Self-Care - An essential part of surviving and thriving

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Dr Ottilia Brown

Self-Care - An essential part of surviving and thriving

Posted 08 Jun 2020

Wellness Coach

Dr. Ottilia Brown

Self-Care - An essential part of surviving and thriving

We are adapting to a life of social distancing, bearing in mind that this was not a gradual process. One minute we were doing ‘normal’ life and the next our schools were closed, and our jobs moved home. For some us this adaptation included losing a job or working decreased hours and hence facing financial constraints in addition to the ongoing uncertainty of when this will be over.

Our sympathetic nervous systems, the part of our bodies that responds to stress and danger, is on high alert. This activated state of being is not good for our immune functioning. When we perceive danger, our brains send signals to various complex systems in our nervous system which activates a series of reactions that enable us to stay safe in dangerous, threatening or crisis situations. Our pupils dilate, our heart rate increases, we breath rapidly and blood flows away from various parts of our body, like the digestive and excretory systems to our muscles for example, to prepare us to respond to the perceived threat. Our adrenal glands produce stress hormones like adrenalin and cortisol which help in the short term with responding to stress. However, cortisol produced over prolonged periods negatively affect immune functioning which can lead to more inflammation. Stress also decreases the white blood cells in our bodies that fight off infection thereby exposing us to the risk of contracting viruses.

High stress levels can cause depression and anxiety both of which has been shown to weaken immune functioning. Loneliness and social isolation, both of which are prevalent during COVID-19, have also been found to weaken immunity. It is therefore so important to learn how to activate the parasympathetic nervous system which amongst its many functions also acts to dampen the activity of the sympathetic nervous system thus introducing a feeling of calm and most importantly can aid in letting the sympathetic nervous system know that it can take a break from being in fight/flight/freeze mode.

Now you may be thinking what that has to do with self-care? Self-care, often viewed as self-indulgent, selfish, expensive and a luxury is more essential now than ever. Why? Key self-care activities can activate the parasympathetic nervous system. Given how busy we all are juggling new demands and schedules, self-care may have been one the first things to go out of the proverbial window. In addition, previous self-care practices may no longer be accessible to us due to COVID-19 related restrictions. A lot of the things that ground me like running, the gym, socialising, in-person connecting with the special people in my life, working in my favourite coffee spots and so forth are difficult or impossible to do at the moment. Let’s just say I’ve had to get creative and reframe and reinvent some of my self-care routine. I offer some suggestions that may be useful and encourage you to actively reinvest in your self-care:

Biorhythms: The basics remain and are the most important foundations for self-care. Sleep rhythms and appetite rhythms regulate our day, and our behaviour. Make sure these are intact despite the upheaval of the current situation. If they were not intact pre-COVID-19, you may want to think about regulating them now to benefit your immune system and calm your flight/fight/freeze response. Go to bed and wake at the same time every day, and schedule mealtimes.

Move your body: Exercise, especially high intensity exercise can really regulate the stress response. Exercise is also proven to improve immune functioning. At least 30 minutes a day is good to aim for, but I always say something is better than nothing… if you don’t have 30 minutes, do what you can. Put on your favourite song and dance, do a 15-minute YouTube power yoga session, run, play a physical game with your children… anything!

Rhythmic or repetitive movements: Meditative breathing, meditating with beads, playing with beads in a rhythmic fashion while doing something else like watching TV, knitting, kneading dough, sewing and embroidering, playing with clay or play dough, painting, walking, running, skipping rope, and colouring are just some examples of rhythmic activities which could aid in activating the parasympathetic nervous system.

Grounding:  Grounding techniques help distract from stress and anxiety and facilitates refocusing on the present moment. Time in nature can be very grounding, walk barefoot on grass or beach sand… contact the earth and focus your attention on that contact. Use your senses… pleasant smells and using the breath to really focus on these smells can be grounding. Drink your favourite hot drink and sip slowly, really tasting it and enjoying the sensation of the flavour on your mouth. Cover yourself with a weighted blanket and focus on the sensations of comfort. Listen to comforting music or music that encourages you to move and to focus on the movements and rhythms of your body. Look at photographs of memories that tend to spark joy or other pleasant emotions. Have a long shower or soak in the tub and immerse yourself in the sensations of the water on your body and the smell of the products you are using.

Engage in pleasurable activities: Ask a friend or partner to give you a massage. Watch your favourite comedy show/movie or stand-up comedian and have a good laugh. Try colouring in a mandala colouring book. If you enjoy creative activities, resurrect these interests and immerse yourself getting lost in the pleasure of creating. Call a friend and talk about something completely unrelated to COVID-19… just focus on connecting. Play card and board games or online games, organise online quiz nights and make it a fun communal activity. 

Boundaries: Find a space where you can feel like you are leaving the house. Discuss this openly in the family/couple so that everyone can identify their space to retreat to. This can be difficult to achieve in small spaces, hence respecting one another’s boundaries is very important. Make your retreat space a haven… light a scented candle, have your favourite books, cushions or anything that is comforting for you available in the space. Separate work and living spaces and avoid moving your ‘office’ around the house. Try to incorporate a ‘driving home from work’ ritual into the end of your workday which could symbolise transitioning into your ‘after work’ life.

I offer a few ideas in this piece but encourage you to explore as the internet is flooded with a myriad of wonderful ideas. Many are offering free meditations and other self-care activities online, make use of these gifts. Wishing you well as we socially distance and do our part to stay safe.

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2 people have commented this blog.

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Muhammad

Muhammad says:

3 months 6 days ago
I like this one dear. Very important we practise your advice for long, healthy life.
Dr Ottilia Brown

Dr Ottilia Brown says:

3 months 4 days ago
Dear Muhammad. I'm pleased this piece appealed to you. I hope you will reap the benefits of implementing the suggestions. Wishing you health, Ottilia
Delalia

Delalia says:

3 months 1 week ago
Dear Dr. Brown, I read all of your articles on this platform and extract so much helpful advice from them. This one on self-care is so important although I must admit not easy to apply when I'm feeling anxious. I know if I move and exercise I'll feel better but more often than not, I find it hard to get the energy to even do that.
Dr Ottilia Brown

Dr Ottilia Brown says:

3 months 4 days ago
Dear Delalia. I am so happy that the articles have been helpful for you. It can be so difficult to find the energy to do something when we are not feeling good even when we know that it will help. It may be helpful to start with smaller goals of movement and to think about how you are defining movement and exercise in your life right now if these definitions are serving or hampering you? Sometimes the ideas we have about movement can get in the way of even doing 5 min of something that could help us feel better. Wishing you well Delalia. Warm regards, Ottilia

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