In this blog our guest writer and mindfulness, yoga and stress management consultant, Bev Alderson, shares some great advice about mindset and self-care.
In this modern world, we have access to more wellbeing products, services, and information than ever before.
Consequently, many of us are adopting self-care practices that are supporting our health and wellbeing – helping us to get the most out of who we are and our daily lives.
Maybe you are one of them and have become an advocate for wellbeing?
Or perhaps you are someone who genuinely needs to up their self-care game?
I am certainly not here to judge anyone. However, for the purposes of this blog, I would like each of you to have a starting point for how you perceive your own self-care.
So, give yourself a rating between 1 and 10 – where 10 is high (you’re are a self-care guru) and 1 is low (much more self-care work to be done). No sharing required!
I’m sure it would be of no surprise that I am passionate about many things wellbeing, yet I’m not going to encourage you to do anything to increase, or to change, what you do to look after yourself. Yes, you read that right!
Instead, I want to get you thinking about what might be the missing link in your personal wellbeing strategy – and that is your mindset towards it.
The Pillars of Wellbeing
Below are six principal pillars to wellbeing that, when practiced regularly, help to maintain us humans in a place where we are able to function and feel at our best:
- Time Management: how you manage your activities and responsibilities
- Nutrition: how you fuel your body and mind
- Stress Resilience: how you tackle stressors and manage your stress response
- Mindset: how you cultivate a supportive mindset
- Movement: how you incorporate movement that promotes wellbeing
- Sleep and Rest: How you restore and rejuvenate through adequate rest and sleep
I appreciate you may have another pillar or two up your wellbeing sleeve and you are welcome to run with these, if you prefer.
Whichever pillars you elect to use, grab a pen and paper and, write down the following for each one:
- The self-care activities you do regularly or naturally – perhaps 1- 3 ish things for each category.
- Write down any ‘buts’ that come up along the way.
To help get your creative juices flowing, below is an example I conjured up earlier:
Time Management: I plan, prioritise, and work in productivity cycles BUT my perfectionistic traits can lead to be me taking on too much, working long hours and an urge to skip breaks.
Nutrition: I eat a well-balanced diet, supported with supplements and I’m well hydrated BUT don’t make great choices when I am overtly busy or tired. An active social life can also impact the quality of nutrition – not to mention alcohol consumption.
Stress Resilience: I proactively manage stressors, utilise the STOP principle and use breathing techniques, to influence and support my nervous system, BUT I am a busy and driven character and given half a chance will creep towards burn out.
Mindset: I have a regular meditation practice, do things every day that fill me up and keep a gratitude journal BUT have my fair share of cloudy days, negative mood swings and pity parties.
Movement: I practice yoga, walk, and do exercise classes BUT I sit far too much and don’t move enough some days.
Sleep: I allow time for sleep, have a sleep routine, and use sleep support supplements BUT busy can impact my sleep quality, as can utilising technology too late in the day.
Now the question I have for you is this, “what do you tend to focus on – the things you do to support your wellbeing or the things you feel you can’t, won’t or don’t do … the buts?”
What you think matters…
An article written for the BBC ‘how mindset determines your health’ includes research, by scientists from Stanford University, studying the mortality data for 61,000 adults over a 21-year period. A number of measures were taken, including how much people exercised and importantly, how much they thought they did – compared to others their age.
Remarkably, one of their findings was that those who thought they were not doing as much exercise as their peers died younger, even if the amount of exercise they were doing was actually the same.
The study’s author, Octavia Zahrt, advised that the mortality risk was up to 71% greater, for people who perceive themselves as being less active than their peers, compared with those who thought they did more exercise than everyone else.
Two other interesting and relevant studies are referenced in the article.
- A 2007 study that saw housekeepers lose weight and have lower blood pressure, following the realisation of how active they actually were as a result of their jobs.
- A 2003 study linking health and age perceptions i.e., those who thought that old age began at 60 were more likely to have serious heart conditions, than those that thought old age began at 70.
What the article suggests is that it is not just about what you do that supports your health and longevity – your perceptions make a considerable difference too.
If we were to sit down and have a chat about the six pillars of wellbeing, I’m sure each of us would have some formed opinions that we hold dear.
- Time Management: I should take a break every 90-120 minutes to rest and recharge.
- Nutrition: My diet should be 80% fuel and 20% fun.
- Stress Resilience: I should do breathing practices 3 times per day.
- Mindset: I should list 20 things every day that I am grateful for.
- Movement: I should exercise 4 times a week.
- Sleep: I should prioritise 8 hours of sleep opportunity every night.
Now whilst the statements I have deliberately chosen are essentially all beneficial to wellbeing – did you notice the ‘shoulds’?
And, with so many of us juggling full or challenging work and home lives, how immensely easy it would be to add one of those ‘buts’ onto each sentence?
To focus on what we are not doing or not getting to each day?
Of course, I am not suggesting you give up doing, or aiming to do, the things that you know are good for you!
