Let's face it...when we're born, we aren't given a manual for owning our bodies nor souls. If you're anything like most Westerners in the world, you live a very fast-paced life filled with lots of chatter, loud music, long to-do lists and constantly putting the needs of others before your own.
But what if there's another way to be?
What if there's a way to help both your body and soul thrive in world? And for you to feel less exhausted and depleted? And for you to feel less exhausted and depleted?
I'm talking about Self-Care - the kindest and most revolutionary act(s) of love you can commit.
Here are my top 3 tips on Self-Care (and what I teach my patients every day):
1) Take a deep breath. In fact, take lots of them!
With every breath, we are literally bringing new life (oxygen) in to our body and exhaling toxins (carbon dioxide). During this extremely complex chemical exchange, we get a new opportunity at life. A new way of being, a new way of seeing things, a new chance at life!
I have studied many forms of breath work over the course of my life. The one I love the most was taught by Dr. Andrew Weil during my 2-year Integrative Medicine Fellowship with the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona in Tucson, AZ.
It is called the 4-7-8 breath and it’s quite simple! It’s done by breathing deeply so that the belly expands on the in breath and deflates on the out breath. You breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds and then slowly breathe out to the count of 8 seconds.
This process is repeated 4-6 times depending on the level of experience with breath work. I advise only doing 4 rounds if new to deep belly breathing, as this technique will create a noticeable drop in blood pressure and heart rate, possibly leaving you a little light-headed. More advanced students can do more rounds. But like with most things, start low and go slow.
I truly love this technique because it works quickly, it’s free and it’s portable. I often do it while sitting in traffic or when I’m running late for an appointment (obviously, I keep my eyes open when driving and recommend you do too!). It truly drops me back in to my body and back in to the calmness of life. Ahhh....
2) GET MORE SLEEP!!!!
I can’t stress this enough!
In our modern times, most people I meet are sleep deprived...and suffering! We seem to think that because electricity and light bulbs were invented that we should stay up beyond our natural sleep times...just because we can!
Unfortunately, humans have not yet evolved to not need sleep. In fact, perhaps nighttime sleep has helped us evolve over millennia?
I will never claim to be an anthropologist, but I definitely know that so many important processes occur during sleep, we are amiss to dismiss it!
What I remind my patients is that humans have not evolved much over the past 1000 years, but our environment has dramatically changed. So, fortunately/unfortunately, we must shift with it.
This means, TURNING OFF YOUR SCREENS AND BRIGHT LIGHTS AT NIGHT TO SIMULATE DARKNESS. This means, preparing to get to bed around the same time every night and waking up around the same time every morning. This also means saying no sometimes to habits that disrupt these boundaries. It may even mean relaxing with a soothing bath every night and creating a ritual to help you fall asleep more easily.
Truth is, when we stare at brightly lit screens at night, it interrupts production of melatonin, an extremely important hormone secreted from the pituitary gland at sundown. This hormone is an immune booster and deficiencies in it have been linked with breast cancer and metabolic syndrome.
So please, I beg you, sleep more! If you have trouble sleeping, please reach out to Integrative Medicine doctors like myself to help. I have MANY tricks up my sleeve that can help.
3) Be kind to yourself.
You are human. Therefore, you are fallible.
No one is perfect in any way, even though we all love to paint a picture for others that we are.
Why do we tell ourselves we don’t deserve happiness or joy or love?
Would we ever say these things to a friend? How about to a stranger?
Quite frankly, No, we wouldn’t! Because we know how harmful words can make people feel. So why do we constantly berate ourselves for things that either happened in the past or cannot be changed? It is just part of the human experience to be flawed and to make mistakes.
What we must cultivate is a practice of self-compassion, a term that means showing empathy and caring towards ourselves as we would show another human being. Why is this important for our health?
Well, because the mind and body cannot tell the difference between ourselves or someone else saying mean things about us. The same stress hormones get secreted when we berate ourselves versus if someone else were to do it. But unfortunately, many of us live with a looped recorder in our heads constantly saying mean things about ourselves. This leads to chronically elevated stress hormones and decreased levels of “feel good” neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin.
I personally see a pandemic of self-hate and self-flagellation in our culture and I absolutely know, without a doubt, that it contributes to medical illness on a regular basis. If we told ourselves loving, nurturing things about ourselves, wouldn’t we also want to take care of our bodies? Wouldn’t we want to help those in our communities take care of their bodies? And on and on.
I believe lack of self-love is a public health threat beyond anything we have ever measured. And, of course, it is immeasurable.
Bottom line: Love yo’self every day. No matter what!
Dr. Maltz earned a Medical Degree and Master in Public Health from the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston, TX. She completed a combined Internal and Preventive Medicine Residency at UTMB in June, 2011. She then completed a 2-year Integrative Medicine Fellowship at Stamford Hospital in Stamford, CT, during which she simultaneously underwent an intensive 1000-hour curriculum created by The University of Arizona Integrative Medicine Program founded by Dr. Andrew Weil.