Self-care is a phrase that up until this year, I had never heard before. Now in the space of less than a month I have seen it pop up on several blogs that I follow, and it’s also popped up in a few of the conversations I’ve had in the real world. It is not a new concept for me, however, but this new phrasing somehow makes it feel more important than when I would hear “You need to take care of your self.” I have always had trouble with taking time out for self-care, likely because of my low self esteem, but thanks to all the advice that I’ve been receiving, both personally and en mass, I’ve made a real effort over the last week to take that time for myself, and at the end of this post I’ll share with you what I’ve found out.
Before we get there though, let’s do a little research. What exactly is self-care? GoodTherapy.org defines it as follows:
The term self-care describes the actions that an individual might take in order to reach optimal physical and mental health. Mental health professionals often use the term self-care to refer to one’s ability to take care of the activities of daily living, or ADLs, such as feeding oneself, showering, brushing one’s teeth, wearing clean clothes, and attending to medical concerns. Physical self-care, such as sleep and exercise, is also an ADL.
Self-care can also refer to activities that an individual engages in to relax or attain emotional well-being, such as meditating, journaling, or visiting a counselor. Because an extended failure to care for one’s self can result in illness or hospitalization, individuals who find themselves unable to take care of their own needs may find it helpful to speak to a therapist.
I don’t know about you, but the idea of having to be hospitalized because you have neglected yourself seems strange to me, despite the fact that often when I’m manic I will forget to eat or drink anything, sometimes for more than twenty four hours, and I get crazy amounts of insomnia. I know these things are important, but they always seem so irrelevant to what I’m doing in the moment. Reading this made me take a closer look at what I’m doing to myself however, and I wanted to know more about what I am doing to my body. So I did some research.
Well, I found a YouTube channel called AsapScience that has a separate video for each of these things. You can click here to watch the one about what happens if you stop eating. Basically, for the first six hours your body functions normally, breaking down the glycogen in your blood into glucose to fuel your brain and provide nutrients to other parts of your body, but after that your supply of glycogen runs out and you have to start using your fat to survive, which can be bad because your brain can only get 75% of it’s energy this way.
This link will take you to their video about what happens when you stop drinking water. Apparently your brain actually shrink when you become dehydrated, and according to Shape.com the effects of mild dehydration set in as little as four to eight hours after you stop drinking. So this means that at six hours of not eating or drinking anything your brain is running at only 75% capacity and shriveling up inside your skull. I’m betting that makes it a lot harder to process things and make intelligent decisions.
So what happens when you add sleep deprivation to all of this? Well, AsapScience’s video here says that after your first sleepless night your dopamine levels increase, which can lead to increased energy, positivity, and sex drive, which seems like it would be a good thing, but your brain also gradually shuts off the regions that control reasoning and impulses, which means that again you are leaving yourself open to acting irresponsibly or irrationaly.
So between all of these factors, I imagine that my brain is only operating at about twenty five to fifty percent of it’s capacity when I neglect these three important things, and it happens surprisingly quickly when you add all these factors together. Wow. I want to take a nap just thinking about that. I want to be clear, though, that I’m not saying don’t fast ever, or never pull an all nighter. When you do it once in a while it won’t lead to any long term effects. Just don’t do what I did and forgo all three for two or more days in a row. I know that from now on, I’ll be paying more attention to this aspect of self-care.
On the other side of the self-care spectrum is taking time out for your emotional wellbeing. Thinking about it I realize that neglecting this can also wind up with being hospitalized, because if you don’t take time out to do the things that you love doing you can end up depressed, and even suicidal. This one is easy for me on the one hand because I am always reading or watching TV, but it can be hard not to feel selfish and lazy for indulging in these things, particularly because of the issues I have with other areas of self care like preforming household chores, and even just making sure I shower every day.