However, I am suggesting that you soften all, or at least some of, your ‘shoulds’ to perhaps ‘generally’ or ‘mostly’ or something similar.
Try it and then re-read each sentence.
I don’t know about you, but for me this helps to shine a light on the positive and eliminates a few of those buts. It also feels much more manageable and achievable for my non-purist life-shape and soul.
It is not just how high we set the bar for ourselves that we may need to challenge, but also our beliefs.
A brilliantly named study ‘mind over milkshake’ was conducted by Alia J Crum and team, at the Stanford Mind and Body Laboratory.
Basically, two groups of participants were given a milkshake of 380 calories:
Group 1 were told that the milkshake was a 140-calorie ‘sensible’ shake
Group 2 were told that the milkshake was a 620-calorie ‘indulgent’ shake
Researchers measured how satisfied each group was with their shake along with the amount of ghrelin, the hormone that promotes hunger and drops when hunger is satisfied, in their blood levels.
Yep, you guessed it – those who believed they were having the higher calorie ‘indulgent’ shake reported higher levels of satisfaction and a greater drop in ghrelin levels, than those who believed they were drinking the lower calorie ‘sensible’ shake.
The conclusion being that beliefs about what is eaten can have a direct impact on the body’s physiological response to it.
Perception versus reality
Dr David R Hamilton is a former pharmaceutical scientist and leading expert in the field of the mind-body connection.
Hamilton is also an author of 11 books including ‘How your mind can heal your body’. An inspiring read that includes his experience and examples of the placebo effect (more on this shortly), along with many stories from those who have used techniques, like visualisation, to support their recovery and rehabilitation from illness.
Whilst I would highly recommend this book, the primary reason I am highlighting Hamilton’s work is because of a piece of research that he advocates.
The study was conducted over 5 days and involved three sets of volunteers:
Group 1 were asked to play a simple sequence of piano notes
Group 2 were asked to imagine playing the same sequence
Group 3 was the control group
Brain scans were completed, on all participants, focussing on the region of the brain connected to the finger muscles.
What the results showed was that the scans were the same for those who only imagined playing the piano as those who actually played it.
What this suggests is that the brain does not distinguish what is real from what is imaginary.
Or as Hamilton puts it; “what you imagine to be happening is actually happening – as far as your brain is concerned”.
When we apply this to what we think about our wellbeing; “what you imagine to be happening is actually happening – as far as your brain is concerned”.
The power of the placebo
We have probably all seen those TV show trials, where some participants are given a fake pill or treatment that hoodwinks some into feeling or looking better?
Whilst the placebo effect has traditionally been seen as a way of testing if a drug does or doesn’t work, an article by Harvard Health Publishing: ‘The power of the placebo effect’ invites us to see things differently. To view a placebo less about a drug working and more about understanding how the brain and body can work together.
The article includes research, by Professor Ted Kaptchuk of the Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, which suggests that a placebo can work even if we know it is a placebo.
One study led by Kaptchuk, looked at how people reacted to migraine pain medication.
Group 1 took a migraine drug labelled with the drug’s name
Group 2 took a placebo labelled “placebo,”
Group 3 took nothing
What they found was that the placebo was still 50% as effective as the real drug, in reducing pain after a migraine attack, even though it was known to be a placebo.
Perhaps it was a case of being prescribed medication by someone considered to be knowledgeable or authoritative. Or the act of taking medication. But it does bode the question of whether you can give yourself a placebo, besides taking a fake pill?
Practicing self-care methods was suggested as being one way. “Engaging in the ritual of healthy living — eating right, exercising, yoga, quality social time, meditating — probably provides some of the key ingredients of a placebo effect,” says Kaptchuk.
….. no hoodwinking required!
The power of the nocebo
Considered to be the opposite to the placebo, is the lesser-known nocebo effect.
Have you ever had an injection, or the likes of, and were told ‘this may hurt’ and then it did?
Well, it seems that if we are expecting a negative outcome then we are likely to get one.
In the medical world this has been linked to pain management, treatment outcomes and side effects.
What a dilemma for medical professionals, who are required to give patients full details of the potential prognosis and treatment outcomes for an illness. Whilst it may not be a big deal in the case of minor illnesses, the potential impact for a major illness could be catastrophic.
When we apply the nocebo rationale to what we think about our wellbeing, it is worth considering that if we think something is bad for us or may impact us negatively, then it may become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
As the Hamilton quote goes; “what you imagine to be happening is actually happening – as far as your brain is concerned”.
Influencing your Mindset
Now I know I said that I wasn’t going to encourage you to do anything to up, or to change, what you do to look after yourself.
However, I thought I would share 5 thoughts on how you might shine a super trouper light on the good stuff you already do to support your wellbeing.
Or at the very least, how you might steer your mind away from working against your self-care efforts.
- Question your beliefs and perceptions
Observe the perceptions and beliefs that pop up around your own personal self-care practices.
