Written by Dola Agunbiade.
Stress is a common pitfall of the modern-day life. It is one of the underlying causes of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and other illnesses. It can weaken immune systems, overturn digestive and reproductive systems, affect weight gain and loss, cause quicker ageing and slow down our ability to heal.
In our daily life, stress affects the way we eat, sleep, exercise, work, communicate and love, while increasing our susceptibility to anxiety, depression, colds and skin breakouts. The various stressors in our lives could range from relationships, work, finances or living situations to current politics, social issues, the news and social media.
Stress has become so intertwined with our lifestyles that sometimes it’s hard to recognise when we’re stressed. At other times, we identify the source and try to push against it with activities that don’t promote mindfulness and self-care but actually increase stress. In moments of stress, the practice of self-care plays a significant role, one we often overlook because the idea of self-care could be seen as selfish and indulgent.
Self-care was never meant to be used for indulgent or selfish means but as a way of truly attending to the heart, mind, body and soul. Self-care is the intentional practice of engaging in restorative activities that promote our mental and emotional wellbeing. It is the conscious decision to step away from stressful moments, issues and situations that deplete our time, energy and health.
By practicing self-care, we reaffirm to ourselves and others around us that we care, love and value ourselves. We are our own harshest critics, and the practice of self-care is a form of self kindness that goes beyond the treats and rewards we give ourselves. We find that it’s easier to give love, compliments and praise to others but find it difficult to be on the receiving end. Through gentle self-care we learn to practice gratitude and appreciation to ourselves, making it easier to truly receive the same from others. It’s right to be kind to others but it’s important that we are kind to ourselves.
The practice of self care is a journey to continually living a whole and healthy life. It can be a daily practice as it helps to manage stress while giving inner guidance on when to set appropriate boundaries during stressful moments. We battle stress by practicing self-care daily and a key to this is by building a sustainable practice.
It might sound tasking to practice self-care daily on top of building a sustainable practice but simple things like breathing slowly, having moments of stillness and silence, mindful eating, prayer, going for a walk in nature or around the neighbourhood, having conversations with trusted ones, having a nap and many more, are simple ways of practicing self-care each day.
Aside from the above, our sustainable practices can be built on core pillars which can be interchanged and adapted to suit our current lifestyle. We have to be intentional about creating space for these practices by identifying the stressors and making decisions to manage or remove them.
One of the first core pillars involves physical self-care, which is anything from routine medical check-ups, eating healthily, to working out — running, stretching, yoga, tai-chi, qigong, dancing or any movement that brings joy. Another core pillar would be emotional self-care, and this could look like engaging in positive activities, journaling to process emotions or events, having a conversation with trusted friends and speaking with a therapist. Attending to our emotions in self-care with another person or group of people allows us to properly reflect on the highs and lows of the day or week that can bring much needed perspective.
Another core pillar would be professional self-care. This is where we examine our work to see if we find it fulfilling or engaging, if we work well with colleagues, if we feel depleted or energised, if it’s a place where we thrive or barely survive. Work is an essential part of our lives but it’s also responsible for stress. Self-care at work looks like establishing the right boundaries with our finishing times, workload, emails and phone calls. Do we take on more than we can handle? Do we work during our lunch break? Are we the first ones in and the last ones out? Creating a healthy work life balance is an important tool for maintaining our health and our sustainable practices.
Another core pillar is relational self-care, where we connect and spend time with our partners, family and friends. Spending time, physically or virtually, with our loved ones creates a support network we can come to rely on and love. Having and being part of a trusted community, big or small, is essential to thriving and having a healthy life.
The final core pillar we can engage in is growth, where we can learn new skills, pick up hobbies or have activities that bring peace and rest. This could look like dancing, cooking, reading, writing, painting, listening to music, watching a movie, doing something that doesn’t require effort or feel stressful.
The best part about our self-care journey is that our routines and rhythms are never set in stone and can be adjusted as time goes on. Practicing our self-care habits bit by bit is a worthy investment that can lead us to living fulfilled and whole-hearted lives. Let’s have a think about what self-care practices we can put into place today and slowly build this into something sustainable.