The hustle culture is one that scares me. Quotes like “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” or “I’d rather hustle 24/7 than slave 9 to 5” can be dangerous as it perpetuates this idea that the hustle comes before all else, even your health and well-being. The word ‘self-care’ is probably overused and if it makes you roll your eyes, I don’t blame you.
But self-care really is crucial for your well-being. Yes, it involves taking a break, maybe even pampering yourself with face masks and bubble baths, but it’s also so much more than that. It’s about making yourself – your health, happiness, mental well-being – a priority. Sure, hustle and pursue the things you’re deeply passionate about, but don’t forget to invest some time in self-care as well.
Here are 7 science-backed ideas for self-care to ensure your well-being:
1. Move your body
Exercising regularly is probably one of the best forms of self-care. Regular exercise not only improves your physical health but your mental health too. Exercise promotes the release of ‘happiness hormones’ such as serotonin and dopamine that help to boost your mood.
Ever notice how you feel more energized after a workout? This is no coincidence. Studies show that exercise increases blood supply to the brain, contributing to improved brain function and performance. This is something I can relate to. My morning walks usually leave me feeling energized and ready to take on my day. But when I skip my morning walk, I end up feeling lethargic and less motivated to tackle my to-do list.
So, how much exercise do you actually need? According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the recommended amount of exercise per week for adults is:
at least 150 mins of moderate-intensity physical activity (e.g. brisk walking, riding a bike, doubles tennis), or 75 mins of vigorous-intensity physical activity (e.g. jogging, running, riding a bike uphill), AND
muscle-strengthening activities (e.g. yoga, lifting weights, working out with resistance bands) at least 2 days a week
But even a small change in your levels of physical activity can have an impact on happiness. Studies show that even insufficiently active people have a 20 percent higher chance of being happy than inactive people. So, aim for the recommended amount of physical activity, but if you fall short, don’t beat yourself up. Every little bit counts!
2. Soak in some sunlight
Some good ol’ sunlight can do wonders! Exposure to sunlight promotes the release of serotonin in the brain that helps to boost your mood. Without sufficient exposure to sunlight, your serotonin levels can decrease and low levels of serotonin are associated with seasonal depression. Plus, sun exposure helps with the release of another hormone in the brain, known as melatonin, that improves sleep.
Sunlight also stimulates the production of vitamin D in the body. Vitamin D plays an important role in calcium absorption from food and immune function. According to WHO, we should get 5 to 15 minutes of sun exposure on the hands, face, and arms 2 to 3 times a week to enjoy the vitamin D boosting effects of sunlight.
So, spend a little time outdoors in the morning if you can. Go for a walk or stand on your balcony and bask in the glorious sun!
The act of writing down your thoughts and emotions, i.e. journaling, on a regular basis can be pretty powerful. Research shows that journaling helps to reduce anxiety and depression. It provides an outlet for negative thoughts and emotions and thus, these thoughts and emotions are processed rather than kept bottled up inside.
Journaling also helps to improve one’s memory. Writing about your thoughts, emotions, and worries frees up brainpower for other things. Instead of getting lost in our thoughts, we pen them down and set them aside, allowing ourselves to be more present in the moment.
Moreover, journaling tends to improve one’s outlook on life. Gratitude journaling, for instance, helps to draw attention away from what’s not going right to the positive aspects of your life, leaving you feeling happier and more grateful.
Want to give journaling a try? Check out my blog post for 15 journal prompts to get you started!
4. Clean or declutter your home
There’s a reason why people say the home is a sacred space. Your physical space has an effect on your mental well-being. Did you know that people who live in cluttered spaces are more likely to suffer from the symptoms of depression?
A study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin revealed that women who describe their homes negatively (e.g. cluttered) were more likely to be depressed than those who describe their homes more positively. They also exhibit higher levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.
Another study by Princeton University provides evidence that a cluttered environment makes it hard to concentrate on a particular task. When there are a variety of other things around you competing for your attention, it’s hard to stay focused. For e.g. you could be trying to focus on your work, but you get distracted by the pile of laundry in the background or papers scattered on your desk.
Take a few minutes every day to tidy up your home. Wash the dishes, take out the trash, and put things away. These small actions add up and can contribute positively to your mental health and overall focus.
5. Eat a healthy, balanced diet
Eating a healthy, balanced diet isn’t just good for your physical well-being; it’s also good for your mental health. Research shows that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and olive oil is associated with a decreased risk of depression whereas a diet rich in red and/or processed meat, refined grains, sweets, butter, and potatoes with low intakes of fruits and vegetables is associated with an increased risk of depression.
Interestingly, a study published in 2019 found a link between diets rich in saturated fats (e.g. red meat and butter) and added sugars, and higher anxiety in older adults. As such, it could be worthwhile to cut back on these items, especially for those experiencing a lot of anxiety.
Overall, preparing simple, balanced meals at home with plenty of vegetables and fruits can be truly game-changing. As the saying goes, we are what we eat, so let’s eat well to ensure our wellness!
6. Connect with your loved ones
What is the secret to a happy life? Research suggests that the answer lies in our social connections. The Harvard Study of Adult Development followed over 700 men from their teen years in the 1930s right up to their golden years, and it sheds light on the importance of strong relationships in our life.
According to Dr. Robert Waldinger, the director of this study, "People who are more socially connected to family, friends, and community are happier, healthier, and live longer than people who are less well-connected."
People who feel lonely are less happy and have shorter lives than those who are not lonely. It’s not about the quantity here; the quality of our relationships matter. Dr. Waldinger adds, "Living in conflict, such as in a high-conflict marriage, is bad for your health. Living in the midst of warm relationships is perhaps protective."
Food may feed the body, but social connections feed the soul. It’s important to catch up and make plans with loved ones. Having traditions such as monthly family gatherings, and investing time and energy to resolve conflicts with loved ones can go a long way towards keeping you happy and healthy for years to come.
7. Spend time on your hobbies
It’s important to do the activities that give you joy. After all, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy! We know that hobbies are a great way to de-stress, but did you know that they can also improve your physical well-being?
Well, research shows that people who engage in enjoyable leisure activities enjoy lower blood pressure, total cortisol (the body’s stress hormone), waist circumference, and body mass index. So whether it’s a creative activity like painting, or a sports activity like tennis, block some time every week to engage in the activities that you find enjoyable.
Engage in these activities outdoors (under the morning sun) with your loved ones for a triple self-care whammy!
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There’s a lot of science behind the benefits of these self-care practices for our overall well-being. Try to incorporate a few of these practices in your life, wherever and whenever you can. These ideas for self-care, each one seemingly small, can have positive ripple effects in your life when practised consistently.
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