Self-Care: A Blend of Physical and Mental Fitness - by GUEST WRITER Sheila Olson
Too many people equate self-care with self-indulgence — for example, curling up on the couch in pajamas to binge watch Netflix shows and munch Doritos. And the idea that you must sacrifice sleep and downtime while pushing yourself harder to get a bigger reward often backfires.
When your workload triples, you’re managing the household, or the calendar overflows, what happens? You start skipping the gym, meals, and dates with friends. But those activities aren’t self-indulgences; rather, they’re about self-care and usually sacrificed first, which only worsens those stressed, overwhelmed, and negative feelings.
Exercise is a great stress-reliever which helps to manage mental health, especially for people in addiction recovery. Stress is the leading cause of relapse into drug abuse and smoking, so making the time for fitness is critical. Still not convinced? Check out this list of 25 science-backed ways to change your life by taking better care of yourself.
A misconception about fitness is that it only refers to being physically fit. But it’s important to be mentally fit, too. Many experts talk about the mind-body connection—mindfulness—because your mental and physical health affect each other. Mindfulness focuses on being more “in the moment,” rather than obsessing (or stressing) over the past or worrying about the future. Since it’s a type of meditation that you can do whenever, wherever, or for however long you have, it’s a good practice to incorporate into your daily routine. Helpguide.org, a guide to mental and emotional health, offers more information about the benefits of mindfulness.
Ways fitness and self-care can reduce stress
Get enough sleep. Researchers have identified sleep deprivation as a major source of stress and fuel for negativity and frustration. Your body (and mind) benefit from the proper amount of sleep which positively affects pain management, weight control, risk of injury, and even emotional regulation.
Make the time to eat well. A poor diet exacerbates stress, which then becomes a vicious circle because stress makes it harder to maintain a healthy diet. But proper nutrition plays a critical role in reducing stress.
Exercise regularly. Exercise provides natural stress relief. Whether you’re hitting the gym, going for a run after work, or playing with the kids, physical exertion triggers your pituitary gland to release endorphins, which increase your overall feeling of well-being.
Hang out with friends. Building a tribe—a social circle of people who “get” you—creates another buffer against stress. Friends provide a pick-me-up when you’re sad, companionship when you’re lonely, and an excuse to do something fun.
Cultivate a hobby. Hobbies provide diversions from everyday stresses, so whether you enjoy gardening, love Legos as much as your kids, or think you could give the next Iron Chef a run for his money, find and incorporate something you enjoy into your fitness routine.
Laugh. Madeleine L’Engle said, “A good laugh heals a lot of hurts,” and she was right. Laughter’s effects are immediate. Your body increases its oxygen intake, which feeds the heart and lungs, increases your heart rate and blood pressure, and releases endorphins. Laughing also increases blood circulation which relaxes your body’s muscles. So find a humorous podcast to listen to on the way to work. Plan game nights with family and friends. Choose a partner and friends with good senses of humor.
Meditation. Again, this is truly an incredible way to reduce stress and boost mindfulness, especially because meditation can be done anywhere at anytime, though a quiet space in your home is ideal. If you’re not sure how to get started with meditation, look for some online exercises or check out some books from the library. If you have the time, consider taking a class.
Protect your schedule
Is it all too easy to skip that spin class because you’re tired after a long day of work? Or did you cancel that massage (again) because there’s just too much to do and you know you’d feel guilty if you’re enjoying yourself when there’s work to be done? If so, then you need to protect your schedule.
Add empty events to your calendar to account for tasks that might take longer than anticipated. Schedule downtime for your hobbies and things you enjoy. Add in that yoga class and Tuesday evening walk after dinner with your neighbor. Do all you can to defend that time.
If you’re worried that you can’t spare hours each week to exercise, start small. Maybe it’s a 10-minute run before work or an hour weeding in the garden on the weekend. Gradually build in more time until fitness (mental and physical) becomes a habit and part of your daily routine.
Remember that self-care:
- Keeps you from burning out and overloading
- Reduces the negative effects of stress
- Helps you to refocus
- Benefits not just you, but those who depend on you
When you’re feeling better, relaxed, in control, and less stressed, you’ll be a happier partner, parent, colleague, and friend. So make sure to schedule time for self-care.
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