By Paula O’Neill, M.S., RN-BCClinical Program Manager
Quick…name the top 5 individuals who are most important to you. If you are like most people you did not include yourself in that list. You stay late at work, care for loved ones, drive the kids to activities… the list goes on and on. We often think of ourselves last, if we think of ourselves at all. But caring for ourselves is so important. Anyone who has flown on a plane is familiar with the safety directions given at the beginning of the flight: put on your own oxygen mask before trying to help someone else with theirs. If you can’t breathe you certainly cannot help anyone else. Likewise, if you don’t take care of yourself, you certainly cannot care for others.
According to Dossey and Keegan (2013), self-care is defined as the “practice of engaging in health related activities and using health-promoting behaviors to adopt a healthier lifestyle and enhance wellness.” Many people think of self-care as a luxury or "fluff." Nothing could be further from the truth. Taking time to care for yourself can help to decrease stress, help you feel calm and relaxed, support your physical, mental and emotional well-being, and help you to be at your best so you can be present for your loved ones. It is a necessity, not a luxury.
You can use Hackensack Meridian Integrative Health & Medicine’s Five Pillars of Health & Well-being as a guide to self-care. By selecting activities in each category you will be on your way to a great self-care plan. Below are some suggestions, but it is important that you find things to do for yourself that you enjoy. That way you will be more likely to continue doing them and maintain your self-care routine.
- Exercise—The benefits of exercise include improving your physical and mental health and well-being and it can help reduce stress. Try a yoga class; take a walk or a run; dance; garden; when you shop park at the parking spot furthest from the store. Try to exercise at least 30 minutes, 4-5x per week. Remember to check with your physician before starting an exercise routine.
- Nutrition—Food provides the nutrients for a healthy body and mind. Therefore, the quality of the food we eat has a tremendous impact on how we feel, physically and mentally. Eat three meals/day; eat a variety of fruits and vegetables (a rainbow of colors); limit the amount of sugar you consume; prepare your own meals (make meals on the weekends and freeze them so you have them readily available during the week); limit your salt intake; use herbs and spices (which have health benefits of their own) to flavor your food.
- Sleep—Good quality and quantity of sleep benefits your body and mind. According to the National Sleep Foundation, being well rested contributes to being more productive and happy, and being in a better mood. Lack of sleep can contribute to heart disease, inflammation, and depression. They recommend 7-9 hours of sleep per night for adults and 7-8 hours per night for adults over 65 years of age. Create and stick to a sleep schedule; dim, or better yet turn off, electronic devices-even small amounts of light can interfere with sleep; try Dr. Andrew Weil’s 4-7-8 Relaxation Breath Exercise to help you relax and fall asleep: inhale through your nose for a count of 4…hold your breath for 7 counts…exhale for a count of 8…Repeat 3 more times.
- Resilience—The ability to adapt to adversity and respond to stress. Managing stress is key to well-being and self-care. Try yoga; meditate; 4-7-8 Relaxation Breath Exercise; listen to music; exercise.
- Purpose—“There’s no greater gift than to honor your life’s calling. It’s why you were born. And how you become most truly alive.” - Oprah Winfrey. Knowing your purpose leads to a more meaningful, fulfilling, and satisfying life. Determine your life purpose.
“The best health care plan is a self-care plan.” ~ Nina Leavins