Each year on July 24, International Self-Care Day is celebrated to recognize self-care as a critical component of health. The International Self-Care Foundation has hosted this day since 2011, choosing July 24 to symbolize the fact that self-care should be honored 24/7, and not just on one designated day throughout the year. While self-care is recognized as important for overall wellbeing, many of us find ourselves letting it fall by the wayside as we try to balance the numerous demands of life. Over time, this can lead to burnout and other negative effects. Here, learn when it’s time to practice self-care to prevent stress from taking a toll on your health.
Why Practice Self-Care
Self-care has entered the medical and behavioral health arena as a method for preventing diseases like diabetes, stroke, and cancer, as evidence has shown that these chronic health conditions can be prevented when people care for themselves through the adoption of healthy lifestyle habits. As self-care advocates explain, we spend very little time with our doctors, equivalent to about thirty minutes per year, whereas we are responsible for taking care of our own health the majority of our lives.
In our stress-filled lives, self-care has become critically important, and the American Psychological Association has warned of the dangers of chronic stress. When we do not take steps to limit our stress, we are at increased risk of the following:
- Tension headaches
- Back pain
- Worsening of asthma symptoms
- High blood pressure
- Heart attack
- Chronic fatigue
- Immune Disorders
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Decreased sex drive
- Reduced fertility
Based upon the risks that come with chronic stress, self-care has been identified as a method for improving health and wellbeing by helping people to better cope with stress.
Knowing When to Take Time for Self-Care
If you’re feeling burned out, it’s probably time to be more intentional about practicing self-care, before you develop negative consequences from chronic stress. You might be tempted to carry on and be as productive as possible, even in the face of significant stress, but the truth is that you cannot pour from an empty cup.
If you neglect self-care because you think it will make you more successful at work, you’re likely to find that overworking has the opposite effect. Researchers from Harvard University have reported that long hours at work not only increase the risk of stress-related health problems; the effects of overworking are also linked to absenteeism, difficulty communicating with others, and a greater risk of making mistakes.
If you’re feeling burned out at work, or with the responsibilities of life, it’s time to step back and be more intentional about self-care. Some signs of burnout include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Lack of energy
- Sleep problems
- Change in appetite
- Reduced interest in usual activities
- Apathetic attitude toward work
- Feelings of exhaustion
- Reduced productivity
When the symptoms above start to appear, carving out time for self-care can prevent burnout from becoming a chronic problem.Taking time away from work and other responsibilities to care for yourself will actually make you more productive in the long-run, as you’ll be physically and mentally healthier and more present when you’re engaged in work. Once you’ve determined that you’re in need of better self-care practices, it’s important to make self-care a regular part of your routine, rather than just something you do on occasion or when you’re faced with a crisis.
So, what can you do to practice self-care? Consider the strategies below:
- Set Boundaries: Working from home became the norm during the pandemic, and while remote work certainly had its benefits in the midst of stay-at-home orders, it blurred the lines between work and personal time. Some people continue to work from home as the pandemic recedes, but even those who have returned to the office have become so used to working at home that they may continue to remain plugged-in during off-the-clock hours. Setting boundaries, such as not checking email during evenings or weekends, powering off your devices when you’re with your family, and limiting your working time to scheduled hours, is essential for promoting self-care. Separating personal time from work time allows you to relax and recharge your batteries, so you can be more productive when it is time to work.
- Find Movement You Enjoy: Physical activity is a key component of self-care, as it boosts the mood and wards off a number of chronic health conditions, like heart disease and diabetes. Incorporating exercise into your routine doesn’t have to be difficult; in fact, it can be as simple as taking a walk around the neighborhood each night after dinner, or attending a group exercise class three days a week. Whatever you choose, find a physical activity that you enjoy, so that exercise doesn’t feel like a punishment.
- Take Time for Rest: No one performs their best when sleep-deprived and exhausted. Finding time for relaxing activities, such as yoga, meditation, or another activity you enjoy is another form of self-care. Similarly, prioritizing healthy sleep and establishing a regular sleep schedule allows your body the rest it needs so you can feel your best.
- Nourish Your Body: Healthy nutrition is also an essential component of self-care. Eating a diet that is rich in nutrients provides the body with fuel and prevents chronic diseases. This doesn’t mean you have to avoid your favorite foods or deprive yourself of the occasional treat, but it does require that you make a commitment to eating a balanced diet that is rich in healthy foods, including whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein sources, and low-fat dairy, and limited in added sugars and sodium. Proper nutrition not only reduces the risk of physical health problems; it has also been linked to mental health.
When to Seek Professional Intervention
Practicing self-care promotes physical and mental wellbeing and can keep symptoms of depression and other mental health problems at bay. In some cases, the burnout that comes from lack of self-care can even look like depression, and in this case, improved self-care can be an intervention in and of itself.
While self-care can be helpful for promoting overall wellness, sometimes you may need professional intervention to treat mental health conditions like depression. Many people benefit from taking medication and/or attending therapy to treat depression, but for some people, depression symptoms linger, even with proper self-care and treatment.
In this case, seeking an alternative form of treatment called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is the ultimate form of self-care. This modality is utilized in cases of treatment-resistant depression. It is non-invasive and involves the use of an electromagnetic coil, which is placed against the head to stimulate areas of the brain involved in mood.
Pulse TMS provides transcranial magnetic stimulation services to patients in the Los Angeles area. Contact us today to learn more or to schedule an appointment.