Understanding Self-Care and the Importance of Diet and Nutrition
We’ve all heard the phrase “self-care” before, but what does it actually mean?
Most people associate self-care with doing various activities. Going places, buying items, justifying actions… but is this what the phrase actually entails? The idea of self-care covers the mind, body, and spirit, and throughout times like the COVID-19 crisis that has gripped the world for the past few months, it’s especially important to consider.
August is National Wellness Month. It’s the perfect opportunity to learn more about self-care and why it is essential to improved well-being. Read on to find out more about the concept and some simple solutions to taking better care of yourself during the COVID-19 pandemic. Well-being is about more than modifying behaviors. For example, changing your diet and incorporating nutritional practices gives you a boost both physically and mentally.
What is Self-Care?
Put simply, self-care is the act of participating in activities and ways of thinking that prioritize you as an individual instead of those around you. The concept is different for everyone, but there are eight main areas of focus. The idea is to utilize aspects of each to ensure that you’re as well-rounded as possible and that no area is neglected.
The 8 Areas of Self-Care
Physical: Arguably the most important aspect, physical self-care involves exercise, overall physical wellness, diet, and nutrition.
Psychological: Creativity and mindfulness as well as learning are the focus here.
Social: When you practice self-care of this nature, you ensure that you have a good ‘circle’ of friends and family, as well as a personal sense of responsibility.
Emotional: Managing stress, setting boundaries, and knowing your limits are what this category entails.
Professional: When it comes to work, setting boundaries, knowing limits, and constantly working to improve are classified under this category.
Environmental: Whether you’re at work or at home, the space you surround yourself with impacts overall well-being. Staying safe, healthy, and productive in your environment is important.
Spiritual: The way people think and feel is important for them to consider. Your beliefs and values – and the strength of these convictions – need deep reflection.
Financial: Responsibility with money and income is only part of this concept. You’ll also need to set goals and give yourself rewards from time to time.
Practicing Self-Care Techniques Daily
While self-care is essential to overall well-being, you need to understand that every moment of every day cannot (and should not) be devoted to it. The categories above showcase the different aspects of caring for yourself… but how do you make them all possible?
Let’s talk about four important considerations you’ll want to keep in mind as you begin your journey toward self-care and overall well-being.
One of the most important aspects of self-care to consider is being flexible.
Feeling isolated during social distancing? You can still prioritize your psychological and emotional health, it just may be an adjustment from your norm.
Replace in-person meetings with virtual ones. See family and friends from a distance. Send emails or text messages. There are options for altering the way that you behave without sacrificing your personal well-being – take advantage of them!
Another consideration is creating a routine.
To start, select certain areas of focus. It’s easy to see why and how some goals are simpler to accomplish than others. For example, eating well and ensuring that you consume enough water are two suggestions that, over time, become routine.
From there, pick a few others to work into your routine alongside them. Specific goal areas will change as your life changes.
Another point to take to heart is that it’s best to set realistic goals for yourself when it comes to self-care.
It’s important to consider both short and long term goals. These are influenced by your personal preferences.
For example, creating a home office space that’s comfortable and conducive to productivity may be one of your goals to satisfy the environmental needs of your well-being. Within this goal, you can establish both immediate and longer term checklists. Small changes may offer you a pick-me-up, such as:
- Changing a paint color
- Buying a new piece of furniture
- Getting a new plant
- Rearranging a room / furniture
Don’t simply assume that you’ll be able to cover all eight aspects easily. As stated above, some are easier to incorporate into your routine as second nature, while others will take some more practice.
Remember, what is second nature to some won’t be for others.
Implementing the More Difficult Aspects of Self-Care
Fortunately there are aspects of self-care that are completely subjective based on your personal preferences.
Rather than trying to speed through self-care and give yourself immediate “highs” and good feelings, consider the long-term repercussions of your actions. By being realistic about your goals, you are less likely to be disappointed when and if they take longer to accomplish than expected.
