From morning juices and meditation to weekly runs and resolutions to drink more water, most of us try to incorporate some form of self-care into our lives when we can. After all, we all want to feel healthy, energized, and happy, and we know that doing things that support our well-being and make us feel good on a regular basis––which is what self-care ultimately boils down to––is a great way to make that happen.
However, there’s a big gap between knowing how important regular self-care is and actually following through on making it a part of our daily life. And with so many of us living increasingly busy lives, it’s easy to accidentally let self-care slide down the priority list.
Whether you simply don’t feel like you have enough hours in the day to do all that you want, or you’re in a position where you’re caring for others so much that the thought of caring for yourself sounds more exhausting than rejuvenating, it’s easy to put self-care on the back burner.
If we all tend to fall short of the mark at one point or another when it comes to self-care, is it still worth trying? Absolutely––and here's why.
Why Self-Care Is So Important
You might think that self-care is largely something you do when you’re already feeling run down to restore balance to your life, like taking a nice long bath at the end of a hard week, or getting a massage when your muscles get too tight. While those things can be elements of self-care, ultimately, they’re just the surface expressions of something much deeper.
Self-care isn’t a list of to-dos. It’s a commitment to doing whatever it takes to care for yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually over the long-term.
This is where a lot of people stumble, seeing self-care as an indulgence, or something you do to feel good for a few minutes. In fact, self-care is actually a fundamental shift in the way you approach your life, one that favors doing things that are going to keep you feeling well over time. Think of it this way: eating a piece of chocolate may make you feel good in the short term, and it may even be an element of a bigger self-care picture. But self-care itself is about creating habits that support you throughout your life and keep you feeling good continuously, instead of short-term quick fixes that you only turn to in times of stress.
Oftentimes, it’s things like just showing up to your yoga mat day after day, saying no to things that you really don’t want to do, or designing a meal plan that makes it easy for you to eat healthy during the week, that make the biggest impact.
Committing to self-care does take a bit of time and effort, but it's well worth it, given that self-care supports...
Your Physical Health.
Consistent self-care can help offset many of the unwanted physical effects of modern living. For instance, building regular exercise into your routine can help mitigate the negative impacts of sitting, including stiff joints and poor posture.1 Similarly, self-care can be a great ally for both stepping out of societal habits, like overwork and habitual stress that can cause unwanted changes in health, as well as undoing some of the negative effects they can have on your body.2
For instance, if you start focusing on self-care that relaxes you, you’ll not only feel better mentally, you’ll make things easier on your digestive system, support healthy cardiovascular functioning, and even help your body manage the hormones that keep you mentally and physically well.3,4 The same goes for a shift in diet––by making the conscious choice to do whatever it takes to consistently eat seasonal, local, and organic whole food meals, you can both protect your body from undesirable pollutants and give yourself the nutrition you need to stay well.
Your Mental and Emotional Health.
Self-care is absolutely invaluable for mental and emotional support. Besides helping you manage stress and mood-swings and ensuring that you get enough sleep to function, regular self-care can help you maintain balanced hormone levels.5 Basic things like moving regularly, practicing good sleep hygiene, and getting outside can all help your body regulate the systems that produce the hormones that impact your moods. (Each of these activities also supports the growth of beneficial gut flora, which in turn play a huge role in how your body manages hormones and your moods.)
Along those same lines, practicing mindfulness can help keep you grounded, and over time, even “train” your mind to keep looking out for the positive things in life, giving you a sunnier outlook.6 And don’t forget about spending time with loved ones! Besides simply being enjoyable, making time to see your family and friends can help support your immunity so you stay well. In fact, studies show that spending time with people you love even supports the growth of good guys in your gut, giving you the bacterial support you need for optimal well-being.7
Your Spiritual Health.
We’re more than the sum of our parts, and a good, consistent self-care plan will address your spiritual wellness just as much as your physical, mental, and emotional health. Incorporating some form of spiritual practice into your life––whether that's something as small and personal as a gratitude practice or something more communal, like being part of a like-minded community––can help remind you of just how connected we all are to the world around us, and encourage the best parts of our nature.8
Self-care can also be a powerful vehicle for personal development, since it does require introspection and discipline to keep coming back to the basics day after day, month after month, year after year. Following through on that commitment to yourself can teach you a lot about how you approach problems, expand your understanding of what you truly value, and help you find the contentment and joy that come when you live in alignment with those values.
How Your Self-Care Helps the World
What’s more, your self-care efforts can have a far greater impact on others than you might realize. The truth is, you have to put your own metaphorical “oxygen mask” on first before you can have the capacity to benefit those around you, and self-care is one of the best ways you can do that. When you care for yourself, you give yourself the chance to look outward and care for those around you too, since when you're happier and healthier, you not only naturally start living your best life, but you also have the mental and physical resources to help others live theirs.
