We all know that self-care is important to our mental and physical health and wellbeing. And we probably all know, at least in part, how to practice self-care. So, in the words of Nike ‘just do it!’ If only it was that straightforward. In fact, if looking after our body and mind – the vehicles that carry us through life – was that simple, we would all be ‘just doing it’.
In this blog our guest writer and mindfulness, yoga and stress management consultant, Bev Alderson, shares her advice on self-care and explains how you can create a ‘wellbeing wheel’ as a flexible and individualised framework that can be used in both overcoming challenges and achieving goals.
There also wouldn’t be a whole industry that works alongside the medical profession, educating and supporting us on how to take better care of ourselves – our vehicles.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) describes self-care as “the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability, with or without the support of a healthcare provider”. In practice, it is the mechanism that keeps the vehicles we have operating optimally, enabling us to feel at our best and get the most out of our daily life. So why is it so hard to set our inner sat-nav’s to, and keep them set to, self-care? Buckle up and let’s take a drive down the road to wellbeing.
Preparing for the trip
Any journey requires a start and an end point, and potentially a few pitstops en route.
In terms of your wellbeing, you may be clear on your current location, along with your preferred destination, and be revving the accelerator ready to pull away. However, I recommend you pull over for a moment to get crystal clear on your starting position, along with any goals and aspirations you have for your wellbeing.
You may wish to utilise the diagnostic questions below to help you do just that:
- What is your current situation, along with any challenges you are facing?
- How are these impacting your health and wellbeing?
- What choices and events conspired to bring you to this point?
- What, if anything, are you doing about it (positive and/or negative)?
- What are your aspirations and goals for your health and wellbeing? Any milestones and ultimately your desired destination?
With a new year fast approaching, perhaps your goal is to take a more positive and proactive approach to your wellbeing, or to simply keep it on track. Or you may have a specific challenge that you are wanting, or needing, to overcome. Either way, the first step is to set your current position and shortly we will plot a course to our desired location.
The obstacles to self-care
But first let’s take a look at some of the obstacles that may have conspired to self-care perhaps taking, or potentially taking, a bit of a back seat.
Taking your eyes off the road
Periods such as the festive season provide plenty of opportunity to lose sight of our wellbeing. The stress of the endless to do lists, along with family gatherings and parties, may see the most health conscious of us overindulging in a little more food and drink.
Taking our foot off the gas will generally see us back on track, early in the New Year. But then there are the busy periods, the holidays, the birthdays, and the celebrations, that may again take us off our wellbeing course throughout the year. If we take our eyes of the road too often, it will unsurprisingly take its toll. We forget to prepare.
If you were to embark on an actual long journey, you would probably prepare your car for the trip? You might consider giving it a bit of a service, fuel, water, along with building in breaks and rest periods. And yet how many of us consider how we might prepare and maintain our vehicle, for the life journey we have chosen to take it on?
The stresses and strains of modern living can too easily see us not finding time to look after ourselves. When we are speeding through our daily life, at 100 miles an hour, it can be easy to believe that there is no time for self-care. To perceive wellbeing as a luxury we cannot afford, or one that we can only indulge in after all the work has been done.
Running on empty
Late nights, long work hours or the kids keeping you up at night – can all leave you feeling worn out. When we are over tired, we tend not to make the best choices for ourselves. We may feel too exhausted to exercise and seek out quick energy fixes, such as sugar, salt, and caffeine, to fuel us through the day. And then at the end of the day we may find ourselves too wired and tired, to either get to sleep or to stay asleep.
For many of us, it is not until something goes wrong that we focus our headlights well and truly on self-care. Petrea King, of the Australian based Quest for Life Foundation, talks about the ‘D’s in life – diagnosis, divorce, death, despair, depression or disaster… to name a few. We are all likely to face significant challenges at some point in our lives, that may bring us to a sudden stop. These challenges may leave us parked up on the hard shoulder or at a cross roads – wondering what to do next.
Sometimes challenges come out of nowhere, and sometimes we can see that the road we have taken has led, or contributed to, us arriving at an unintended and undesirable location. We may have seen many warning lights and signs that we needed to enhance our self-care, and ignored them to our own detriment. There may also have been other people, challenges or situations that have conspired to bring us here.
Whatever led you to this point, if you have hit one of life’s road blocks, it can be immensely confronting and upsetting. In preparation for the journey ahead, and along the way, allow yourself time to listen and attend to your feelings. To be frustrated, fearful, angry, upset, or whatever emotions arise. Shout, cry, write them down or talk them out with someone. Emotions can get loud, outrageous even, if we try to ignore them, and it is important to give them some airtime.
However, rather like being in an actual traffic jam, there is no emotional response that will get you out of it any faster. You may need to assemble a team to accompany and support you on your journey. Medical professionals, wellbeing specialists, family, and friends – you don’t need to go it alone. But recognise that no-one can do it for you, and that you are the one who occupies the driving seat, and you are the only one that can get you back on the right road.
Plotting a new course
Each one of us is moving through life on our own unique journey, and in our own unique vehicle. You may have a high-performance and highly tuned sports machine powering you along your path, that you take good care of. Or you may have a vintage edition that is in need of much repair or better maintenance. You may also use your vehicle all the time, or it might spend a great deal of the day parked up.
Whilst there are some generic steps we can take, our approach to getting and keeping the vehicle we have fit for purpose is also likely to be exclusive to us. So, how do we go about plotting our unique course?
Your Wheel of Wellbeing
A wellbeing wheel provides a flexible and individualised framework that can be used in both overcoming challenges and achieving goals. Note that an illustration of a wellbeing wheel is included at the end of the chapter, for your reference and use.