So how can you teach yourself to take this time out for emotional and mental health without feeling guilty? Well, for my part the first step is not to over indulge. If like me you find yourself watching more than five hours of TV per day, or reading a three hundred page book from start to finish in one sitting, it’s time to take a look at the other things in your life that need your attention. Don’t let them overwhelm you though, because it can be easy to go the other way, too, and this can be especially difficult for parents. Try and remember that you are no good to anybody if you burn yourself out by trying to do everything for your kids, and that it’s also important for your children to see you taking care of yourself so that they can develop healthy attitudes toward self-care as well.
So how do you go about setting up healthy habits with regards to self-care? How much time should you devote to the different aspects of this important practice, so that you’re not burning out, or slacking off? Well, there’s no easy answer, because everyone has different needs and responsibilities, but here’s what I found in my online research.
According to most of the articles I’ve found that actually list an amount of time that you should spend on relaxation, seven hours is the minimum requirement for health and happiness. This seems absurd to me. How on earth are you supposed to fit seven hours of doing nothing important in your day? I know, I know, I did just tell you that I routinely spend five hours a day watching television, and in fact that’s a low ball estimate, but I am a notorious multitasker. I am never just doing one thing. I’ve been know to have the TV going while I eat, research, and write, all at the same time, and sometimes I add music to the list if I’m trying to come up with a Pandora station or iTunes playlist that fits the personality of one of my characters. My deadlines may be self imposed at this point, but they are very real to me and I am in a big hurry to meet them.
Still in the spirit of better understanding I’m going to take a look at what I think a day should consist of and compare it to the alarming number I’ve just quoted to you. Ok, so I know I am supposed to have eight hours of sleep, and I try to make sure I work on some aspect of my books or my blog for eight hours as well, so of the twenty four hours available that leaves eight hours. Ok, it’s starting to feel a little more reasonable to spend seven of those taking time for relaxing. According to the article that I mentioned at the start of this post, which you can access via this link, you should spend between 75 and 150 minutes exercising per week, which boils down to 10.7 to 21.4 minutes per day. Alright, we’re still in the green zone, if only just, but how much of that time would be taken up if I actually did my chores I wonder. Well, if I did them more regularly I could probably get away with just doing 35-50 minutes per day. Wow, this actually seems doable.
So why don’t I feel like I have time to take care of, or enjoy myself the way that I should? After working dillegently on only a few self-care items throuought the week last week I have an answer. Anxiety. I spend so much time feeling anxious about the things that I don’t feel like I have time for that, frankly, I don’t have time for them! I caught myself refreshing my stats on WordPress every five minutes or so for more than an hour last week. That’s just stupid. During that time I was stressing over the fact that no one had clicked like, or “visited” my post I could have literally been doing anything else and it would have affected it the same amount. I wasn’t influencing the outcome one way or another by sitting there stressing, I was simply wasing my precious time.
When I came to that conclusion, I decided that from now on when I start feeling anxiety I’m going to do something else. I started going on my walk, like I promised my husband I would, I would publish my post, and then go brush my teeth, or shave my legs. I shower every day now, and even this little bit is helping me to feel more positive, and productive, not to mention my social anxiety and OCD are feeling better about the possibility of leaving the house.
Now I’m not saying that this tactic will work for everyone, but I encourage all of you, if you feel like there is no possible way you can take seven hours of your day to just enjoy life, sit down and make a list. Chart out how much time you have available, and you might be surprised, like I was, at how much time you actually do have. Also please feel free to share your own tips on what you do to manage your self-care in the comments here, or share a link to other articles on the subject that you’ve found helpful, or written yourself.
Really quick, before I let you go back to your lives, I’d also like to share a resource I found while researching today. It’s called You Feel Like Shit: an Interactive Self-Care Guide. I tried it out, and I love it. If you’re feeling down, or anxious about something specific, or even if you just feel crappy and you don’t know why, I highly recommend giving this a shot. Have a wonderful day, people, and remember to take care of yourself!