The 7 Pillars of Self-care
If we want to be healthy, we have to take care of ourselves. The World Health Organisation recognises self-care as an important part of the solution to the global health crisis, due to the multitude of health benefits that come from simple stress relief. One Australian report suggests that up to 80% of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes, and over a third of cancers could be prevented by people self-caring. As a critical component of preventative healthcare, the value of self-care is measurable and is increasingly supported by scientific evidence.
What is self-care?
In its most basic form, self-care involves meeting our biological needs for food and water, fresh air and shelter. But to truly define self-care, the kind that prevents disease, reduces stress and helps us lose weight, we need to go a step beyond this and understand how to feel well as an individual, exploring the emotional and philosophical aspects of what it means to be human.
True self-care requires knowledge of what we need personally to thrive and be happy. This augmented definition brings a whole new dimension to our health as individuals, supporting the idea that absolute wellness is attainable, if we just take the time to find it for ourselves. Consciously devoting time to looking after our physical and emotional needs is something we must learn to do each and every day, throughout our entire lives.
Seven Pillars of Self-care
Science highlights the need for us to take a holistic approach to our self-care. For example, if we don’t address our mental health, or experience ongoing stress, we might not get the expected benefits from the high-quality diet we are committed to. All of our systems are connected and thus we need to take a truly integrative approach to self-care. To empower you towards better health, look to these seven pillars for ideas:
1. Keep learning – Be an active participant in your health and wellbeing. Familiarise yourself with how your body works, what your basic physiological needs are and what some of the risks to your health might be. Read widely and gather your wisdom from a range of sources.
2. Mental wellbeing and self-awareness – Know who you are and surround yourself with a community of people who understand you. Spend time doing things that make you happy. This may mean prioritising time with family or friends, settling in with a good book, getting a massage or taking time-out to meditate or walk the dog. Balance rest with activity, and social activities with time alone.
3. Physical activity – Participate in regular exercise. Start your day with some movement, this (along with exposure to sunlight) helps to entrain your body’s circadian rhythms. Take a break at lunchtime and go for a walk. Click here to read more about circadian rhythms.
4. Healthy eating – Choose nutritious foods. We know we should be eating healthy, but understanding what healthy eating actually means can be confusing. Eat mostly plants, with some meat and fish. Source your foods from nature, i.e. if it comes from a packet with a long list of ingredients, it probably isn’t really food so avoid it.
5. Risk avoidance – There are known risks to our health, and it is completely up to us to avoid them – these include exposure to toxins, tobacco use, excess alcohol consumption, eating junk/processed food and a sedentary lifestyle.
6. Good hygiene – Wash your hands, brush your teeth, bathe, clean your clothes and dry them outdoors (UV from the sun kills disease causing bacteria/parasites), avoid overcrowding.
7. Rational use of products and services – We all need help at some time or another and accessing support is the final pillar of self-care. If we feel we are beyond our own capacity to heal, then we should seek medical help. If we are prescribed medication, we should take it.
Benefits of Self-care
Finding out what makes us tick as individuals helps us discover joy and being happy does amazing things for our health. Winding down and taking ‘time for me’ brings our bodies out of the stressed state and back into a calm, relaxed state. This is when our bodies can perform their most fundamental tasks – heal, digest and if we desire it, reproduce.
There are a multitude of health benefits that come with simple stress relief. Self-care reduces stress and this can help us lose weight, reduce inflammation and prevent major illness, including depression, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Reducing stress can also benefit our skin, improve our digestion and help us conceive.
One study showed a single session of Swedish massage reduces inflammation, stress hormone concentrations and limits aggressive behavior. And if you’ve ever wondered if a week-long health retreat would be worth it, a recent observational study suggests that it is. Everything from mood and weight loss to reductions in blood pressure and improved cognitive function were observed after a retreat that focused on education, therapeutic and leisure activities and an organic, mostly plant-based diet. A reduction in health symptom severity and frequency were also recorded six weeks after the retreat suggesting there is ongoing benefits to intense, focused self-care and reminding us that healing often takes time.
It’s so important to actively pursue the health of your body, mind and spirit. Stop celebrating the ‘busy’ and start celebrating the ‘calm’. Learn how to say ‘no’, so you can take the time you need to return balance to your body. With 1-in-2 Australians suffering chronic disease, our bodies are beckoning for us to slow down and focus on getting well.
This is what self-care is all about and there is simply no better way to improve our health and happiness. We can’t always control the circumstances in our lives, but we can insist on self-care for ourselves and our families. And you might be surprised at how much change is possible by embracing just a few simple ideas.
• Cohen MM, Elliott F, Oates L, Schembri A, Mantri N (2017) Do wellness tourists get well? An observational study of multiple dimensions of health and well-being after a week-long retreat. J. Altern and Complement Med 23(2): 140-148
• Duggan, M, Chislett, WK & Calder, R (2017) The state of self-care in Australia, Australian Health Policy Collaboration Commissioned Paper no. 02/2017, AHPC, Melbourne.
• Jackson SE, Kirschbaum C, Steptoe A (2017) Hair cortisol and adiposity in a population-based samples of 2,527 men and women aged 54 to 87 years. Obesity 25(3): 539-544
• Kiecolt-Glaser JK, Fagundes CP, Andridge R, Peng J, Malarkey WB, Habash D, Belury MA (2017) Depression, daily stressors and inflammatory responses to high-fat meals: when stress overrides healthier food choices. Molecular Psychiatry 22: 476-482
• Lyall LM, Wyse CA, Graham N, Ferguson A, Lyall DM, Cullen B, Morales CAC, Biello SM, Mackay D, Ward J, Strawbridge RJ, Gill JMR, Bailey MES, Pell JP, Smith DJ (2018). Association of disrupted circadian rhythmicity with mood disorders, subjective wellbeing, and cognitive function: a cross-sectional study of 91,105 participants from the UK biobank. The Lancet Psychiatry 5(6): P507-514
• Maier SU, Makwana AB, Hare TA (2015) Acute stress impairs self-control in goal-directed choice by altering multiple functional connections within the brains decision circuits. Neuron 87: 621-631
• Rapaport MH, Schettler P, Bresee C, (2012) A preliminary study of the effects of repeated massage on hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal and immune function in healthy individuals: A study of mechanisms of action and dosage. J. Altern and Complement Med 18(8): 789-797
• Rapaport MH, Schettler P, Bresee C, (2010) A preliminary study of the effects of a single session of Swedish massage on hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal and immune function in normal individuals. J. Altern and Complement Med 16: 1079-1088
Dr Hayley Dickinson is a research scientist with a PhD in women’s reproductive health, who does not claim to be a medical practitioner. We seek to offer insights into the health of women experiencing the reproductive, menstrual and hormonal characteristics of female biology. In addition, we offer scientific insight into wellness and lifestyle choices relevant to all. Neither endota nor Dr Hayley Dickinson accept any liability for the information or advice (or use of such information or advice) which is provided in this blog or incorporated into it by reference. We provide this information on the understanding that all persons accessing it take responsibility for evaluating its relevance and accuracy. Women are encouraged to discuss their health needs with a health practitioner. If you have concerns about your health, you should seek advice from your health care provider or if you require urgent care you should go to the nearest hospital Emergency Department. © endota, 2018-2019