Achieving Balance in a Disordered World
At its core, self-care is a set of habits, rituals or practices that help individuals recharge, re-centre and achieve balance in their well-being and happiness. Self-care means taking time to focus on yourself, allocating time during each day, or each week, with the goal of improving your Body-Mind health.
The past 2 years have been complete chaos, and as such, a focus on mental health has taken centre stage. South African men are shouldering levels of stress that – despite our hard-earned reputation for resilience – are fairly unprecedented in recent times. The increase in failed marriages and relationships, the rise in road rage incidents and the increase in suicide rates (to name a few measurables) are indicative of the levels of unmanaged and unmitigated stress present in the population. For these reasons alone practicing self-care in any capacity should become a priority.
Because self-care has always been thought of (and marketed) as something practiced primarily by women, men are well behind the curve and may not even know where to begin. Just like women, we need to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health, so here is a little help coming up with ideas on how to add self-care into your daily life.
Where To Begin?
Here are a few ideas to get you started; choose one to start with and add to your palette as you get comfortable with what you have achieved.
The single most effective way to improve self-esteem, get better sleep and decrease feelings of depression and anxiety. The exercise-induced release of endorphins helps trigger a “feel good” sensation like that of morphine. It’s a great way to not only keep your body physically healthy and in shape but also set the foundation of any self-care regimen.
‘Exercise’ can be as simple as getting out of the house and taking a stroll around the neighbourhood while soaking up some much-needed vitamin D. You do NOT need to attend a gym! Walks in, and getting in tune with, the Natural elements are essential aspects of anyone’s self-care. Nothing beats getting fresh air, sitting in complete silence while the birds chirp, or even watching the waves breaking on the shore. There’s something soothing and healing about nature, and it’s one of the best (and easiest) forms of self-care.
Affirmations are positive statements that help you to “rewire” your mind and overcome self-sabotaging negative thoughts. Affirmations permeate our conscious and subconscious minds, helping to reprogram our thinking patterns.
Some people enjoy creating their own affirmations and reading them out aloud. Others prefer guided affirmations that you can also do while meditating. The best part about guided affirmations is that you don’t even have to really pay attention to what is being said as your subconscious is absorbing the message whether you are paying close attention or not. Adding affirmations to your self-care routine is worth a try and should be followed consecutively for at least 30 days (once in the morning and again in the evening) for it to help shift your mindset.
Make a habit of Journaling – a daily dose of introspection and self-accounting
Everyone can make a habit of journaling. No matter what form you adopt – bullet journaling, free writing, sketching, etc – journaling trains your brain to search for positive things (gratitude, dreams, positivity) instead of focusing on the negatives or imperatives in your life. Over time, this habit rewires your brain in a way that benefits every area of your life. Not only does journaling give you the opportunity for introspection, but it also gives you the space to write down your goals, track your progress, and keep yourself accountable.
Be prepared to be honest about your bad habits (those behaviours which, lets be honest, we all have) that you know prevent you being your best you – Smoking, immoderate use of alcohol and drugs and excessive consumption of beer and carbs, unhealthy sexual attitudes and so on. Committing to small incremental improvements in these areas can lead to enormous emotional and physical benefits.
Create a good night-time routine
Establishing a solid sleep pattern will not only help you “recharge”, but it will also help you feel refreshed, maintain a healthy weight, improve energy and productivity. If you have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep or struggle with racing thoughts at night, you’ll want to find ways in which you can reduce your stress, anxiety, and limit external stimuli.
Creating a relaxing atmosphere is the key to creating an optimal sleep environment. Below are some things you can do to help create that atmosphere.
- A hot shower before bed with a vigorous all-over skin scrub to exfoliate and improve circulation is a must. End this off with a cold shower (after raising the temperature as high as possible) for at least 1 minute. This will help create tone in the vagus nerve with all the benefits that brings…
- Herbal teas have been used since time immemorial to ensure relaxation and better sleep quality. Adding an herbal brew to the mix can have a calming effect that may help your body and mind prepare for sleep. Look for Valerian, Passiflora, Hops or Chamomile in any and various combinations.
