect our serotonin levels and also increase how anxious or depressed we feel. Now that’s a really good reason to eat foods that nourish our gut health.
Whenever we are busy, exercise is always the first to go. For many people, exercise is something we do when we have a ‘bit of free time’; yet exercise is absolutely essential for our emotional, mental and physical health.
We all know that when we exercise, we release chemicals called ‘endorphins’. But, did you know that these chemicals interact with our receptors in our brain to alter how we perceive pain. In fact, the positive feelings that are generated by endorphins are similar to that of morphine.
Exercise is such an all-round winner. Regular exercise helps us to sleep better, it encourages us to eat healthier, and it helps to reduce stress levels, thereby improving our overall mental fitness.
If you don’t have time for an hour at the gym, try 10-15 minutes of HIIT. If you would rather something more gentle, try 10-15 minutes of yoga or walking. Short bursts of exercise, built up over time, will improve every aspect of your life.
Spend time in nature
Being out in nature has been found to reduce our stress levels by up to 60%! This incredible relationship between our stress levels and nature has been found to be the result of our response to patterns in nature called fractals. “It seems this stress reduction effect occurs because of a certain physiological resonance within the eye” Lambrou, 2012.
Just 20 minutes a day in nature can have a monumental impact on our stress levels and, by default, our emotional resilience. If you can exercise while in nature, then even better. Two birds, one stone!
Get yourself a pet
If you can, I would always recommend getting yourself a little furry pet. Pets, whatever your preference, can bring so much joy into our lives – and for more reasons than you think. For example, if you have a dog – not only are you forced to go walking in nature every day, but you get to reap the benefits of loving touch and connection.
Firstly, physical touch, be it a human or a pet, has been found to improve the function of your immune system, while also lowering your heart rate and blood pressure. “Having this friendly touch (…) buffers the physiological consequences of this stressful response,” Hertenstein, 2010.
Secondly, for those who have had their trust broken by humans, animal therapy is incredible for safely re-opening the door to allow us to feel the depth of connection and trust again.
Find a way to relax
Meditation is not for everyone, but more often than not – people try it once, decide it’s too difficult to quieten the mind and then give up.
If that sounds like you – hold on… it is worth the effort. It’s just about finding the right method that works for you!
A regular meditation practice can provide an oasis of calm and relaxation in which we can recuperate and recharge; something so incredibly important at the moment.
“Sometimes the most important thing you can do is to show up fully in this present moment.”
Science has found that the way in which we think and behave can have a fundamental impact on our physical health, and our capacity to recover from illness and injury. Amongst many benefits, mindfulness and meditation offers you the opportunity to actively engage in your own progression towards greater levels of health and wellbeing.
If you’re curious about meditation and you’d like to give it a go – jump on one of my online meditation sessions or try an 8-week meditation courses and find how you can regain control of your wellbeing and attain, at the very least, some peace of mind.
What works for you?
No matter what approach you prefer, the important thing is that you reframe and prioritise self-care. Start to explore what self-care strategies work for you and prioritise the time for you to breathe and relax. Create a consistent routine that supports your wellbeing day to day, so you can maintain mental fitness longer term.
Call to Action
To find out more about how you can improve your sleep habits, your gut health, and so much more: check out ‘Breakfast with Boots‘ – the breakfast podcast that explores how you can care for your mental wellbeing, day to day, in order to build the resilience to support your mental health long term. Available now on iTunes, Spotify, Podbean and YouTube.
Lambrou, P (2012). Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/codes-joy/201209/fun-fractals
Hertenstein, M. (2010). Available at: https://www.depauw.edu/news-media/latest-news/details/25819/