We all know that self care is a good thing––you can't pass a magazine stand or spend any amount of time on the Internet without coming across some article talking about how you should have a massage, get that new gadget as a treat, or go on a vacation.
While those are all great things, they're not what self-care is really about. Let's face it, you're likely already busy caring for the people around you. The last thing you need is one more thing on your to-do list, even if it's meant to make you feel better. And if we're being really honest, a quick mani-pedi probably isn't going to do much for your long-term well-being.
Feeling stressed and downtrodden is no way to go through life, but neither should self-care become just one more obligation. So if you've been going through the motions of self-care and still not feeling better for it, here's a radical thought:
To feel truly cared for, you have to address your whole self.
Really take a moment to think about the last time you cared for every aspect of your being; body, mind, and emotions. If you're like most people, it's been quite a while...if you've ever really thought about it at all! Developing this level of care for yourself isn't nearly as simple as addressing the surface-level stuff, but it is much richer and far longer lasting.
So if prioritizing yourself isn't your first inclination while you're in the middle of managing your work and family life, try one of these eight self-care rituals to throw off the bowlines and drop anchor in the sea of true self-love and care.
8 Radical Rituals for Comprehensive Self-Care:
1. Empower your thoughts.
When many of us think of self-care, we think of things like going to a spa, or having an extra green smoothie now and again. And while those things can be great, it's also important to address your self-care from the inside out. Your thoughts and feelings are closely connected to your hormones. This means that when you're thinking negative things about yourself, you're not just going to make yourself feel bad; you're going to produce actual, physical changes in the rest of your body. What's more, the more habitually you think something, the stronger neural pathways it carves in your brain, meaning that what you think about regularly is more likely to stay at the top of your mind.
So if you've fallen into a habit of thinking negatively about yourself, chances are that you're going to experience changes in your stress hormones (which in turn affect your gut microbiome, which turns around and affects your stress levels right back, creating a vicious cycle.)1 All good reasons to try to keep things a little more positive in your mental conversation!
2. Be kind to your body.
It's amazing to see just how fast your diet can change the physiology of your body. Because so many neurotransmitters are produced in the gut, it stands to reason that the food you eat every day plays a major role in how your brain functions (and how you feel about yourself and your life.) Mental components of eating aside, the type of food you consume has an immediate, measurable effect on your gut microbiome, which essentially runs the show when it comes to your overall health.2
So do your best to eat seasonal, local, organic food––ideally a good mix of prebiotics and probiotics. Your body will thank you, and you'll feel much better about yourself and your life when you're getting the nutrients you need for healthy brain function, radiant skin, a strong immune system, and all the natural energy you need to thrive within the day.
3. Clean out your cabinets.
Environmental irritants are one of the biggest issues that we face when it comes to microbial depletion. You might not even realize that there are harsh chemicals lurking in your beauty products, toiletries, and in your kitchen and bathroom cabinets that could be draining your energy and making you feel residually low. When it comes to skincare in particular, we're much more likely to think about adding a new cleanser or cream to our regimen than taking something away. But recent research has shown that the microbiome of your skin plays a pivotal role in its appearance––and that many of the things we thought were good for skin are actually hard on it.3
Artificial ingredients such as Triclosan (which lurk in so many products), antimicrobial additives, and harsh cleansers that alter your skin’s and body’s pH create a “scorched earth” effect on the way you look and feel, getting rid of good bacteria as well as bad and creating conditions where less-hospitable bacteria can thrive.
Now that you know, the next time you get the urge to do a deep clean, turn that energy towards cleaning out a cabinet and see just what a difference it makes to your skin and the way you feel in general!
4. Connect with your “people”.
Isolation has become incredibly widespread in our modern Western society, and while nobody really likes to be lonely, few people realize just how hard it is on your body. Loneliness affects everything from your mood to your immune system, but connecting with the people you love can counteract that effect, benefitting the very systems that loneliness ravages.4
Further, being in the presence of the wrong sorts of people can make you feel even more alone. That’s why it’s critical (and healthy) to find your tribe. Gotten out of the habit of connecting and not sure how to start again? This is for you.
5. Go to sleep.
Yes, there’s a lot to do but if you prioritize it all above a good night’s rest, you’re likely to feel the stinging pain of regret for days (sometimes even weeks) to come. Getting by on fewer than eight hours of sleep is sometimes seen as a badge of honor, but it’s actually terrible for your body and your mind.
Even just a few nights of sleep deprivation can significantly alter your gut microbiome, which can be the first step in a cycle of microbial depletion leading to poor sleep leading to even more depletion.5 One of the most loving (not to mention effective) things you can do for your health and well-being is to get high quality sleep whenever you can, so make good sleep hygiene one of your top priorities.
