The Ins and Outs of Self Care

The Ins and Outs of Self Care

You may have heard the concept of ‘self-care’ being bandied about but what does that really mean? Yes, we understand the basic principle of self-care however how can it be put into practice, do we need it and honestly, how can it help?

Life can be hectic, taking a toll on our physical and mental health. We all suffer from stress, pressure and the need to meet expectation yet constant stress uses up our adrenaline and cortisol leaving our energy and resilience levels low. Lack of time for ourselves and quiet can make us irritable, impact out interactions with friends and family and make us less productive.

Even though I am a doctor and therefore ought to be aware of how to ‘look after myself’ it can be incredibly difficult to implement changes that may be ‘good for us’. Everyone experiences stress differently meaning forms of management can be different for everyone.

When it comes to self-care, it is undoubtedly a very personal issue, only you can know when you are running low or struggling. Therefore to begin with, in the first noticeable instance, make a note of what keeps coming up so the ability to tackle this stressor is maximised.

However, until these stressors can be identified and acted upon, here I will give you a few tips that I have found useful for me and my family. These are tiny baby steps that each member of my family has used to make a little more space and positivity in our lives and that enhance our overall well-being.

I am a firm believer in taking responsibility for your health and wellbeing, being your own advocate and taking control when things feel like they are running riot.

Tip 1 – Reframe things in your mind

I have been known to grumble at getting up in the morning to prepare my daughter’s breakfast. Sometimes working a late shift provides even less incentive to do so, making a lie in way more attractive. Historically, I felt duty bound to make breakfast as the guilt would slowly creep in if I didn’t. This then manifested in me being grumpy and snippy with my daughter.

After attending some training on improving happiness and cognitive behavioural therapy, I decided to try the concept of ‘reframing the situation’. This simply made me change my way of thinking to, the decision to get up and make breakfast for my child is mine. I could do it with grace or grumpiness. I thought about how much I would miss her when she leaves home and how I will miss seeing her in the morning. Just thinking about the situation in this way has made me positively jolly about getting her breakfast in the morning. It is small isn’t it, nothing medically ground breaking, but it makes my life (and by default the rest of my family’s lives) better.

Tip 2 – Take ownership of your health

I have recently lost some very dear friends to cancer and see people daily who struggle with illness. We don’t have control over many aspects of our health, but we are fortunate enough to have some tools in our armoury.

I was spurred into action by the loss of my friends, I had my cervical smear, colonoscopy (as I was aware of my strong family history of colon cancer), general blood tests and a mammogram. You do have a responsibility to yourself and your loved ones to look after yourself and to me, this was my way of doing so. Don’t put it off if you know there is a susceptibility towards an illness in your family, see your doctor and modify your risk.

If you are smoking, maybe consider for a moment if this is something you might try to stop this year. If your diet and weight are putting you at increased risk of cardiac events or diabetes, what might motivate you to change your lifestyle? Figuring out your motivation, sticking to it and taking responsibility for yourself is important for you and you alone. Be it wanting to get into an item of clothing, or so you can be around for your kids, find your motivation and stick with it.

Tip 3 – Technology

I despair at the time my daughter wastes on her phone. If she just studied half as much she would be a genius. I am being facetious – there is increasing evidence that social media and being exposed to the constant stream of Instagram, Snapchat, trolling, comparing and selfying puts our children’s mental health at risk.

I have seen the highs and lows of it in my own child. When it comes to studying and phones, my daughter recently showed me an app called Forest, where she can decide the length of time the app is active so that her phone is inaccessible to her friends and herself. She sets herself targets, gets rewarded by the app, she has taken control of time spent off the phone and in doing so does something constructive. However, I can’t help but think, is this where we are now when it comes to technology? Are we that immersed? I think this realisation is one of the hardest, as once we can get there, break away and give our minds a break, we really are helping our own mental health. Try it, I dare you!

Tip 4 – Exercise

It is old news but it’s true. There is no arguing the evidence in favour of exercise in terms of improving health outcomes in so many parameters. Exercise is used to improve outcomes after a heart attack or breast cancer, to improve mood disorders or stave off immobility and pain brought on by osteoarthritis. The science is there, this is proven, however somehow we all know that come what may there is just not enough time in a day to get everything done.

I don’t have much spare time in my life, however I choose to stick on my headphones, listen to podcasts and jog everywhere. I put on my rucksack, pack light and change for work or dinner when I arrive. My friends think I’m a bit odd (and probably sweaty) but it makes me feel relaxed. I solve problems in my mind as I go and love running past stationary buses and traffic jams. My husband is a walker, if he is stressed he gets out of the house and walks, day or night.

The thing with finding the time is that you need to find your niche. When you find exercise that you enjoy, you are more likely to want to do it and therefore more likely to find time for it. Find your thing and go for it!

These are the small self-care efforts we make in our house. It is about taking charge of your wellbeing and actively finding a bit of peace and positivity, the act of taking control and participating in your own sense of wellness is very empowering.

Dr Christina Eustace
Private GP