I also found it a fascinating exercise to tune into the beliefs and perceptions of those I work and interact with each day. Along with the tv programmes, books, and articles I read.
For me this highlighted the sheer volume of information and opinions we are exposed to each day.
You might like to commit to writing your findings down a few times a day, perhaps for a week or so – to keep you focussed on the task at hand.
When you observe a perception or a belief, take a look at it with fresh eyes – questioning if it is indeed factual, a placebo or a nocebo?
Also, if like me you work with others, you might like to relook at how you position the information you share with your clients.
- Soften your shoulds
With all the best will in the world we are unlikely to get to all the things, that we believe are good for us, all of the time.
If we are too rigid with our goals it can work against our self-care efforts
Consider changing your goals and language from ‘should’ to ‘generally’ or ‘mostly’ or something similar – to make these more manageable and achievable.
- Challenge your nocebos
If you recall, when we believe that something is not good for us or it will impact us negatively, then this may become a mental and physiological self-fulfilling prophecy.
So, in theory, if we shift our mindset then we have the potential to shift the downstream impacts.
A potential way of doing this is by visualising a different present or future.
If visualisation is of interest to you, you might like to check out an article by Healthline, ‘5 Visualization Techniques to Add to Your Meditation Practice’, which provides 5 visualisation practices that can be completed independently or as part of a meditation practice. These are Color Breathing, Compassion Meditation, Muscle Relaxation, Guided Imagery and Goals Visualisation.
Dr David R Hamilton also provides 3 free examples, from his ‘How Your Mind Can Heal Your Body’ book which can be found at ‘how to visualise’. These are Quantum Mind Healing, Immune System Visualisation and Cleansing the Body.
It is my belief that visualisation is not a be all and end all, but it can certainly be a positive and powerful ally.
- Give yourself a placebo
Visualisation is not just about undoing the negative but can also be used to enhance the positive too.
As can practising self-care methods, which was suggested as being one way of giving yourself a placebo.
Write down what you are doing to support your wellbeing. Not what you think you could or should be doing, but what you are actually doing.
You might like to utilise a wellbeing wheel and print this out as a visual reminder of all the great stuff you have in place to support your self-care.
And if you are thinking you don’t do anything to support your wellbeing – here are a few wellbeing hacks, some of which, you may well already do …
|Sleep||Drink water||Brush and floss your teeth|
|Exercise||Take a supplement||Spend time with friends|
|Be nice to someone||Smile||Listen to music|
|Have fun||Use Essential Oils||Take a nap|
|Spend time outside||Eat||Take holidays|
|Use skincare products||Yawn||Use herbs and spices|
|Give help||Have or spend time with pets||Talk to someone|
|Have a bath||Say thank you||Hobbies|
|Have a cup of herbal tea||Walk||Have a stretch|
- Give yourself a 10
At the beginning of this blog, I asked you to rate how you perceive your own self-care. Between 1 and 10 – where 10 is high (you’re are a self-care guru) and 1 is low (much more self-care work to be done).
We have seen that what we imagine to be true is actually happening, as far as your brain is concerned. And what our brain believes to be true can have a direct impact on our physical and mental health.
So, how would you rate yourself now on a scale of 1 to10?
I don’t know about you but I’m giving myself a 10/10 – a gold star!
So, what is the moral of this blog’s story?
When I work with individuals, groups, and workplaces, it is evident to me that many people already do a great deal to look after themselves.
No matter how valiant the effort, for many it is never enough. They feel they should do more to support their wellbeing – if only life’s fullness or challenges didn’t conspire against them.
Yet focussing on what we already do and the good it does us, can further enhance our self-care efforts. Or at least not work against them and potentially minimise any resulting negative outcomes.
Whilst I don’t believe mindset is the only piece of the wellbeing puzzle and certainly not a replacement for any medical advice or treatment. I do however believe it can be a supportive alley and may be a missing piece in many wellbeing strategies.
I think at the very least, it is food for thought.
Bev Alderson is a Mindfulness, Yoga and Stress Management Consultant who works with individuals, groups and workplaces.
Having spent 18+ years in management in the IT industry, in both the UK and Australia, Bev learnt first-hand the impacts of a high-pressure environment and lifestyle and how, left unchecked, this can negatively impact performance and health.
Today, through her business Practically Balanced, Bev brings authenticity to the work she does, drawing upon her personal experiences, management capabilities and expertise in mindfulness, stress resilience, yoga and more.
Bev completed a Diploma in Yoga with the highly respected Qi Yoga School in Sydney in 2012 and with Sivananda in India in 2015. She also completed a Certificate in Stress Management with the London Centre for Coaching and Counselling in 2014, an ILM with the Stress Management Society in 2014 and a Diploma in Meditation with the British School of Meditation in 2016.
With many thanks to Bev for this blog. If you have any questions regarding the health topics that have been raised, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us via e-mail or phone:
Amanda Williams and the Cytoplan Editorial Team
Last updated on 23rd August 2022 by cytoffice