Co-Authored by: Nicholas Garman and Adam Brown.
1. Understanding Self Care
As the Corona virus continues to ramp up in the United States the perpetual news reports and social media posts of quarantine, death, and sickness have a particular way of stressing one out. The way your body and mind respond to stress is actually a nervous system response that you can learn to regulate by implementing certain habits, patterns, and practices in your life. This will train your nervous system to better interpret when it is safe and can relax, and when it is in danger and time to act.
That being said, you may be feeling right now like you are not safe and cannot rest. This is perfectly normal in times of crisis. It is important to understand that stress is not meant to be completely obliterated. There are times where a stress response is actually serving you and sending a message that now is the time for you to take action of some sort.
Unfortunately, for many, in stressful times like these, the branch of the nervous system that governs your fight or flight response will often remain active and continue to keep you “ready for action” until utter burn out. This is why it’s more important than ever to learn to take care of yourself, or practice self care.
Self care does not only mean bubble baths and spa days (although these can be great options for many people). Self care is a broad, umbrella term encompassing anything and everything that allows your parasympathetic nervous system to flex its calming muscles and better learn to regulate between when it should be active and when it should allow its bigger, older cousin, the sympathetic nervous system to take charge and prepare you for action -- fight or flight. In this blog we’ll be focusing on four vital elements of taking care of yourself: movement, stress reduction, sleep and food.
If you’re anything like me, you finally get yourself into a good, solid workout routine that you were able to maintain on a regular basis, then all the gyms (not to mention almost EVERYTHING ELSE) closed and you were left picking up the pieces of your daily routine trying to figure out how to fit it all back together in this new world of social distance and shelter in place. But physical activity remains a vital component of self care. Not only will exercise help your body feel good, it will also improve your sleep quality, encourage a better state of mind, and even allow your nervous system to work out some of that anxious energy.
Many of us have been spending a bit of extra time on the internet lately, and on said internet maybe you have been seeing a lot of home exercise videos, remote workout classes, virtual yoga, and other ways that people are taking care of themselves physically right now. This is a great way to fill in the gaps left by your lack of gym access or start a home workout routine since, let’s face it, we all have extra time on our hands. The best part is, you do not need a bunch of fancy equipment to workout at home.
To break up the monotony, try adding some variety to become more well rounded. If in the past if you typically focused on weight training, try adding some yoga for more mobility. If you used to only do cardio when you went to the gym, try adding some tabata body-weight circuits to your routine. You can still run, bike and walk outside, thankfully. Soon it will even be warm enough to put a yoga mat on your porch or in your yard! Try something new, and if you’re not feeling it, try something different tomorrow until you find what really works for you.
If you’re not sure where to start, a quick Google search will present you with plenty of options! A good standby is always squats, push-ups, planks, pull-ups (if you have a bar), and nice long walks. These simple exercises can be the start of a great workout! Then go take your bubble bath.
3. Sleep and Stress Reduction
Sleep and stress are yin and yang. If you are stressed, it’s hard to sleep. If you can’t sleep, it causes stress. As important as being active is, equally important is being able to sleep well. The time you spend sleeping is when your body does the majority of its required maintenance to keep itself functioning optimally. If you’re not sleeping well, you’re likely not feeling well. Far too often we go and go until we can go no more, and with a new pace to your life now, that may mean just spending more and more time on electronic devices of some sort. One of the most important things you can do for mental well-being is to be mindful and intentional with how you engage in all forms of electronic media.
Yes, it’s important to check in and remain aware of what’s going on in the world as well as stay connected with your friends and family. However, starting and ending your day by becoming anxious about what is going on in the world is not going to do you any favors! Consider setting some limits on when and how you engage in news, social media and even electronic entertainment. These things may seem like helpful escapes during stressful times, but if you’re exposing yourself to the drama of social and news media all the time, your nervous system will continue to build up stress. Staring at the light of a screen as you Netflix binge Tiger King right up until you go to sleep will greatly diminish the quality of your sleep and likely make it harder for you to even fall asleep.
If you haven’t already, maybe start by setting a rough schedule for yourself: when to turn in, when to get up, how soon after you get up you want to pick up your phone, what other activities you want to fill your day with, how long before you sleep you want to be screen free, and when to take that bubble bath. Consider having times where you shut off your phone and TV for a few hours or :gasp: a whole day. Your body operates on rhythms, and even if you’re not militant about the times, the more consistent those rhythms are, the better you will sleep and the better you will feel.
4. Food and Food-like Substances
Another major factor in how good your body is feeling is what you are putting into it. One of the ways humans are wired to handle stress is to store up the calories your body needs for fuel in case food becomes less readily available. Maybe you’ve noticed you’re craving snacks more than usual right now. Maybe you’re consuming more carbs, sugar, or alcohol than you normally would. These are very normal responses to stress and while you shouldn’t worry too much about a bit more flexibility in your diet right now, it is important to be aware of how what you’re eating makes you feel and intentional about what you do and do not consume (and how much).
When you eat is also important. Eating sugar or consuming too much alcohol close to bedtime can decrease the quality of your sleep and even cause you to wake up with an adrenaline rush in the middle of the night, making it hard to get back to sleep. Eating large meals late in the day which take a lot of energy for your body to digest can also make it hard to go to sleep, and that caloric energy will likely not get used up in the latter part of the day, causing your body to store it for later use as fat cells.
Make sure you’re getting enough whole foods and fresh foods as long as you are still able to access and prepare them. If you have more time on your hands than usual, try dedicating some of that time to cooking more meals from scratch, or learning how to do so if that’s not something you’ve done much before. Simply preparing your own meals will often drastically improve the quality of what you’re eating because you will naturally be eating less processed foods and getting more nutrition from the whole foods that you are preparing.
5. In Conclusion
Overall, begin to bring awareness to how you feel mentally, emotionally, and physically. Think about how you want to feel, and hopefully this encourages you to find ways to make changes to achieve those goals. You may also want to look into incorporating more mindfulness practices into your daily routine like deep breathing, meditation, or journaling. Your mental and emotional state will greatly influence your physical state and vice versa.
Finally, please remember to go easy on yourself. It’s perfectly normal to be stressed right now, changes in routine is a top cause for stress, and we have all been thrown into a major change in routine. Know that self care looks different for each person at different times in their life. You will have ups and downs, some days that feel better than others, this is to be expected. Just keep doing the best you can one day at a time, and you will soon be better!
Enjoy your bubble bath.
Nicholas Garman, LMT NSCA-CPT
|Kalamazoo Athletic Wellness||
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