Another difficult self-care concept to engage in (especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) is emotional well-being.
It’s no secret that for many, stress levels are currently elevated. People experience many different moods on a daily basis, so what can be done to help stabilize moods? The answer for many is seeking out professional care. For those that want a different option, there are useful at-home strategies for you to incorporate daily.
Sometimes, emotional self-care is as simple as engaging in activity that gives you an energy boost, such as:
- Read a favorite book
- Binge a favorite show
- Prepare (or order) a favorite meal.
The feeling of relief and happiness may be fleeting, but it’s a start. Do not allow others to dictate the way you feel or act, or let them tell you how you should react to a certain situation.
Emotional well-being relies heavily on positive mental health practices. Learn more about the ways people are managing stress and setting boundaries for themselves by reading this article.
Getting into a routine and prioritizing self-care can be difficult. The biggest hurdle sometimes is finding a place to start. What you eat has a direct correlation to your energy levels, mood, and overall well-being and you can start by making small changes.
Start Somewhere: Practice Self-Care With Proper Diet and Nutrition
In many areas, restaurants are limited in the services they offer. In-person dining may not be possible. Sporting events, outdoor fairs, and festivals have largely been cancelled. All of these factors make it less likely that you and your friends and family will go somewhere to eat dinner. While this limits the amount of “unhealthy” foods and beverages available, it doesn’t completely eliminate them, either.
For many, the recent months of stay-at-home orders and closures meant that routines changed – and so did habits.
People’s sleep schedules are different. The way they eat is different. How they exercise is different.
Do any of these differences apply to you? If so, the following sections will help you think more carefully about your behaviors and expectations when it comes to physical self-care. You may have changed your habits recently, but there’s no better time to turn them back around.
A Focus on Diet and Nutrition Ties Aspects of Well-Being Together
It’s easy to let your routine dictate the way you eat, sleep, and exercise. The amount of free time you have often seems to make decisions for you, right? If you get out of work late, or need to go in early, there’s less time to go to the gym or take a walk around your neighborhood. You don’t have time to prepare a complicated meal. You may be worrying about an issue that keeps you awake at night.
The trick is to not let them keep happening over time. Setting simple goals for yourself is the best way to make changes in your life and stick to them. Many diet and exercise plans fail because people try to do too much, too soon. Setting unrealistic goals is a surefire way to be disappointed and feel frustrated, so don’t do it.
Sometimes, a change in nutrition is as simple as switching out one item for another.
A great example of this is with water.
The recommendation is to drink at least 64 ounces of water per day, but the vast majority of people don’t do that. Why? There are countless other beverage options available. Coffee, juice, soda … they’re all just as convenient.
Let’s face it, too – these drinks actually have a taste, which is what many people look for when they pick up their cup, bottle, or can. They’re definitely not as healthy, but it’s difficult not to indulge sometimes, even though people know that water is much healthier.
How to combat this? If flavor is your focus, there are additives that don’t increase calories and can even provide energy. Looking for carbonation? Try sparkling water. If the temperature is what you’re stuck on, drink hot tea.
The goal is to think carefully about the drinks you consume and make small changes over time.
You likely won’t completely eliminate the other drinks from your diet. Finding ways to consume more water is one of the simplest – and most important – dietary modifications that you can make.
If you’re already drinking more (or enough) water, the next area to focus on is your diet.
Convenience is King
People are busy. This isn’t news, but it’s the truth.
Sometimes, all you can do on your way home from the office is go through the drive-thru or pick up the phone to order pizza. While this shouldn’t be the case every night, it’s OK to indulge every now and then. This idea goes along with the psychological and emotional aspects of self-care mentioned above. There are days and nights when you simply need a pick-me-up with one of your favorite foods.
But you can’t let it become routine.
Not only will eating out often become a financial drain, it pulls you further and further away from being physically well. There are healthier options on these menus, sure. However, the vast majority of them are overloaded with calories and ingredients that are not very nutritious. It may be more convenient to order out, but it’s not always healthier.
