With all the talk on self-care and wellness, it's hard to choose what to implement in your lifestyle. Yes, infrared saunas, crystals and the keto diet are all things you can benefit from, but before investing your time (and money... it's not cheap to live the life of a health goddess), first consider exactly what you'd like to accomplish. For me, as a medical student living that not-so-stress-free life, I look for things that are good for my body and my brain. It is my personal belief that anybody can benefit from this approach, even if they don't need to cram ridiculous amounts of information daily. Self-care, after all, is about improving the quality of life. Since all you experience passes through that infamous, mushy organ we call the brain, maintaining brain health and mental health has a huge effect on your overall wellness. Here are four things I do to take care of myself, body and soul, and why you should try them too:
1) Adding, not excluding
We would expect the age of the booty would bring about a decrease in eating disorders. If that were the case, why are there still an estimated 30 million people in the US that suffer from some form of eating disorder? And we can only guess the number of people outside the statistic --- those whose behavior towards nutrition and exercise is unhealthy, but not to the point where they need medical attention. Bottom line is, although heroin chic is no longer all the rage, bulimia, anorexia, orthorexia, binge eating etc. are still around.
It is all too easy to become so 'inspired' by the wellness movement that you start kicking foods entirely out of your diet, turning clean eating into a dangerous obsession. That is why I try adding new, healthy foods, instead of constantly weeding out the unhealthy. For instance, I know I have a huge sweet tooth and I also know that refined sugar is not great, that's why I focus on eating more raw, local honey. I beat myself up for having a few cookies but I crave them much less and I get some sweet additional health benefits.
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2) Cacao and blueberries
These two are a yummy, neurogenesis-friendly combination. They are both rich in flavonoids, which have been shown to protect neurons and potentially promote better cognition.
But let's talk neurogenesis for a second. It is, as Dr. Brant Cortright (see his incredibly informative speech at Google) put it, a true game changer. You can grow new neurons! The rate at which you do it has a lot to do with how well your brain can deal with stress, with the quality of memory, cognition and even with susceptibility to disorders like depression (check out Sandrine Thruet's TED Talk for more info on that). It's safe to say that you should be interested in enhancing neurogenesis, whether you are a neuroscientist or... not.
One of the lasting changes that I have made is incorporating cocoa and blueberries in my diet. Of course, other sources of flavonoids are also nice, but these two I like for their availability, the fact that you can easily make them a part of many dishes and also because chocolate blueberry cheesecake is one of my favorite desserts. No, but seriously, it doesn't get easier than stirring a spoonful of cacao powder into your morning oats.
3) Cardio rules (but weightlifting is also cool)
Any excuse for a dance party, right? Well, if you are anything like 51% of Americans*, you apparently don't take that mantra to heart. That's right, more than half of US citizens don't meet the guidelines for aerobic activity. If you throw in those for muscle-strengthening exercise you only get 20.9% of Americans that meet the guidelines. But it's understandable. If you don't enjoy exercising, it easily becomes another stress-inducing activity in your daily schedule. I know this is not the first time you've heard that, so here's an actual strategy to overcoming it. Dancing.
Each morning, before you shower, turn up a few songs that get you moving. I don't care if it's show tunes or hardcore punk. Then for 15 minutes treat yourself to a dance party. It's not a lot of time, it will boost your mood and even if you only do it 5 days a week it gives you those 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity that protect you from coronary heart disease (and also seem to boost neurogenesis). For strength exercises, bodyweight or yoga are two easy ways to go. Personally, I prefer yoga, since it comes with some mental benefits as well.
Speaking of mental benefits, meditate, please! Among various health benefits, it reduces the risk of heart disease, makes you more resilient to stress, and helps manage an array of emotional and psychological issues** It is hard work to stay consistent with your meditation practice, but there are so many resources to help you out.
For beginners, guided meditation is a good starting point and you will find plenty of YouTube videos with that. Personally, I love meditating right after doing yoga --- I find it clears my mind and relaxes my body. There are many people who prefer doing it right before bed or after waking up before their... worldly worries get the chance to bother them. Don't be afraid to experiment and find what works best for you and your schedule.
Lastly, if you are religious or spiritual, prayer can have the same benefits as meditation, since it also involves concentrating the mind (the word meditation itself comes from the Latin meditari, to contemplate) and separating yourself from your day-to-day issues.
What self-care rituals do you have? Share them in the comments!
Resources + References
- ** For a comprehensive list of benefits+information sources check out http://liveanddare.com/benefits-of-meditation/
- Sufferers of eating disorders in the U.S. - statistic from the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders