Choose Your Own (Self-Care) Adventure
by Kiki Athanas
January 21, 2019
There’s something simply magical about the efficacy and potency of practicing self-care.
In fact, it’s the key ingredient to any “wellness regime” - so much so that I’ve incorporated it into my recommendations when helping friends and family pick their adaptogenic herbs of choice, or otherwise when they are looking to “get healthier” by either cleaning up their diet, incorporating more physical activity or mindful movement into their schedule, or whatever strategy they feel so called to.
The amazing and tragic thing about most of these “strategies” is that they can work incredibly effectively - or not at all. The devil is in the details.
Those details, I like to think of, as “lifestyle protocol”.
Without a supportive lifestyle protocol, those herbs, green smoothies, or body-pump classes at the gym…will only do so much - and particularly in the case of exercise, it could actually do more harm than good (i.e. I’m referring to over-exercise contributing to burnout and adrenal fatigue).
Thus, in order to “activate” all the goodness you’re doing or putting into your body, you must practice self-care.
No, not because “self-care” is the next trendiest thing to hit the market since activated charcoal and bone broth (both of which are actually rooted in ancient traditions…for what it’s worth) - but because it WORKS.
But here’s the thing - it only works as much as you do it. Funny how that works, eh?
Just like exercise and eating well - you feel better and it “works”…so long as you’re actually doing it. Let it slip by the wayside, and your health eventually declines, including how you feel - whether that happens almost immediately or has a compounding effect that hits you later on.
So while I’m all about being kind, gentle, and listening to your body and responding intuitively…I’m also just as firm about DILIGENCE and BOUNDARIES.
Set yourself up for health and happiness and put in the “work” to live that reality. Sometimes that means getting up an extra 5 minutes earlier so that you can do your morning meditation or gratitude journaling…and sometimes that means doing it even when the snooze button is calling your name. I’m asking you to PUSH THROUGH and do it anyways, because just like all the other “wellness things” out there - they only work so long as you do them.
Now I certainly don’t want to come across as too harsh, and the good thing is that self-care strategies and activities are generally enjoyable in the moment anyways - so really no good reason to avoid them!
As the general “protocol”, I suggest choosing 3 of the following self-care strategies and committing to them on a frequency that makes sense for your lifestyle and goals*.
*Note that some of the activities I’ve listed have suggested time lengths and frequencies that I’ve found most successful for myself as well as for friends and family, but you can feel free to customize accordingly - just be mindful that you allow yourself to spare the time and energy where necessary…and that might mean making some tweaks to your usual rush-rush, go-go schedule!
Self-Care 101 —> Choose Your Own Adventure:
- Daily Meditation; For the beginner, I suggest 5 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes mid-day, and 5-10 minutes at the end of the day. The biological effects of meditation cannot be denied - science is now showing that mind-body exercises appear to suppress the expression of genes and genetic pathways that promote inflammation. (See more here).
- I like the Calm app (I set a timed meditation in the morning, do the “Daily Calm” mid-day after lunch, and then do a 10-minute “Deep Sleep Release” while lying in bed).
- Still lost? Check out this post on Meditation 101: Getting Started + Tips & Tricks for Success
- Deep Breathing; A kind of “variation” on meditation - I used this strategy when working with a few very specific and acute health concerns and it provided miraculous results. I like Aviva Romm’s explanation of how to do it: “All you have to do is inhale to the count of four and exhale to the count of six to shift you into what’s called parasympathetic mode, the antidote to the ‘fight or flight’ mode. I personally like to accompany the inhalation with the thought that “I am” and the exhalation with “At Peace” so it looks like this: Inhale to a count of four saying to yourself “I am,” and exhale to the count of six saying to yourself, “At peace.” Repeat four or more times.”
- I suggest a minimum of 3-4 times a day, for at least 1 full minute each time. Just these little breaks in your day can make the world of a difference to your stress-levels and productivity throughout your day, and really contribute to deep and restful sleep at night.
- Take a Breath-Break; Similar to the above, check out doctor of Eastern Medicine Scott Davis’s recommended approach to developing and deepening a “breath work” practice here.
- Take a Bath; My favourite spa add-on’s here are essential oils (I love lavender and frankincense), magnesium flakes, and of course - epson salts!
- Dry Brush; This is a luxuriously pampering and energizing thing to incorporate into your morning routine - and it just so happens to have the bonus of stimulating the lymphatic system (helping to support our natural detoxification processes) and invigorating the skin.
- Yoga; Or another form of mindful movement that you enjoy (Qi gong, Tai Chi, pilates, etc.) - 2-3 times weekly at the minimum. Think of this less as physical exercise for aesthetic purposes but rather strengthening your mind-body-spirit connection, releasing stagnant energy and harnessing new free-flowing energy back into your life. While I much prefer practicing yoga in community, Grokker is a great at-home option.
- Mindful Eating; Often times, it’s not so much WHAT you eat vs. HOW you eat that can make a real difference in your digestive health and ultimately support your own healthy weight. Choosing to commit to enjoying all or at least one of your meals each day with a mindful eating approach will have a profound impact on how much, when, and what you choose to consume - and best of all the benefits of this approach are often experienced immediately and are quite easy to harness by literally just doing it! Learn more about the specifics of just what “mindful eating” entails and get my top 5 “how-to” tips here.
- Take Breaks; Boosting your energy levels as well as your productivity is often simply a matter of regulating your ultradian rhythm, which can be done by taking breaks (around 15 minutes) every 2-3 hours. This one is often good to commit to while you’re at work - especially if you’re in sitting down office environment all day. Learn more about how it works and how it can work for you here.
- Get Out in Nature; A breath of fresh air, a ray of sunshine, and having your feet touch the earth is my ultimate “cure-all” recipe. Whether you decide to go “forest-bathing” at least once a month, or simply take a 10-15 minutes stroll outside or through your nearest green space once a day, this practice will help sync your circadian rhythm (specifically if done in daylight - so morning or midday is preferred) and provide you with a necessary “reset” to get reacquainted with nature and feel great throughout the rest of the day (and more easily sleep at night). My good friend and ND discusses the art of forest bathing here.
- Prioritize Sleep; Make sure you get a minimum of 7 hours of sleep in each night, and support easy, deep restoration by going to bed and waking up at the same time each night/day, blackout your room as much as possible when it’s “lights-out” time, and follow the rule that there is NO electronics at least 30 minutes before bedtime. Another little bonus tip I suggest is to download f.lux on your devices, which helps to block the blue-light on your laptop/computer and thus reduces interference with your own body’s natural production of melatonin at night. A biohacking guru I know, David Krantz, talks about good healthy sleep habits here.
- Detox Your Kitchen; No - I’m not talking about getting rid of all the shitty food in your pantry (although…yes, please do) - I’m actually referring to toxics in your kitchen in the form of non-stick coatings, plastics, cans, and other culprits you may not realize are wreaking havoc on your health (and may quite literally be a main cause of your brain fog!). While you may argue this shouldn’t fit into the “self-care” list, I still include it here as it’s a lifestyle tune-up that’s worth a bit of your time and care! Here’s how to opt for healthier alternatives.
- Reduce Alcohol/Caffeine/Sugar; Again, this doesn’t appear to fit amongst the category of take a bath, take a break, take some me-time…but I’ll argue that it does indeed. I make these dietary suggestions and categorize them as self-care because I whole-heartedly believe that these 3 “food” groups are not doing you any favours, and it’s important that you act mindfully and kindly to yourself if and when you choose to consume them. Please omit or reduce them from a place of care and deservingness of yourself and your happiness rather than a place of restriction, guilt, or fear. Science shows these items are blatantly detrimental to our health and longevity, and thus reducing our in-take of these substances will serve our greater good - again, as long as it’s done out of respect (and not restriction) of yourself.
- Journaling; Get it out and get it down on paper! This can be a very therapeutic practice and often brings the clarity and peace we need to either come to terms with what was or embrace the new change ahead of us. Go with your intuition and feel free to engage in whatever way works best for you - it could be following writing prompts (you can google ideas) or simply writing your reflections/dreams/thoughts however they flow. For a bit more guidance, this is a great overview article on the subject specifically as it relates to journalling for mental health.
- Practice Gratitude; I recently attended a talk by Head of Mindfulness and Meditation instructor at Calm, Tamara Levitt, who shared a very simple but powerful activity known as the “Gratitude Countdown”. It goes like this - whenever you start to feel anxious, upset, or otherwise on-edge, you simply challenges yourself to list ten things that you’re grateful for on the spot. The immediate relief and happiness you feel during and after this short exercise is nothing short of miraculous. I also like to broaden this practice to start and end my day, so I “break it up” to 5 in the morning and 5 at night - it’s a beautiful way to launch into and close off your BEST DAY EVER!
Investing in YOU is so much more than buying organic, taking your vitamins, or signing up for that 5am spin class - it’s about loving yourself, and not just saying it (although YES that’s great too!) - it’s about SHOWING yourself that you love yourself. Talk is cheap, as they say.
I hope you’ll find the above “activation” strategies extremely potent in harnessing the greatest wellness and healing potential of the WHAT you choose you do…because the HOW often counts for so much more.