Self-care via diet and nutrition requires you to make good choices.
Many people think that eating healthy won’t taste good. This is entirely untrue.
Proper nutrition is about finding the correct balance between delicious and nutritious. It requires doing what is best for your body.
Nutrition is also about incorporating physical activity into each day. That doesn’t mean that you need to radically change your diet in order to prepare for running a marathon or follow the same diets as bodybuilders. These beliefs often discourage people before they even begin their journey toward proper diet and nutrition.
Don’t let this happen.
One of the best decisions you can make is talking to a nutritionist or someone involved in the healthcare field. These professionals know what they’re talking about when they make suggestions. They also give you pointed suggestions that make sense for your individual needs.
Nutrition isn’t a one-size-fits-all endeavor.
You need to pick the right foods and amounts for your personal lifestyle. Portion control and grazing are the biggest areas of struggle for most people. What is grazing? It’s grabbing a handful of pretzels every time you head into the kitchen or snacking between meals. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic and spending more time at home, these habits have likely increased.
It won’t be easy, but stopping these two activities goes a long way toward better diet and nutrition habits. Snacking happens when people are hungry or bored. This makes it imperative to choose not only better for you foods, but ones that will keep you full for longer.
They say “you are what you eat”. While you won’t turn into a candy bar or a giant cup of coffee, the healthier you eat, the better you will likely feel.
Eating healthy means feeling healthy.
Taking care of yourself physically
It is easy to ignore aches and pains or to push off a wellness checkup or doctor appointment because you are too busy. Yes, life gets in the way. However, you only have one body to live in, and how you take care of that body determines your quality of life!
It’s easier to take care of yourself physically when you practice other aspects of self-care. The nutritional aspect has an impact on what you are capable of when it comes to exercise.
This doesn’t mean that you need to spend hours each week working out. Instead, consider small, simple ways to stay fit and active. Going to the gym and utilizing available equipment helps, but it’s possible to exercise at home (or near the home), too.
Examples of physical activities for self-care:
- Riding a bicycle – either stationary or on the road or a trail
- Participating in an outdoor sport – summer is the perfect time for baseball, volleyball, or using a kayak or canoe
- Stretching exercises – yoga and pilates are prime examples of this, but anything that activates different muscle groups helps
Exercise not only strengthens the body and makes you more mobile, but it helps you feel better, too. Starting an exercise program or routine often sounds simple, but it’s important that you do these exercises correctly from day one.
That’s where outside guidance from a physical therapy professional comes into play.
Where to Begin Making Wellness Changes
Most people won’t be able to implement all of the necessary changes without some help. There’s no reason to feel ashamed about seeking outside advice, and your local physical therapy clinic is one of the best places to look for self-care tips and guidance.
Physical therapists focus on activity and whole-body strengthening, but they also know a great deal about overall wellness. Improving even one of the eight areas discussed above helps, but the more comprehensive your self-care is, the better. Luckily, many of these areas are easily tied together, making it possible for you to focus on and grow them at the same time. Better habits (diet, nutrition, sleep, exercise) lead to an improved mood. An improved mood in turn leads to decreased amounts of stress, mental and emotional clarity, and motivation.
Feeling healthier leads to feeling happier. Feeling happier leads to being more confident both at home and at work. You have to start somewhere, so why not focus on one of the aspects of self-care that makes you look and feel better?
To find a physical therapy clinic near you, use the BetterPT clinic location tool or download the mobile app. Both options immediately put you into contact with clinics, practitioners, and facilities in your area. A physical therapist might not be able to help you with financial, professional or spiritual aspects of self-care. However, focusing on the body goes a long way.
Another option for those still wary of heading into a clinic for an in-person physical therapy visit? The BetterTelehealth platform, which connects you to a physical therapist virtually.
For many, the most difficult part of beginning the process of more focused self-care practices is getting started. Everything is connected.
Don’t wait any longer to improve your life!