It can be a bit confusing when you've been brought up to believe relaxing is being lazy and your self-worth is tied to what you ‘do', what you sacrifice and how busy you are, to really GET ‘self-care'. So let's define the goal.
What is Self-Care?
Self-care refers to activities and behaviours that can assist you to reduce stress and improve your general happiness and wellbeing: basically, proactively taking care of yourself.
Were we designed for so much stress? A stress reaction is the body's protection against predators and danger. It flushes the body with chemicals to allow you to prepare to sidestep or go head to head with danger. You might know this as the “fight-or-flight” system.
Be that as it may, unending stress causes mileage on your body. It may likewise cause illness, either due to changes in your body or the overeating, smoking, drinking and other negative behaviour patterns we use to adapt to our pressure-cooker lives.
Looking at a mountain, an untouched river or a sleeping newborn baby, most of us would agree, this is a beautiful existence we humans have. Confronted with chronic stress, the thief of perspective and rational thought, the beauty of this world can seem tarnished indeed. This is where self-care comes in. It is a basic truth; you are precious and important, valuable in this world and somewhat of a miracle. So, let's take a look at ways to take care of your precious self and your experience of this world.
In my early years, I grew up on the family fruit farm just over the Victorian border in southern NSW. I ate fruit in season and the mainstays were simple home-cooked meals, soups and stews. Fast forward to my teens and 20's and I was in a bit of trouble with a sugar addiction that put my energy, moods and immune health on a rollercoaster ride. Soothing my nerves and emotions with sugar was a vicious cycle that took many years to overcome. Without a doubt, adding to my stress, instead of helping to sustain a feeling of calm in the long term. I also suffered from skin conditions that didn't go away no matter what I tried. And every cough and sniffle dragged on for weeks. Until that is, I switched to a whole food, minimally processed diet. Bingo! My skin cleared up, my immune system was more resilient and my mental health stabilised.
In contrast to the foods I'd eaten before, I found foods that stabilise your energy, support your moods and immune health are in fact stress-busters. We all have to eat, so my advice is to pick foods wisely – include a lot of:
The Good Stuff – Foods for Emotional and Physical Health
- Fresh vegies and fruits. 5 serves of veg a day really keeps things ticking along. One serve of vegies= 1 cup of uncooked or 0.5 cups of cooked vegies a day. While a serve of fruit is about 150g or 2-3 pieces, depending on the size of the fruits you are eating.
- Clean sources of protein – including grass-fed organic meats if you can get it and eat meat, beans and lentils, eggs.
- Good fats including oily, wild caught fish like sardines, Atlantic salmon, anchovies and mackerel; plus avocados, olive oil, nuts and seeds.
- Probiotic foods like unsweetened yoghurts, sauerkraut, kim chi, miso and fermented vegies. Small serves are recommended to help keep your digestion in check without putting your gut in overdrive.
- Whole grains including oats (steel-cut are even better), quinoa, buckwheat, barley and brown rice are some personal favourites.
Tips for Breaking Away from Foods that Destroy your Health
Start eating 5 serves of veg with quality proteins and fats. Don't bother telling yourself you can never eat your favourite foods. Just make sure you are eating 3 meals a day based on the above. Once you are taking care of your nutritional requirements with all this good stuff, the foods that contribute to rocking your equilibrium are much easier to stay away from. These foods just get edged out. In fact, you'll find you are having fewer cravings for:
- highly sweetened foods and drinks,
- deep fried foods,
- salty snacks.
Without making an effort to eat quality meals, 3 times a day, I have no doubt I would not have been able to quit my personal reliance on sugar as an energetic and emotional bandaid. You have to find the parachute before you jump out of the plane. Or, less metaphorically, you have to fill your pantry with the tasty, healthy stuff you want to eat before you decide every second thing you currently eat is suddenly off the menu. It's likely to be a work in progress, so give yourself a break, it's not every personality who can suddenly commit to a new way of life overnight. But don't give up. Small changes make a big difference over time. You'll be giving your friends advice on eating well before you know it!
If you need some help with putting self-care on your plate, book in for a checkup with your naturopath. Let's workshop some ideas together, you and your tastebuds will love!