HOW DOES SELF-CARE IMPACT MENTAL HEALTH?
The term “self-care” is trending — but what is it really — and how does it affect our mental health?
SELF-CARE HAS BECOME A BUZZY TERM, BUT MAKE NO MISTAKE; IT IS NOT A TRENDY FAD.
For each of us to thrive, we need to take time out to practice self-care, providing adequate attention to our psychological, emotional, and physical wellbeing, which can include mindfulness practices like meditation, physical exercise, and healing practices like acupuncture and massage.
While the stigma around self-care has lessened in the past ten years, it persists for many. Self-care may strike some as an indulgent term, but your wellbeing is a necessity, not a luxury — and self-care is essential for our mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing. May is Mental Health Month, and the theme of making self-care a habitual practice is especially resonant in light of the challenges of this past year.
Contrary to common belief, workaholism is not a virtue. Overwork — and the attendant stress and exhaustion, makes us less productive, more disorganized, and depletes us emotionally, leading to all manner of health challenges: from anxiety and depression to insomnia, headaches, and heart disease. Unfortunately, to maintain our whirlwind, burn-the-candle-at-both-ends style of life often means we don’t think twice about putting self-care on the back burner — and too often, it takes a wake-up call for us to really see the toll that our lifestyle is taking on us.
HERE ARE THREE PRACTICES THAT WE SPECIALIZE IN THAT BENEFIT BOTH BODY AND MIND.
Widely used by cultures worldwide, massage can induce feelings of deep relaxation, help reduce depression and anxiety, and enhance our capacity to pay attention. The mood-enhancing benefits of massage are likely related to decreased levels of cortisol (our stress hormone) and increased activity of the parasympathetic nervous system that calms the body and brain when we are under stress. In addition, functional brain imaging studies show that many brain areas involved with regulating emotions and stress response, including the amygdala and hypothalamus, show beneficial changes when we are massaged. Studies also show that moderate pressure massage enhances immune function by helping increase natural killer cells.
Acupuncture has been used as a healing modality for about 3,000 years. Practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine have used acupuncture to treat myriad medical conditions — and in recent decades, acupuncture has become even more popular in the United States, with more than 10 million acupuncture treatments given each year. People are increasingly turning to acupuncture to treat mental health issues, including depression and anxiety. It's beneficial for those reluctant to take medication or those who did not improve with more typical treatment methods. During an 8-week double-blind acupuncture study of 151 women and men, researchers found that depression symptoms improved substantially. Those who received acupuncture improved more than those who did not.
Have you ever wondered why saunas and hot baths help you feel better? The answer is simple: short periods of elevated body temperature act as an antidepressant. The deep sweat produced by an infrared sauna session assists with removing built-up toxins and waste and improving the functionality of our detoxification pathways. A study referenced by WebMD placed a group of individuals with major depression into a high-tech infrared sauna and found that a single session produced a rapid and powerful antidepressant effect. Quite remarkably, none in the control group experienced this benefit via the placebo effect. And the benefits of a single session persisted for six weeks, an unexpected result for the research team.
WANT TO STAY SHARP, MOTIVATED, AND HEALTHY? IT WOULD HELP IF YOU HAD A SIMPLE, ACCESSIBLE PLAN THAT MAKES SELF-CARE A DOABLE, ONGOING PRACTICE.
In service of that vision, we crafted our Promise Program at The Still Point to inspire you to commit to practice self-care regularly (and gives you a $25 discount off of our $124 services). We often hear folks share that they “just can’t find the time” to come and engage healing modalities that will fortify and revitalize them. We encourage you to start living, stop existing. We put many things on our calendars — it’s time to set time aside for self-care too, it will do your body and brain good.
By Karina Margit Erdelyi
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