Self-care

Self-Care

This month, Movember has meant a huge rise in the number of moustaches seen throughout the country, with the aim of promoting men’s mental health and self-care. Men are less likely to be diagnosed with any of the most common mental health disorders, even those who are diagnosed are still less likely to seek treatment. Despite this, nearly four times as many men than women die by suicide.

Positive mental health starts with positive self-care. This means developing, protecting, and maintaining your wellbeing. Many men actively avoid self-care, being seen as something effeminate, reserved for women only. This is due to the incorrect stereotype where self-care exclusively involves manicures, bubble baths and facials. It’s essential for men to know that self-care is not wrapped up with pampering, and that there is nothing effeminate or emasculating about looking after oneself.

In this article, we take a look at self-care and the steps you can take to enjoy a healthier, happier lifestyle.

An improved lifestyle

Many of us make definite resolutions to live better, more balanced lives and engage in regular self-care at the beginning of the year. We say that this is the year that we’ll get in shape, eat healthier, shed some pounds, and finally get the dream body that we’ve always desired.

But by February, a lot of those goals may start to seem quite dubious and proper self-care seems far away. Although we joined the gym, we’ve only gone once or twice. We invested in running shoes, but we’ve only gone out a few times on a run. Even a bowl of cereal and fruit for breakfast has been overtaken by pastry and a cup of coffee.

There are various ways you can react to this slide. We can criticise our shortcomings and make bitter attempts to beat ourselves up with an exercise and diet plan we know we detest. We can convince ourselves that we don’t truly care and stop making healthy decisions entirely. Alternately, we might evaluate what isn’t working, look at our reasons, and restructure our objectives into a workable and sustainable strategy.

What does an improved lifestyle look like?

For those starting off who may not have a clear understanding of what a healthier lifestyle looks like, many attempts are doomed to fail at the start.

The media constantly feeds us depictions of physical perfection. Every screen, billboard, and magazine page we come across features athletes, movie stars, models, and other famous people flashing their pearly whites at us. Advertisers prey on our vulnerabilities by making the impossible seem like something we should all strive for.

The burden of juggling these objectives with the demands of daily life can cause us to feel emotionally spent, this then triggers the need to feel better quickly. Although this is natural, it often results with us back at square one, eating comfort foods and takeaways, watching TV and consuming other media where we’re bombarded with images of physical perfection from celebrities and influencers. It really is a vicious cycle.

The Stress Management Society found in a study that the UK suffers a yearly loss of £3.7 billion due to sickness absence as a result of stress, the largest cause of sickness absence from work. Moreover, the UK loses more than 10 million working days each year as a result of stress, as well as depression and anxiety.

To lead a healthier lifestyle then, it’s important that we address both our mental and physical concerns, removing ourselves of any stress or anxiety so that we can find the right motivation to get physically active once again. To achieve this, we need to take the vicious cycle above and turn it into something more rewarding.

Keeping active

We all know that physical self-care is necessary for good health, but it is important to remember the many other advantages in addition to maintaining our fitness.

Physical, frequent exercise can strengthen the body’s defences against a range of diseases, such as:

  • Coronary heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Arthritis
  • Some forms of cancer

As well as helping prevent diseases, exercise can also:

  • Lift mood
  • Metabolise stress hormones
  • Reduce tension
  • Aid good sleep
  • Improve memory and concentration
  • Boost self-esteem and confidence
  • Promote social contact

How much exercise is enough? Simply because they are too ambitious, many fitness regimens end before they ever get started. There are many opinions on how much exercise we should get each week. Adults who have not been extremely active should, on average, engage in 20 to 30 minutes of moderate activity, five days a week at least.

Even though it seems like a lot of time, it may be divided. Two quick (10–15 minute) walks would be plenty (say on the way to and from work). Adults who are more physically fit or who enjoy more demanding hobbies are advised to exercise for 20 to 30 minutes at least three times a week.

Whatever the recommendations, it’s crucial to remember that any exercise is better than to do no exercise and taking that first step to begin with is what’s most important. It is ideal to engage in regular exercise even if it is a walk, but for many of us this isn’t ideal or even possible within our daily lives. Getting out once or twice a week and building up from there by setting small goals can be more achievable. Remember, we’re dealing with reality here, not fantasy.

Eating better

Allowing blood sugar levels to fluctuate throughout the day is one of the most typical eating blunders we make. Either we skip meals (particularly breakfast), which causes our blood sugar to drop dangerously low, or we overindulge. We then devour sugary foods and simple carbohydrates (such white bread and pastries) as a form of retribution, which causes blood sugar levels to become overly high.

Because simple carbohydrates increase levels of serotonin, the brain chemical that controls sleep, appetite, and mood, people who are depressed or under stress have a tendency to look for them. Therefore, despite the fact that abrupt increases in blood sugar may make us feel happier for a short while, these slips ultimately have the opposite impact, leaving us angry, depressed, and more susceptible to mood swings.

