Self-Care Science: Why Living in Sweats is Totally Okay
Self-care is no longer just a buzzword. It’s used by some of the most successful male and female business moguls and celebrities as a mechanism to rejuvenate and refresh. This highly empowering concept has been contagious in the wellness space as it promotes the ability for individuals to shut down the thoughts and pressures from others and focus completely on what they need. Mental health counselors have even started using self-care’s evident shift in mental energy, as a way to navigate the emotions that have come from living during a crisis.
In this article, we will explore the self-care strategies individuals can incorporate to successfully navigate the next phase—transitioning back to social interaction and returning to the “new normal”. Before jumping in, let’s visit the concepts behind self-care and the many benefits to its practice.
Why Self-Care is a Non-Negotiable Right Now
If you’re an avid shopper or social media enthusiast, you might be noticing a recent love for loungewear. While some joke about how the pandemic has turned them into eternal lounge lizards, the spike in a “sweats only” lifestyle is music to our ears! Everyone wrestles with change in their own way, and for many staying home and staying comfy is the perfect coping mechanism they needed to get through a time of uncertainty. Self-care has many shapes and styles and the most important part of practicing is understanding that there is no “right” way. All you have to do is find your groove and reap the benefits. Let’s talk a little bit more about what self-care does and doesn’t look like.
What Self-Care Looks Like During a Crisis
The first rule to practicing self-care whether that be via sporting a groutfit (grey outfit) or binging your guilty pleasure TV show is that there are no expectations or pressure. Many individuals going through a crisis are often tempted to assign themselves tasks or obligations that can eat away at their emotional energy. While we’re all for encouraging a healthy lifestyle, the minute those pressures begin to detract from self-kindness, are when these common “self-care activities” become counterproductive.
Kali Rogers of Blush Life Coaching even suggests that rather than thinking of self-care as ‘doing,’ view it as a shift in mindset—putting pressure on yourself to do something is the opposite of self-care. Instead, self-care is meant to reboot your mental energy by completely focusing on yourself and your needs. This refresh on life will help you feel more patient and respond better to difficult situations life throws at you.
We all go through hardship whether that be at work or within relationships, and when those situations lead to emotions such as anxiety, loneliness, guilt, or grief we can find ourselves feeling stuck. In the case of a prolonged crisis, we can feel these emotions endure. And without active effort, they can stay with us even after the crisis has resolved. Alice Boyes, Ph.D., author of The Anxiety Toolkit recommends instead to use self-care as “emotional first aid.” Whether it’s practicing meditation or focusing on your passions, self-care is the best “cure” for dealing with those stressful situations and setbacks, she says.
Just as Boyes recommends self-care for getting through hardship, we can invest the same strategies into getting back to “normal” life post quarantine.
Returning to Your New “Normal”
We’ve discussed the components of self-care and how they can help you navigate difficult situations however it’s important to understand that not everyone will be ready to fully re-engage with society immediately. This transitioning will require us to be compassionate and patient with ourselves and others as we begin to socialize again.
Dessa Bergen Cico, Professor of Public Health at Syracuse University, discusses this idea in a recently published brief on breaking isolation and the importance of practicing self-care when quarantine ends. In this brief, she directly acknowledges the “new normal” and how individuals might have changed during the period of quarantine. She also provides a methodology for how self-care practices can help individuals transition back into this unfamiliar territory. Leveraging Cico’s tips and the Seven Pillars of Self-Care established by the International Self-Care Foundation, we can identify strategies to navigate through the “new normal” with a clear and healthy mindset.
Pillar 1: Read Up On Health
The first pillar of self-care is having proper health knowledge. Health knowledge or health literacy is the capacity for individuals to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.
In the case of self-care, reading up on health codes and regulations that pertain to your city will aid in the transition back to normal. This pillar of self-care is all about empowering yourself to know what’s best for your health. Feeling confident that upon leaving your home you’re familiar with what procedures and rules are in place will help you know what to expect and remove some of the uncertainty. By navigating public health sites, or simply asking questions are the best way to obtain the knowledge you’ll need when breaking isolation.
Healthy Habit: Stay up to date on health codes and state regulations that are specific to you.
Pillar 2: Prioritize Mental Wellbeing
The second pillar of self-care is mental wellbeing. Mental wellbeing is having life purpose and the ability to cope with the normal stressors that come our way. Another way to look at it is by having individual agency. Agency is the ability to take care of yourself in ways that will promote your overall health and happiness. Self-awareness and agency are important to self-care because they provide motivation and more impactful interactions with yourself and other individuals. The first step in achieving proper self-awareness and mental wellbeing is having compassion and listening to your body. What is your body telling you and how does that make you feel? Listen to your sensations from your body and keep your attention on them till they disappear. What you've done is cut off the stimulus-response with a gap. A gap is an interval of nonreaction. It stops the reaction from fueling itself and reminds the body of its natural state of harmonious, coordinated self-regulation. Channel these feelings and allow them to help you transition into new interactions and experiences.
