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Self-Care: The Importance of Managing Stress

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Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

Published in the Humboldt Independent on September 22, 2020 

Taking time for ourselves can be a radical idea in a society that puts a premium on efficiency and production. We are indoctrinated with ideas about life from an early age, and the opinions of others often inform our inner voices. Self-care is a concept that many people struggle with, but it is more than a social media buzz term revived from the bygone era of peace and love. It’s essential that we take time for ourselves, and I don’t mean binge-watching Netflix, to restore essential balance in our health and work toward lasting personal well-being.

Why is self-care so important?

The human body and mind are an interconnected and complex series of systems that control how well we function. Like any machine we require maintenance, but while this expectation is normal when it comes to taking care of our houses and cars, applying the same logic to our bodies carries negative societal implications. We don’t want to be seen as too selfish with our time, over-indulgent, or weak, and we place a high value on how others perceive us. Every person’s body has requirements to function properly and while we can deny reality for a while, there are shared truths when it comes to certain things that are universally good and bad for us.

“Life is stressful, deal with it.”

Stress can kill brain cells, prevent their development, and have been directly linked to depression and anxiety

This is a statement we’ve all heard some version of growing up or later in life. A well-meaning adult or peer implying we need to develop a thicker skin to deal with the realities of the world. The problem with this idea is a fundamental lack of understanding when it comes to the physiological and biological realities of stress. Stress causes chemical reactions inside us that would have been very helpful back when we were hunting and gathering, but is far less beneficial in the modern office or home environment.

Stress stimulates our body’s adrenal glands to produce adrenaline. This raises our heart rates, blood pressure, and increases the level of sugar in our blood. When these things become normal in our day-to-day lives they become destructive to our bodies and can have negative long-term effects. As adults, our brain cells grow more slowly, something that is permitted in a calm environment. Stress can kill brain cells, prevent their development, have been directly linked to depression and anxiety, and have been shown to have a negative effect on our immune systems.

According to a 2019 Gallup Poll, Americans are among the most stressed-out people in the world, with 55% reporting that they experience stress daily. That is 20% higher than the world average of 35%. While it may be impossible to completely eliminate the inevitable stress in our lives, there are steps we can take to counteract and minimize the impact of that stress on our bodies. This is where the ideology of self-care comes to the rescue. There’s a saying that goes, “you can do anything for five minutes,” now take a look at your average day and try to find five to ten minutes you can set aside to start your new stress-reduction journey.

Self-care tips

Self-care can take many forms, from sensory things like cuddling under a soft blanket, to the more classic spiritual practices of mindfulness and meditation. There’s no right answer for everyone that will work with every lifestyle. I’ve provided some ideas to get you started, but everyone is different, so keep trying until you find something that works for you. If you need more guidance you can schedule an appointment with a counselor or therapist to talk about your stress and get specific and professional ideas to help you find balance.

  1. Get active: exercise and physical activity help create endorphins and other natural neural chemicals that improve your sense of well-being and refocus your mind to help improve your mood. The local gym might not be an option depending on current COVID restrictions and your health, but there are a ton of simple and quick home work-outs you can follow along with on YouTube, or you can choose something outside like going for a walk, swimming, or gardening.
  2. Laugh more: While laughter may not be the best medicine for curing all ailments when it comes to dealing with stress, it is actually a simple and effective remedy, even if you have to start with a fake laugh. Laughing can change your body in a positive way by lightening your mental load. Read a joke book, watch a comedy routine, or arrange a Zoom meet-up with your funniest friends. You can even try laughter yoga, it’s a real thing!
  3. Music medicine: Playing an instrument or listening to your favorite songs can help minimize stress three-fold. It’s a great mental distraction, reduces muscle tension, and lowers your stress hormone. So bust out your record or CD collection, subscribe to a music streaming service, or brush up on playing an instrument.
  4. Re-write your sleep routine: When we sleep our brain and bodies re-charge, but stress can make getting to sleep and staying asleep a challenge. The hours we sleep and how good that sleep is can affect mood, concentration, energy level, and overall functioning. Cultivate a quiet and relaxing bed-time routine by placing a limit on TV and cell phone time before bed, putting clocks where you can’t see them, and sticking to a consistent schedule.

Remy Quinn, submitted on behalf of the SoHum Health’s Outreach department.