6. Learn to manage the stress of life.
Stress and self-care are obvious opposites––when you’re stressed out, it’s nearly impossible to feel your best. Unfortunately, our modern lifestyle has stress pretty much built into it. To counteract the stresses of the day to day, spending time outdoors can really help. Studies show that being in nature shifts your nervous system into a relaxed state, as well as supports healthy blood pressure levels and lowers your chances of being on anti-depressants!6, 7, 8
Meditation can also be a powerful tool for lowering your stress levels and increasing your mental resilience. If you’ve never tried it before, don’t worry––you don’t have to suddenly start sitting in silence for hours. Even just a few minutes of daily meditation can have a significant effect on your brain, your gut, and even the way your genes are expressed.9
7. Celebrate the little things.
We naturally do this as children. After all, how many times have you seen a child filled with joy at something as simple as completing a finger painting or reading a new book? But as we grow, we tend to get the idea that celebrations should be reserved for big wins when in fact, it’s really healthy to celebrate all the little wins in life. Besides keeping you motivated, regularly reflecting on the things that are going well helps you cultivate gratitude and keep yourself grounded in the here and now so you can enjoy your life as you’re living it––not as a collection of memories you look back on.
8. Trust your intuition.
If you tend to downplay your intuition because you think it’s illogical or woo-woo, think again. Research shows that your gut feelings are quite literally that: they originate in your gut, and are communicated to your brain via the vagus nerve.10 In fact, your gut often reacts to signals you don’t consciously see, signaling your brain to pay attention to what’s going on so you can respond appropriately.
Of course, you can only do this if you’re trusting your gut. While it can feel a little weird if you haven’t been listening to your gut for a long time, it’s well worth getting to know and caring for this part of yourself again.
You are so much more than the sum of your parts.
Truly effective self-care needs to address the whole you––the physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, and even the microbial you––not just the bits and pieces. So take the challenge and try out these research-backed rituals to experience the radical difference of nurturing your whole self!
1. Bailey, M. T., Dowd, S. E., Galley, J. D., Hufnagle, A. R., Allen, R. G., & Lyte, M. (2011). Exposure to a social stressor alters the structure of the intestinal microbiota: Implications for stressor-induced immunomodulation. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 25(3), 397-407. doi:10.1016/j.bbi.2010.10.023
2. David, L. A., Maurice, C. F., Carmody, R. N., Gootenberg, D. B., Button, J. E., Wolfe, B. E., . . . Turnbaugh, P. J. (2013). Diet rapidly and reproducibly alters the human gut microbiome. Nature, 505(7484), 559-563.
3. Pennisi, E. 2008. Bacteria Are Picky About Their Homes on Human Skin. Science 320(5879). doi: 10.1126/science.320.5879.1001
4. Floyd, K., & Riforgiate, S. (2008). Affectionate Communication Received from Spouses Predicts Stress Hormone Levels in Healthy Adults. Communication Monographs, 75(4), 351-368. doi:10.1080/03637750802512371
5. Benedict, C., Vogel, H., Jonas, W., Woting, A., Blaut, M., Schürmann, A., & Cedernaes, J. (2016). Gut microbiota and glucometabolic alterations in response to recurrent partial sleep deprivation in normal-weight young individuals. Molecular Metabolism, 5(12), 1175-1186. doi:10.1016/j.molmet.2016.10.003
6. Gould van Praag, C.G., Garfinkel, S.N., Sparasci, O. . . . Critchley, H.D. (2017). Mind-wandering and Alterations to Default Mode Network Connectivity When Listening to Naturalistic Versus Artificial Sounds. Scientific Reports 7(45273). doi:10.1038/srep45273
7. Tamosiunas, A., Grazuleviciene, R. Luksiene, D., Dedele, A. . . . Nieuwenhuijsen, M.J. (2014). Accessibility and Use of Urban Green Spaces, and Cardiovascular Health: Findings From a Kaunas Cohort Study. Environmental Health 13(20). doi: 10.1186/1476-069X-13-20
8. Taylor, M.S., Wheeler, B.W. White, M.P., Economou, T., Osborne, N.J. (2015). Research Note: Urban Street Tree Density and Antidepressant Prescription Rates—A Cross-sectional Study in London, UK. Landscape and Urban Planning 136. doi: 10.1016/j.landurbplan.2014.12.005
9. Kuo, B., Bhasin, M., Jacquart, J., Scult, M. A., Slipp, L., Riklin, E. I., . . . Denninger, J. W. (2015). Genomic and Clinical Effects Associated with a Relaxation Response Mind-Body Intervention in Patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Plos One,10(4). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0123861
10. Jonge, W. J. (2013). The Gut’s Little Brain in Control of Intestinal Immunity. ISRN Gastroenterology,2013, 1-17. doi:10.1155/2013/630159
Rachel Allen is a writer at Hyperbiotics who's absolutely obsessed with learning about how our bodies work. She's fascinated by the latest research on bacteria and the role they play in health, and loves to help others learn about how probiotics can help the body get back in balance. For more ideas on how you can benefit from the power of probiotics and live healthier days, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter. To learn more about how a healthy microbiome can enrich your life, subscribe to our newsletter.