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Take Care

The self-care strategies you need to weather life…

By Karen Kwan

You hear a lot about self-care, and it’s not just about taking a bubble bath (although it can be for some of us). Self-care encompasses anything you do that helps to nurture your physical, mental and emotional health. And as you may imagine, the stress of living through this pandemic has increased the need to practise self-care.

“Just by being a human being in the world, we are challenged by demands and by other situational, interpersonal and internal stressors that take psychological energy from us. And the best way to navigate the world is to make sure we have fuel in the tank,” says Teri Sota, a registered psychologist in Toronto. “The idea is that when stretched too thin, our bodies and our psyche give us signs that our bandwidth is less; psychological symptoms start to emerge and people find they’re not dealing with challenges in the same way.” You might find that your tolerance for frustration is diminished, or that you’re more easily overwhelmed, she explains.

To best manage life stresses, regularly engage in self-care. Here are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to your own unique self-care practice.

Self-care is not about checking off goals
“It’s not about a personal coaching goal,” says Sota – it’s about checking into what your intuitive self is telling you is lacking. To start, she says, you can look to the basics: getting a good restorative night’s sleep, nutrition, and exercise.

Start by regularly checking in with yourself
Ask yourself what you need for yourself today. “Don’t be overly ambitious about it. What do you sense is missing?” says Sota. Remember not to be a perfectionist about it: it should not be a to-do list.

Spend time with people you care about
“We are social and relational beings,” says Sota. “Spending time with people we feel safe and engaged with helps to build our cushion, and research has shown it can boost our immune systems.”

Self-care should not feel selfish or indulgent
It’s important that you approach your self-care with the right mindset. Sota says you should be protective of the time you use to practise self-care, and engage in it with the awareness that it’s up to you to take care of yourself. ‘If I’m not taking care of me, I can’t be who I want to be’ is the mindset you should have, she adds, as it sends a message to yourself that impacts your self-worth and self-esteem.

Down-regulating is just as important as cardio workouts
You want to be in the sweet spot when it comes to your nervous system: that is, not in red-alert mode and not despondent, explains Sota. Do things that activate oxytocin (also referred to as the love or cuddle hormone). Think things like spending time with your dog, your baby, being out in nature, practising meditation or yoga. She suggests figuring out your own way of being contemplative to help boost your sense of vitality.

KAREN KWAN is a freelance health, travel and lifestyle writer based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter at @healthswellness and on Instagram at @healthandswellness.

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