- Weighted blankets (also known as gravity blankets) are a great way to alleviate anxiety and insomnia that may provide an alternative to traditional medications. This type of weight therapy is commonly known as “grounding,” in which deep-pressure touch is used to reduce cortisol levels and trigger the release of dopamine and serotonin. Think of a weighted blanket as your personal cuddle buddy!
- Reading – Getting into a book is a great way to signal to your brain that it is time to slow down and get some rest. Turn off all devices, reduce light intensity and prepare for sleep by reading 15-30 minutes before bed.
- Breathing exercises are a solid technique for preparing the body for sleep. The key is to slow the breath by making each breath deeper – so learn to use the diaphragm! Again the goal is toning the Vagus nerve and enhancing the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system. This leads to reduced cortisol, adrenalin and blood sugar ushering in the sleep state.
Some additional thoughts to enhance physical and emotional Vigor
- CBD Oil – CBD is a versatile and safe to use relative newcomer to the world of self-care. Anxiety? CBD can help. Muscle pains or Arthritis? Try CBD. Have skin that’s inflamed from Acne? CBD helps soothe your skin. Struggling to sleep? Give CBD a go. This is far from an exhaustive list of its proven benefits. Also known as cannabidiol, CBD is an active ingredient of the cannabis (marijuana) plant that is non-psychoactive and will not give you the effects of being high like THC, one of the other active substances found in the cannabis.
- Adaptogens – In a world of chaos, stress is inevitable, and we are constantly trying to find balance; adaptogens have now entered the chat. It’s no secret that stress can cause physical havoc on the body (low energy, loss of sexual desire, insomnia to name just a few), but incorporating adaptogens into your personal wellness program is an easy and effective way to counteract these harmful effects. some of the most popular and well-known adaptogens for men are Licorice root/Glycirrhiza Glabra and Ashwaghanda/Withania Somnifera. Not only are these great overall herbs, but they have properties that specifically help men regulate cortisol levels (one of the stress hormones), while simultaneously building DHEA (testosterone), a sex hormone said to increase male vigor.
- Essential Oils – a simple yet effective way to practice self-care. Essential oils are compounds that are derived from plants (their scents contain their medicinal properties, or “essence”) and are often used in massage. Inhaling essential oils is thought to be beneficial for overall health because of how they interact with the central nervous system. Here are just some of the timeless essential oil staples:
- Peppermint: You can use peppermint to help improve concentration and focus, boost your energy, and stimulate your mind. Add in a diffuser or apply one drop under your nose when you need a little pick me up.
- Lavender: Lavender is great for managing stress and anxiety. Add it to a diffuser or use a carrier oil to dilute and apply topically.
- Cedarwood: This essential oil helps induce sleep and can be applied topically on the brow ridge, temples, and wrists.
- Rosemary: You can also apply essential oils to your hair to promote hair growth. Rosemary strengthens scalp circulation, preventing hair follicles from falling out.
And finally, last but by no means least – Avoid Loneliness
We may not admit to being so badly affected in South Africa but a recent study found that men in the western world are dying of loneliness. One in eight men says they have no friends with whom to discuss relevant topics. In those aged 65-69, the figure reaches one in four. Some studies show that loneliness is as dangerous as smoking. It leads to depression, dementia, and higher mortality. If we factor in our catastrophic male suicide rate in South Africa it would appear that we do indeed have a problem with loneliness.
One way to combat loneliness is to engage in male group activities by engaging in religious or civic organisations. One needs to look for a place where men meet to connect with peers through skills, events, and relaxed conversations. All men should find a place where they can join a group that offers trust and respect. For instance, you can become a member of a local sports club, hobby club or service organisation. You might also choose to volunteer at a local charity, where you get to interact with the community.
So off you go and give these suggestions a bit of thought and time for application. Please give me some feedback on your efforts in this regard and any tips you might have to enhance the list.
Dr Bruce practices from Thrive Kloof every Tuesday and Thursday and Thrive Ballito every Friday by appointment only.
By: Dr Bruce Thomson
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