By Kristen Crusoe RN MN EdD
February is Heart Month, and what a good time to think about and pay attention to our hearts. Self-care is essential for a healthy heart, both the physical and emotional elements.
Bringing health and healing to our hearts, physically and emotionally.
I have been thinking about how important self-care is and especially now, during this ongoing pandemic, with the persistent stressors we are all feeling. Chronic stress can lead to adrenal fatigue, mental and physical exhaustion. Our bodies are not designed to sustain a fight, flight, or freeze reaction. Long-term chronic stress floods our bodies with the hormone cortisol, meant for only short-term actions. Even if we are a glass half-full, optimistic person, we can be worn down by these constant stressors. And, this status of chronic stress can lead to heart problems. Dysrhythmias, infarctions, feelings of sadness, helplessness, and hopelessness, are interconnected in many ways. Broken-heart Syndrome (Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy) is real and has both emotional and physical implications. And, although historically it has occurred primarily in women, it is a risk for all humans suffering extreme stress.
So let’s talk about self-care and how we can shift our reactions of fight, flight, or freeze, to a more adaptive response that supports our health, holistically. Self-care goes beyond the occasional mani-pedi or massage. While these are great self-care examples of taking time for ourselves, in order to reap the substantial benefits of self-care, we need to make a consistent commitment and expand our routines focused on caring for ourselves to nourish all levels of our being.
What is a self-care routine?
First, let’s define what self-care means. As a holistic health coach from The Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN), I recognize that self-care is an activity that nurtures and refuels us at a deep level. The definition for self-care is multifaceted.
Each of us has many sides that make us whole. We have our:
- Physical body
- Emotional and mental state
- Spiritual beliefs
- Relationships to self and others
- Meaningful work
Let’s look at each of these and see how we can bring self-care practices to nourish each of these facets of our lives.
First, we need sleep, a healthy diet, daily outdoor time, regular physical activity, and daily hygiene. We can take each of these and find ways that work best for each of our lives, busy schedules, and available resources. You can improve your self-care routine by eating more fruits and vegetables and drinking more water as a good step to begin a healthier diet. Outdoor time and physical activity may involve a walk around the block, or work in the garden, or some yoga or other activity on the deck. Whatever works! We are bio-individuals and what works best for one person may not be beneficial at all for another. Find your best practice to nourish your physical body.
Sleep may be difficult due to the worried mind not being able to settle down. Finding a sleep hygiene practice that leads to a deeper state of relaxation at bedtime is important. Turning off screens at least an hour before bed, a warm bath, something comforting to eat, or a warm drink. Listening to sleep music, or sounds such as ocean waves or rain may also be helpful to turn off the mental chatter so sleep can come. There is strong evidence that the light emitted from an E- Reader can interfere with melatonin production and cause sleep disturbances. There are ways we can reduce this effect and I do encourage you to check these out and apply the ones you find useful. Ideally, limiting all screen time up to two hours prior to sleep time is advised. Check out this advice on Dealing With Lack of Sleep.
Emotional and mental state
Laughter is good medicine for stress and it can come from many sources. Comedy shows, watching funny videos, especially of animals can bring joy. Telling stories with friends and family, remembering happy times together is also a good way to bring laughter and joy into our lives. At the same time, crying can be a good release. Don’t fight back tears if they need to come. If the heart needs to cry, then just find a quiet place, a good friend or other support, and let it happen. Loving is a way to help us out of our own sadness and despair. This is not romantic love, but love that captures our sense of togetherness and connection with others. Like James Taylor sang, “Shower the people you love with love” …
Nature walks, religious practices, free writing, meditation, and prayer help us find a different perspective, to get out of our usual mental frame. Finding gratitude in our hearts for our blessings, however small can bring a sense of peace. Creating time just to be, without doing, offers us a place to connect deeply with our inner self.
Relationship to self
Keeping a daily journal, writing about anything that comes up is helpful. Engaging all of our senses through aromatherapy, pet therapy, music, art, yoga and dance, cooking, any ways we can find to feel, smell, hear, taste, and see beauty around us. Creating a vision board, imaging a future that is safe and well, in which we know and are at peace, have joy, and love for ourselves and others, creates positive emotions. And when we find ourselves in negative self-talk, shift towards positive self-talk. Reframing, so that a problem becomes a possibility. Celebrate our successes, however small. The acorn becomes the oak tree.
Relationship to others
Finding time to engage with others, even if only virtually, is essential. Telephone, face time, Zoom, Skype, however we can do it. Check in and connect, daily with family, friends, or as a volunteer.
Relationship to Work
We may be working differently or perhaps not working now at all, due to the consequences of Covid 19. We can find ways to engage in meaningful activities, that feed our self-worth, and most importantly, serve others. Maybe we can take an online course, or read the books we have wanted to read for so long. Finding ways to be creative through asking positive questions, those “What if…” questions can open doors to hope and inspiration. It is about creating new patterns when old ones no longer fit into our lives.
In the realm of self-care, the options are limitless. The key is to identify which areas of our lives that need attention and engage in activities that support us on a regular basis. And these may change over time. Being self-aware, advocating for ourselves, in a healthy, holistic way will help decrease stress, increase a sense of well-being, and improve our overall health. Paying attention to what nourishes us in mind, body, and spirit will help sustain us through these challenging times.
What to eat this week?
When I feel stress or discomfort, I love to eat thick, rich, soups. My favorite this week is split pea. Peas are powerhouses of nutrition and the creamy, tasty broth is so comforting. I add potatoes, carrots, and tomatoes to my pea soup, which not only adds flavor and nutrition, but also color. Another favorite soup this time of year, as the temperatures drop, is minestrone. Thick with vegetables, tomato sauce, and whole wheat pasta, it can be a full meal, especially if we add a bit of polenta for sustenance.
Yours in health,
Kristen Crusoe RN MN EdD, Health Coach, is a consultant with Elderwise Inc. From a health coach perspective, Kristen shares advice about holistic health and how we can live our fullest lives, now and into our preferred futures.