That can play out in all kinds of different ways. From setting a good example of how to take care of yourself for your kids or other people in your life to giving yourself the time and energy to do things like volunteer, donate to a great cause, or simply have the bandwidth to listen when a friend needs a sympathetic ear, there's really no end to the potential positive effects of taking care of yourself.
Self-Care Tips for Body, Mind, and Soul
If you haven’t already started, this is the perfect time to invest in holistic self-care that begins from the inside out, whatever that looks like for you. We really can’t emphasize enough just how important it is that your self-care plan be unique to you. The things that rejuvenate you are going to be unique to your preferences, history, and circumstances.
This means that while you can certainly draw inspiration from other sources, you're going to have to go on your own journey of discovery with self-care, finding out what works for you. The good news is, the journey in and of itself can be one of the most rewarding, enjoyable experiences in your life!
If you're looking for some guidance as you start, here are some suggestions for self-care that addresses your body, mind, and spirit.
• Choose premium fuel for your body to keep yourself feeling your best by focusing on seasonal, local, and organic whole foods that nourish you from head to toe.
• Make physical touch a priority, even if you're not in a relationship. Our bodies thrive on touch, so try to make it part of your routine.9 Hug your friends and family, spend intimate time with your partner, love on your dog, add a massage or manicure to your monthly routine––whatever it takes to get that touch in.
Mind and Emotions:
• Instead of a to-do list, start using a to-done list, where you list all the things you’ve done at the end of each day and then feel grateful to yourself for all your hard work.
• Create a habit of saying no to everything that isn’t a definite yes. This may feel hard at first, but you’ll find that the resulting boost in your emotional state and energy levels is worth it.
• Find your favorite mood-boosting essential oil and add it to your bath or skincare routine. Lavender essential oil is amazing for relaxation at the end of a busy day—put a few drops in your bath or diffuse in your bedroom as you drift off to sleep.
• Build periods of introspection into your life. We learn how to best move forward by looking back and within, so find ways to create pauses in your life so you can really tune in to your intuition, see what's going on for you at any given time, and create a path that's even more aligned with your values going forward.
• Find your form of connection to the universe. Whether that’s in a traditionally spiritual setting, on a hike in the woods, as you write in your journal, or in the love you feel for your family and friends, we all need to be reminded that we’re part of something bigger.
• Orient yourself towards happiness: the more you look for things to feel good about, the more you’ll find them.10 So put on your metaphorical “gratitude glasses”, focus on what’s going right in your world, and actively seek out things that make you happy, content, and at peace with the world.
Self-care is so very important; it truly is the foundation of a life well-lived. So take just a second to choose at least one of the things above to try this week as part of a renewed commitment to caring for yourself, and by extension, your loved ones and those around you. You deserve it!
1. United States Bone and Joint Initiative: The Burden of Musculoskeletal Diseases in the United States. Rosemont, IL; 2014
2. Konturek, P. C., Brzozowski, T., & Konturek, S. J. (2011). Stress and the gut: pathophysiology, clinical consequences, diagnostic approach and treatment options. Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, 62(6), 591-599.
3. Bailey, M. T., Dowd, S. E., Parry, N. M., Galley, J. D., Schauer, D. B., & Lyte, M. (2010). Stressor Exposure Disrupts Commensal Microbial Populations in the Intestines and Leads to Increased Colonization by Citrobacter rodentium. Infection and Immunity, 78(4), 1509-1519. doi:10.1128/iai.00862-09
4. Desbonnet, L., Garrett, L., Clarke, G., Bienenstock, J., & Dinan, T. G. (2008). The probiotic Bifidobacteria infantis: An assessment of potential antidepressant properties in the rat. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 43(2), 164-174.
5. Konturek, P. C., Brzozowski, T., & Konturek, S. J. (2011). Stress and the gut: pathophysiology, clinical consequences, diagnostic approach and treatment options. Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, 62(6), 591-599.
6. Steriade, Mircea. (1996). Arousal: Revisiting the Reticular Activating System. Science, 272(5259), 225.
7. Light, K. C., Grewen, K. M., & Amico, J. A. (2005). More frequent partner hugs and higher oxytocin levels are linked to lower blood pressure and heart rate in premenopausal women. Biological Psychology, 69(1), 5-21. doi:10.1016/j.biopsycho.2004.11.002
8. Emmons, R. A., & Mccullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology,84(2), 377-389.
9. Field, Tiffany. (2010). Touch for Socioemotional and Physical Well-being: A Review. Developmental Review, 30(4), 367-383. doi: 10.1016/j.dr.2011.01.001
10. Mccullough, M. E., Emmons, R. A., & Tsang, J. (2002). The grateful disposition: A conceptual and empirical topography. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,82(1), 112-127.
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.