The British government’s Food Standards Agency gives the following advice

  • Base your meals on starchy foods. Starchy foods such as bread, cereals, rice, pasta and potatoes are a vital source of energy and the main source of a range of nutrients in our diet. We take longer to digest wholegrain varieties, which contain more fibre, so we feel full for longer.
  • Eat lots of fruit and veg. Try to eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and veg every day. Portions include a glass of juice, a side salad and a piece of fruit.
  • Eat more fish. Aim for at least two portions of fish a week, including a portion of oily fish, such as salmon or sardines.
  • Cut down on saturated fat and sugar. That means fewer pies, sausages and cakes, and more unsaturated fats, as can be found in olive oil, nuts, avocados and seeds.
  • Try to eat less salt – no more than 6g a day. Eating too much salt can raise your blood pressure. And people with high blood pressure are three times more likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke than people with normal blood pressure.
  • Drink plenty of water. We should be drinking about 6 to 8 glasses (1.2 litres) of water, or other fluids, every day to stop us getting dehydrated.
  • Don’t skip breakfast. Breakfast can help give us the energy we need to face the day, as well as some of the vitamins and minerals we need for good health.

Emotional Health

As we’ve seen, taking care of your body directly affects how you feel mentally. A more stable emotional existence can be attained through proper self-care, but also through both exercise and a healthy diet. The process however goes both ways. Staying active can boost our mental health, but if we’re experiencing stress or anxiety it might be challenging to find the right motivation to exercise and eat correctly. As such, there will be times where we have to focus on our mental health first, so we can then work on our physical health afterwards.

Here are a few ways we can work on our emotional health:

  • Learn to communicate your emotions. When something bothers you, it’s crucial to tell those who are close to you. Keeping any unhappiness or anger within will not only make you miserable, but it will also be physically taxing. Fatigue, headaches, back pain, sleeplessness, indigestion, cramps, constipation, and diarrhoea are just a few of the symptoms that might occur. If you find it difficult to vocally describe your emotions, try writing them down in a notebook.
  • Make time for yourself by taking a stroll, relaxing with some music, stretching, or practising deep breathing. You can take a break with any of these activities to reenergize and decompress from the pressures in your environment. Be imaginative and try different things to see what suits you.
  • Get in touch. Research on the world’s oldest people has shown that close friendships are a major factor in a long, joyful life. Humans are social creatures and more than most things, loneliness has the ability to destroy mental and physical health. It has been demonstrated that making friends and participating in social or spiritual groups can lower stress and improve mood.
  • Be imaginative. The ability to foster creativity is the true sign of a healthy life. This does not mean creating best-selling books or the occasional genius piece of art. It means identifying forms of self-expression that go hand-in-hand with who you are. This can entail taking up singing, joining a meditation class, or starting a stamp collection. Even just whistling as you walk. Whatever it is, make it yours. It’s up to you. Taking care of your creative needs will give you the motivation and energy you need to make other, healthier decisions.
  • Help people. Participating in charitable endeavours can uplift you and give you a renewed feeling of meaning and purpose.
  • Get help when you need it. When it comes down to it and the tips listed above just won’t help, it may be time to consider reaching out. Counselling and psychotherapy can be a lifeline to anyone when depression, stress or anxiety have become overpowering. Reaching out to a friend can be an incredible first step but remember, support is out there. You can contact your EAP or alternatively, contact an organisation like the Samaritans for 24/7 support at 116 123.

Getting started

Practicing proper self-care that is sustainable can be a daunting prospect. Here are a few tips to smooth the way:

  1. Find out what you like to do. Setting up fitness routines or diets that you don’t enjoy is futile, there’s no point and it will only demotivate you to make sustainable progress. A good starting point is to think about what you liked doing when you were younger. If you liked swimming, go for a swim. If you liked cycling, go for a bike ride. Find something which you can actually enjoy doing and not before long, it’ll be part of your regular routine.
  2. Start small. As we’ve seen, trying to achieve too much right away almost always results in failure. If you’re not particularly fit, start with short excursions and work your way up. If your diet is poor, try replacing one or two unhealthy snacks with healthy ones, get used to it, and then go from there.
  3. Don’t go alone. Find activities which you can perform with other people, as we could all do with the extra encouragement. A great method of meeting individuals who share your interests and can keep you motivated is through clubs. If you enjoy cycling, join a cycling club. From there you can come up with plans together and encourage each there to make progress.
  4. Set goals. Setting realistic goals and then achieving them will make you feel proud and successful. Giving yourself modest rewards when you achieve them (a new sports outfit, a massage, or a very delicious dinner) is a great motivator. If you enjoy a good movie or series, you can limit yourself to only watching them when you’re on your walk or on the treadmill, to encourage and reward yourself at the same time.
  5. Focus on the positive. If you view a healthier, active lifestyle as a chore or a burden, it can be difficult to get up and going. Try and look forward and visualise your end goal, remembering why you wanted to improve your lifestyle in the first place. Viewing your journey as something positive makes any step forward much easier. Make sure to track your work and visualising your progress can be a lot more rewarding.

Contact us

If you want to best support your teams and help them be the best versions of themselves, contact the team today and we’ll create a tailored plan which supports your team best. Contact the Life & Progress team at 0808 164 3941 or email us at service@lifeandprogress.co.uk.

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