When you hear the words “self-care,” you might think of someone treating themselves to a day at the spa, or indulging in a luxurious vacation away from work. That is not what it signifies. Self-care is not indulgence, nor is it drudgery. Rather, it means actively taking measures- big or small - that help refuel and contribute to well-being. In other words, it is an investment in one’s overall health. True wellness includes the physical, emotional, spiritual, mental, and social aspects of life. If one area is neglected or abused, a person is not in genuinely good condition. (For example, a great athlete who runs 10 miles a day but drinks excessive amounts of alcohol in quarantine is not really “living well.”)
Right now, we have great news that the coronavirus vaccines are on their way, but winter is upon us and we still need to lead socially distant lifestyles in the meantime. Threat of illness, unemployment, remote learning, and loneliness are some of the problems facing us collectively in these dreary winter months. In many of the patients I have treated during pandemic, feelings of depression and anxiety, poor habits with diet, work and exercise, and a lack of social interaction have caused many to lose the routines that once kept them feeling whole and happy. Now, ahead of winter doldrums, is the time to think things over and address some areas that could use improvement. What unhealthy habits do you want to give up? What steps might you take to care for yourself in a better way? Self-care practices incorporated right now will be easier to maintain over the next few months. Have a look at the following and ask yourself if you need to make some changes.
Physical- Are you sleeping enough? Eating a nutritious diet? Drinking too much alcohol? Addressing your injuries or illnesses? Do you have a regular exercise regimen? Do you keep your doctor appointments and take your medications/supplements as prescribed? Are you depleted from overwork? Good self-care might be making sure you sleep at least 7-8 hours every night. Or seeing your acupuncturist for that nagging back pain! Or taking a brisk walk each day outdoors, despite the weather, and so on.
Emotional- Do you feel depressed or anxious? Do you have a healthy way of expressing your emotions? Do you bottle up your feelings? Do you know how to say “no” to toxic people who drain your energy? Emotional imbalances like anxiety and depression may be addressed through acupuncture, and I have been treating them constantly for the past several months. Psychotherapy has never been more in demand, and it is a welcome way to reframe and rework problems and behaviors. Meditation is a great tool to develop equanimity, and many online classes (e.g., NY Insight Meditation Center, nyimc.org) or apps like Headspace and Calm can teach you the basics.
Social- Humans are social creatures and even introverts need social contact. Are you connecting with people regularly during this isolating time? Even without all the options we are used to, we still need to find ways to interact with others, whether it’s socially distant visits with loved ones, online groups through which we meet new people, or zooming with friends to keep those relationships going.
Mental- Are you getting enough mental/intellectual stimulation? Reading negative news may foster a bad frame of mind. Engaging in positive self-talk and mental stimulation (books, puzzles, online classes, etc.)not only benefits your brain, but is uplifting.
Spiritual- This is perhaps the most overlooked aspect of health, but one that can transcend all others. Learning how to meditate and maintaining a spiritual practice (not necessarily religious) can elevate overall well-being and bring you a greater sense of meaning and purpose.
Exercising self-care does not need to be monumental (it might be as simple as going to bed 30 minutes earlier), but it may require some planning. Each person has his or her own unique strategy. Eliminate what is not serving you. And remember to do something that uplifts and relaxes you every single day, for your own good.