Healthy Habit: Check-in with your body by asking yourself (out loud) how you feel. Trusting the first thing that pops into your head is self-care.
Pillar 3: Work it Out
The third pillar of self-care is physical activity. This pillar might seem straightforward but the underlying meaning might not be as obvious as you think. Physical activity, while it is a great way to stay in shape and like how you look, is more about sending positive endorphins into your brain and lowering your chances of catching disease.
But don’t just do any workout. Do a workout that is rooted in happiness. Jill Payne, founder of Spiritual Athlete and trainer to Gisele (yes, Gisele) says if “there’s something you can find that’s going to be right for your body and have you feeling good, why would you suffer through anything else?” Payne is known for her workout method which focuses on cultivating joy and vitality. She asks those who work out with her to grin because she believes physical energy can have a powerful effect on your psychological state—and therefore, overall happiness. In terms of preparing for a large transition like breaking isolation, using this kind of physical activity can help reduce stress, increase mental health, and improve sleep. We all know how many of us are struggling with insomnia, so physical activity can help you once again catch some Zs.
Healthy Habit: Incorporate physical activity that makes you happy, not necessarily makes you sweat. Whatever you do, be your own cheerleader and remember to smile!
Pillar 4: Eat Healthy
The fourth pillar of self-care is healthy eating. Healthy eating, like physical activity, is meant to promote health and reduce the risk of diet-related disease. Having a nutritious, balanced diet with appropriate levels of calorie intake is key for maintaining proper health. That being said, there’s always more you can do. Vitamin B, which the brain needs to produce neurotransmitters, is also considered a “mood booster” and can be found in the foods we eat every day. Incorporate proteins like poultry, meat, and dairy with leafy greens, beans and grains into your diet.
Healthy Habit: Incorporate mood-boosting foods.
Pillar 5: Set Boundaries
The fifth pillar of self-care is limiting health risky vices like tobacco and alcohol. This pillar of risk management is all about setting boundaries between you and anything that can cause you harm. That being said this pillar can also pertain to anyone who might harm you or your mental health during this change. Limiting toxic relationships will help your mind stay clear and help you stay positive. If you’re unfamiliar with setting boundaries, here’s some advice from psychologist and coach Dana Gionta, Ph.D. You can’t set good boundaries if you’re unsure of where you stand. To identify your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual limits. Consider what you can tolerate and accept what makes you feel uncomfortable or stressed. Those feelings help us identify what our limits are.
Healthy Habit: Name your limits and give yourself permission to say no when you’re uncomfortable.
Pillar 6: Practice Good Hygiene
The sixth pillar is one of our favorites (and maybe one we’ve all been neglecting.) While we most likely will start showering again (no judgment here) practicing good hygiene, like washing your hands and brushing your teeth is key for staying healthy and will be your biggest defense from illness as you break isolation. Having access to good sanitation also increases health, well-being and economic productivity as you begin venturing out into the world. Stay stocked with the disinfecting tools you need to feel safe and like the other pillars, empowering yourself with these strategies will help you feel more confident.
Looking for new clean freak hacks? Try a James Bond shower. Start showering with warm water, but before you get out, turn the water cold for a few minutes. Cold showers make your hair smoother, your skin look healthy and hydrated, relieves depression and strengthens your immunity!
Healthy Habit: Take a James Bond shower to be clean and shiny before you head outside.
Pillar 7: Balance Healthy Practices
The seventh and last pillar to self-care is the rational use of products or tools for health. This pillar is all about the knowledgeable, safe and effective use of health services by individuals to better manage their own health. But this doesn’t solely refer to prescribed medication. Any health-related tools such as self-care should be balanced and maintained.
Healthy Habit: Make a self-care schedule. Jessica Alba allocates one day a week as solely a self-care day.
However or whenever you choose to leave isolation and enter your “new normal” remember these self-care strategies for guidance. In her brief, Profession Cico writes that while the face we present to the world might have changed due to quarantine, the world we face might appear changed as well. She writes that “the lack of face-to-face interaction we’ve experienced while at times difficult has allowed us to jettison efforts related to our external appearances and lay bare who we really are with ourselves and with others”. Perhaps this is an opportunity to give yourself permission to let go of old habits and change how you present yourself to the world. We encourage you to celebrate change and lean into getting to know yourself and what you need better.
If what you need are a few new clean shirts to begin practicing that “good hygiene” pillar we’ve got you covered. Explore all of our most comfortable pieces to ride the wave of loungewear or opt for something new!