Are you ever confused by health information that you read about through social media or the news? I mean what is the deal with keto diets now, anyway? Are they actually good for you or not? How are they different from paleo? Whole 30?
Are you confused?
The truth is that there a lot of conflicting information out there in the nutrition world. And about exercise, and supplements, and on and on. Even worse, many quite reputable sources seem not to agree on basic things like whether gluten is actually okay.
There are a number of reasons for this confusion, for example how research is conducted, or how media outlets choose to report. And it turns out that even the most solid research is only a suggestion – we each have to decide whether or not that particular recommendation works for us or not. And basically the only way to do that is through trial and error on ourselves. Yes - you can be your own lab rat.
Self Care Guide
So, the idea behind a Self Care Guide is that it’s a place for us to keep track of what we learn about our bodies and minds. The Guide may be done gradually over years or all at once.
We begin by asking ourselves some basic questions to guide us on what areas to track for health and wellness. We may already be doing a lot of the right things for ourselves in some areas, but not in others. From there, we get to choose where to focus in developing health practices in a way that serves us for the future.
No one else can compile our Self Care Guide for us, because only we know our personal preferences when it comes to daily habits and routines, so it’s up to us to figure out what will work best for ourselves. In fact you almost certainly already have a set of self care practices that you do routinely. Like what’s your usual morning routine, from brushing your teeth to skin care to trimming your nails.
It’s like a cumulative store of knowledge you’ve gathered over the years, learning by trial and error what upsets your tummy or gives you a rash.
Maybe you aren’t quite sure why your skin is sometimes kind of dry and flaky, but other times it’s oily? Questions like these, and many other health related inquiries are often directed at Google (aka “Dr Google”).
Sometimes you might ask your sister, mom, or friend. If you ask your doctor or nurse practitioner, there’s a good chance that you would get a blank stare, or a glib answer, like drink more water. Whatever is suggested to you still needs to be tested out by you, to find out if it actually works for you.
No one else can compile our Self Care Guide for us, because only we know our personal preferences when it comes to daily habits and routines
Our conventional healthcare system is very much oriented towards “sickness”, which kind of makes sense, because we pretty much want our best researchers to be trying to figure out how to cure life-threatening illnesses like cancer. There is not much research on “wellness” practices, probably because the idea is that we should be able to sort out for ourselves how much water to drink based on trial and error, or see if the flaky skin improves by switching to a hypoallergenic moisturizer or eating less pizza.
Why not just keep tackling one problem at a time?
Not always, but sometimes smaller health problems can cause subtle imbalances in the body that can become bigger problems later on. For example, that pain in your heel can cause you to walk a bit differently, and that can go on to cause knee problems, and later hip or back problems. Or worse, you may stop walking for a while, and that could mean you put on some weight, causing changes in your metabolism that lead to more serious chronic health issues over time.
The Self Care Guide helps us by asking a series of questions to help us reflect on how we are currently living our lives, taking us on a journey of self-discovery in learning how best to take care of ourselves. These questions are meant to help us gain insights into our personal goals and preferences, and to become more deliberate in systematically choosing healthful practices in the core areas of our lives that impact health and wellness. We are all unique individuals - no one can answer these questions and customize your own guide for self care practices as well as you can for yourself.
Wait, what about bubble baths?
If you like bubble baths and scented candles there’s nothing stopping you from choosing them as a health practice for relaxation or stress management. But we can get confused with indulgent behaviors like eating junk food because “we deserve to treat ourselves” and intentional ones like meditation that actually foster self care and build resiliency.
The best way to tell the difference between the two is to ask yourself which leads to results you don’t want for your future self and which ones do. As in, how will eating these chips now make things better for me tomorrow or next week, vs how will meditation for 10 minutes help me? Which can potentially be harmful to my health or make me feel bad afterwards?
Taking care of ourselves from a place of love and compassion may not be so familiar of a concept for many of us. After all, cultural programming tends to value taking care of others at our own expense. Rather than deciding right not if you think self-care is indulgent, I’d invite you to see if there is some wiggle room there. The next time that you sit down to watch Netflix, ask yourself if you are doing so from a place of self love, like “I want to treat myself to this show I’ve been wanting to watch, and I’m only going to watch for an hour (or however long)”, or does it come more from self-pity like, “I’ve had the worse day and I just need to zone out.”
When we are able to tune in to our bodies and listen to its signals, we begin to understand that self care is a series of practices we learn over time. Some are as easy as allowing more time for sleep and others may be harder, like establishing an exercise routine. Your future self will thank you for making the investment in your best self now, building up your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual capital - for now and for the future. No one can give you permission to take care of yourself but you.