Self-care is the best medicine for managing stress."
Self-care is the best medicine for managing stress. Indeed, it may be the only medicine for managing stress. Stress builds up as you move through the world. Bills to pay, mouths to feed, dreams to follow, bodily functions to manage, relationships to nourish, world news to process, social activism to make the world a kinder place—life is stressful! Even the joyous events, such as the arrival of a new baby or a wedding or a bucket list vacation, can lead to stress.
And stress, that feeling of emotional or physical tension that comes from thinking about or experiencing the challenges and demands of life, is linked to the leading causes of disease and death. It is more than worth it to take care of yourself, find a healthy work-life balance, and discover coping strategies that work for you. And, luckily, there are many self-care strategies to increase your health and well-being.
The Cons of Stress
Stress can take its toll. Stress and anxiety have been found to be the causes of several life-altering diseases. Although the relationship between stress and illness is complex, and the susceptibility to stress varies greatly from person to person, studies show that chronic stress has a big impact on the immune system. Heart disease, the common cold, weight gain, depression, ulcers, and type 2 diabetes are all linked to stress. Also, people who are stressed out tend to eat, drink, and smoke more, and sleep and exercise less; these tendencies have negative consequences for your long-term health.
The Pros of Stress
That being said, some stress is beneficial. There are some types of stress that help you lead a meaningful life. Sometimes life’s challenges allow you to grow stronger, braver, and more tolerant. Believe it or not, there is such a thing as healthy stress. The stress your muscles feel after a strong workout or hike helps them develop and grow. The stress you experience while learning a new skill, starting a new job, experiencing a momentous positive change, or falling in love can be challenging, but this kind of stress is beneficial because it helps you build confidence, know yourself better, and practice living your values. Learning how to manage stress and build up distress tolerance helps lead to overall health and well-being.
Stress Will Always Be a Factor
Managing stress is a lifelong gig. You simply cannot eliminate all of the causes of stress in your life. The kids will still need to get to school. The mortgage will still need to be paid. Unexpected circumstances of being an adult human will arise. Injuries, accidents, and losses of loved ones will occur. Although there are some stressors that can be prevented, life happens. Therefore, stress happens. But there are many ways of managing stress; it does not have to knock you down and out every time. And even if it does, you can learn how to get back up again with less drama and fanfare.
What Not to Do
Some people choose to cope with stress in unhealthy ways. Alcohol, drugs, and other addictions such as gambling, sex, and shopping are common stress-management tools. Unfortunately, generations have learned the hard way that these choices—often tragically—lead to even more stress.
There are other, healthy stress management options that can help to reduce stress and allow you to ride the waves of life’s stressors with greater ease. Healthy stress reducers, such as exercise, taking time for rest and relaxation, and maintaining social connections, all involve caring for yourself.
What Is Self-Care?
Self-care is simply one of the best medicines for managing stress. Self-care means the daily, weekly, and lifelong behaviors, actions, and thoughts you take to preserve or improve your own long-term health and happiness. Self-care might be ramped up at certain times because it is particularly important during times of stress. Self-care manifests differently for everyone. It will certainly look different for a single mom with two children to take care of herself than it will for someone who lives alone. It will look different for someone who lives in an apartment in the city with three boisterous roommates to take care of himself than it will for someone who lives out in the country on her family farm.
Self-care is not a one-size-fits-all prescription for pedicures and massages and fine food (though these may have their place)! Nor is it permission to spend all your hard-earned savings to treat yourself. Self-care can include most anything that helps you feel good in your body, heart, mind, and spirit. Self-care can save your life!
Considering the necessity of taking care of yourself to manage stress and to maintain health and happiness, try any of the following self-care tips. These can be done once a month, once a week, on another type of consistent basis, or whenever the need arises—though hopefully before the need arises. Think prevention!
1. Take a Bath
Water immersion relaxes your body. Water stimulates your creative center. Toss in some Epsom salts and some essential oils. Read a book, listen to a podcast, or listen to music. Drink something you enjoy. Take the opportunity to do nothing. Bathing helps relieve muscle and joint pain and makes breathing easier. These improvements relax the nervous system and reduce stress symptoms. Don’t have a bathtub? Taking a soothing shower can have similar benefits.
2. Pamper Yourself
What would make your precious physical body feel wonderful? Do something to pamper yourself simply for the sake of physical pleasure and beauty. Take a walk in nature. Get a manicure and pedicure. Get your hair washed and styled to your liking. Get a cleansing facial. When you feel good on the outside, you will feel better on the inside.
3. Go for an Acupuncture Treatment
Acupuncture helps to trigger a positive response in the body, causing an overall sense of well-being and, therefore, will reduce symptoms of stress. Go in for some needling next time you are feeling stressed and see how it goes.
4. Eat Nourishing Foods
When you feel stressed out you may be tempted to reach for the exact opposite foods than what will actually help you feel better. Cookies, candies, and fast food seem like quick fixes when you feel stressed, but in fact, they can wreak havoc on your system. Sugar has been shown to have many detrimental health effects, including threatening your cardiovascular health. And what is already taxed when you experience stress? Your heart. So practice self-care by preparing yourself nourishing whole foods and plenty of fruits and vegetables. Home-cooked meals are almost always healthier and more soul nurturing. The steady supply of energy to your cells from your healthy foods will help you manage life’s challenges with greater ease.
5. Create Personal Phone and Social Media Limits
Sometimes self-care looks like setting clear boundaries around electronics usage. If you come home from work and hop right online, you are not leaving much time or energy for winding down and relaxing and taking time for yourself. Sure, mindless scrolling on social media can be relaxing to a certain extent. But make note of how long you allow yourself to do this. The comparisons, fear of missing out, and advertisements that get unconsciously absorbed into your psyche can clutter your already taxed mind.
Set time limits for yourself for social media, emailing, and online games, and give yourself something else to look forward to when you get offline. Or better yet, turn off your phone for a whole day or weekend. When you put your phone or tablet down you may find that you have time to visit some of the beautiful places or friends that you have been gawking at through pictures. Establishing social media and phone boundaries are good self-care strategies.
6. Practice Self-Compassion
No matter what, go easy on yourself. According to self-compassion researcher Kristin Neff, you can practice self-compassion by “being with” yourself in a compassionate way. Acknowledging the negative thoughts you think about yourself may allow you to let them go and embrace the gentler, kinder, and positive thoughts. Self-compassion is the ultimate practice of self-care—you deserve the many benefits of self-care.
Taking care of yourself is something you do naturally. You look for food when you are hungry. You go to sleep when you are tired. You leave stale relationships and jobs (right??). You already know how to care for yourself. Nonetheless, when you make the effort to intentionally practice self-care and nourish yourself regularly, you can stave off the negative side effects of stress. Carve out some time to devote just for you so that you can manage your sources of stress in a healthy way. When you show up for yourself then you are better able to show up as the best version of yourself for your family, friends, coworkers, community, and the world. You need to be healthy and happy. Please take care of yourself.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health programs.