Grab a pen and paper and let’s create your wheel of wellbeing.
Draw a wheel
First draw your wheel, as per the example at the end of this blog, and in the centre of the wheel put the challenge(s) you are facing or an aspiration or goal.
The six segments
In deciding on what to title each segment, I recommend incorporating aspects of Cytoplan’s Six Steps to Health, Happiness and Longevity that, when practiced regularly, help to maintain, or enhance wellbeing. These include key pillars to wellbeing such as stress reduction, nutrition and supplements, exercise, sleep, and gut health.
There may be one or more of the steps that you are naturally talented at and others, well, not so much. You may also have other areas that are fundamental to your wellbeing that you would like to include, such as community, volunteering and charity, travel and adventure, or spirituality etc. Whilst the wheel has six segments, you can of course add as many segments as you wish.
Populating your segments
Then in each of the six segments, include what you will do to either overcome the challenge, better manage it, or enhance this aspect of yourself or your life. Here are a few ideas and examples, taken from Cytoplan’s Six Steps to Health, Happiness and Longevity, to get your creative juices going:
– Practice yoga, mindfulness and breathing techniques
– Utilise a gratitude journal
– Listen to relaxing music
– Walking in nature
– Limit stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, sugar
– Use a good quality multi and/or specific nutrients to support the increase demand for nutrients
– L-theanine to increase calming alpha brain waves
– Adaptogens such as Ashwagandha,
– Liquorice or Chamomile teas
– Moderate – Brisk walking, running, cycling, dancing, swimming, skipping, hiking, rowing, using aerobic exercise machines.
– Balance and flexibility – yoga, pilates, tai chi.
– Resistance (strength) training – weights, HIIT
– Protein for building and repairing muscle
– Complex carbs for sustainable fuel
– Healthy fats for fuel and reducing inflammation
– Omega 3 fatty acids for recovery
– Glutamine – amino acid.
– Get outside during the day
– Limit exposure to blue/led lights in the evening
– Epsom salt baths
– Avoid eating, drinking, or exercising too close to bedtime
– Utilise aromatherapy such as lavender
– Tryptophan rich foods including nuts, seeds, bananas, soybeans, tuna, shellfish and turkey
– Reduce stimulants such as sugar, caffeine and alcohol
– Magnesium at bedtime for sleep support
– Ashwagandha and Valerian (again, at bedtime)
– Multi with cofactors (including vitamin B6)
– Practice mindful eating
– Eat a diverse range of foods each day
– Ensure adequate hydration
– Tackle stress
– Limit the use of antibiotics, where possible
– Include fermented foods, prebiotic foods, bone broth, EFA’s, turmeric.
– Increase fibre
– Limit dairy and gluten
– High quality multi to bridge any nutrition gaps
– Consider curcumin, omega 3’s, A & D, Zinc and glutamine
Not a laundry list of the things you would like to do, but 1-5 things you are either doing or will commit to do.
The aim is to include them in your schedule, to do them most days, but not to be too rigid or hard on yourself. We want self-care to become a natural part of our lives, not something else on the to-do list. In populating your wheel, think about what you will stop, as well as what you will start doing, and ensure you include any advice and support provided by your doctor.
Once you have completed your wheel, I recommend you display it on your desk, or your fridge, or your bathroom mirror. A visual reminder in keeping self-care at the forefront of your mind.
Have you ever been in the scenario where you are following a sat-nav or google maps and you deliberately take a different route to avoid a traffic jam, or you know a better way, and your navigation device keeps trying to get you to turn around? Eliciting change can be a bit like that. We may know a better way but it is easy to be directed, consciously or unconsciously, back to our regular route.
What’s your why?
In order to actively ignore your inner sat-nav, it can be helpful to be clear on your why. The reason that is driving you to make a change. Your why might be the goals and aspirations you wrote down at the beginning of this chapter or it may be to enhance, elongate, or even save your life.
What’s your word?
Another method in supporting change is to give your journey a word – a quality or characteristic – that brings focus to what you would like to get out of it. Can you think of a positive word that encompasses the quality you would like to cultivate on your road to health? Something to be conscious of, to move with or to come back to, if you find yourself deviating off course, away from self-care.
For example: harmony, courage, balance, optimism, kindness, compassion, happiness, trust, motivation, success. Or you can look to the internet for inspiration until you find a word that you can settle on. Display your why and/or your word with your wheel, as a visual reminder, to keep you heading in the right direction.
You may also like to set your word as your computer password, to remind you of it every time you login. Of course, using lots of additional characters and symbols, to keep it secure.
Commit to your destination
For some of you reading this the road ahead may be clear and smooth and for others it may be full of bumps, twists, and turns. When you look to your aspirations and goals, and your destination, it may feel like a long road and this may at times feel overwhelming.
There are likely to be points en route when it feels like you are trying to get up a steep hill when there is ice on the road. Your wheels will spin and you will feel yourself slipping backwards, no matter how hard you try to move forward. Keep your eyes on the road ahead but not too far down it, using your wellbeing wheel to roll you slowly but surely along the road to a healthier you. Catch yourself and your habits deviating you off course, and get yourself back on track as soon as you can by knowing your why and/or your word.
Lean into the support of others, but remember that you are the one in the driving seat, and that the stronger your body and mind gets the more you will move forward. Whether your goal is to maintain or enhance your wellbeing, or get it back on track, I wish you safe and successful travels.
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 Amanda via e-mail or phone:
Amanda Williams and the Cytoplan Editorial Team