If we want to be healthy, we have to take care of ourselves. The World Health Organisation recognises self-care as an important part of the solution to the global health crisis, due to the multitude of health benefits that come from simple stress relief. One Australian report suggests that up to 80% of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes, and over a third of cancers could be prevented by people self-caring. As a critical component of preventative healthcare, the value of self-care is measurable and is increasingly supported by scientific evidence.
In its most basic form, self-care involves meeting our biological needs for food and water, fresh air and shelter. But to truly define self-care, the kind that prevents disease, reduces stress and helps us lose weight, we need to go a step beyond this and understand how to feel well as an individual, exploring the emotional and philosophical aspects of what it means to be human.
True self-care requires knowledge of what we need personally to thrive and be happy. This augmented definition brings a whole new dimension to our health as individuals, supporting the idea that absolute wellness is attainable, if we just take the time to find it for ourselves. Consciously devoting time to looking after our physical and emotional needs is something we must learn to do each and every day, throughout our entire lives.
Science highlights the need for us to take a holistic approach to our self-care. For example, if we don’t address our mental health, or experience ongoing stress, we might not get the expected benefits from the high-quality diet we are committed to. All of our systems are connected and thus we need to take a truly integrative approach to self-care. To empower you towards better health, look to these seven pillars for ideas:
Be an active participant in your health and wellbeing. Familiarise yourself with how your body works, what your basic physiological needs are and what some of the risks to your health might be. Read widely and gather your wisdom from a range of sources.
Know who you are and surround yourself with a community of people who understand you. Spend time doing things that make you happy. This may mean prioritising time with family or friends, settling in with a good book, getting a massage or taking time-out to meditate or walk the dog. Balance rest with activity, and social activities with time alone.
Choose nutritious foods. We know we should be eating healthy, but understanding what healthy eating actually means can be confusing. Eat mostly plants, with some meat and fish. Source your foods from nature, i.e. if it comes from a packet with a long list of ingredients, it probably isn’t really food so avoid it.
There are known risks to our health, and it is completely up to us to avoid them – these include exposure to toxins, tobacco use, excess alcohol consumption, eating junk/processed food and a sedentary lifestyle.
Wash your hands, brush your teeth, bathe, clean your clothes and dry them outdoors (UV from the sun kills disease causing bacteria/parasites), avoid overcrowding.
We all need help at some time or another and accessing support is the final pillar of self-care. If we feel we are beyond our own capacity to heal, then we should seek medical help. If we are prescribed medication, we should take it.
Finding out what makes us tick as individuals helps us discover joy and being happy does amazing things for our health. Winding down and taking ‘time for me’ brings our bodies out of the stressed state and back into a calm, relaxed state. This is when our bodies can perform their most fundamental tasks – heal, digest and if we desire it, reproduce.
There are a multitude of health benefits that come with simple stress relief. Self-care reduces stress and this can help us lose weight, reduce inflammation and prevent major illness,including depression, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Reducing stress can also benefit our skin, improve our digestion and help us conceive.
One study showed a single session of Swedish massage reduces inflammation, stress hormone concentrations and limits aggressive behavior. And if you’ve ever wondered if a week-long health retreat would be worth it, a recent observational study suggests that it is. Everything from mood and weight loss to reductions in blood pressure and improved cognitive function were observed after a retreat that focused on education, therapeutic and leisure activities and an organic, mostly plant-based diet. A reduction in health symptom severity and frequency were also recorded six weeks after the retreat suggesting there is ongoing benefits to intense, focused self-care and reminding us that healing often takes time.
It’s so important to actively pursue the health of your body, mind and spirit. Stop celebrating the ‘busy’ and start celebrating the ‘calm’. Learn how to say ‘no’, so you can take the time you need to return balance to your body. With 1-in-2 Australians suffering chronic disease, our bodies are beckoning for us to slow down and focus on getting well.
This is what self-care is all about and there is simply no better way to improve our health and happiness. We can’t always control the circumstances in our lives, but we can insist on self-care for ourselves and our families. And you might be surprised at how much change is possible by embracing just a few simple ideas.