Why putting yourself first is anything but selfish...

Love yourself. It’s more than an empty motto or Justin Bieber song – self-love and in particular loving yourself first is an important and necessary part of self-care...

Self-care is another concept that’s sometimes seen in a negative light, with some seeing the act as overindulgent and unnecessary but there are some very real benefits that come from taking the time to look after yourself. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) - the official voice of authority in the health industry - self-care is ‘being able to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider.’* Many self-care techniques such as exercise and good sleep hygiene have been found to naturally increase levels of serotonin – a neurotransmitter, also known as the “feel-good” chemical in our body, which plays a vital role in regulating mood, sleep, appetite, and various physiological functions in the body. Self-care doesn’t have to involve two hour ‘everything’ showers or trips to pricey retreats, it can involve little acts of self-kindness woven into everyday life. Small, considered actions that turn into daily habits can have powerful effects in the long-run and so are more than worthy of the time and effort it may take in the beginning. To get you started, we have compiled some of our top self-care tips with the help of our Health & Wellness panel...

Prioritise your sleep routine

Sleep is so important to wellbeing that Performance Psychologist Gerry Hussey refuses to begin sessions with a client that won’t commit to a serious sleep regime. ‘Sleep is not just something we do when we have no time – it is how the body detoxifies itself and reboots,’ says Gerry. ‘Sleep is massively important for our health and the health of our organs.’ According to research 62% of people globally feel they don’t sleep well on an average night. A further 80% would also like to improve the overall quality of their rest.*

‘A lot of us are bad sleepers because of our diet and because we are consuming too much processed food. It is also because we are on our phones too much. We need melatonin to sleep and one of the ways we produce melatonin is by being in a dark environment. A lot of us watch TV in our rooms before bed, we look at our phones and that blue light hits our brain and we think its morning time, so the brain not only doesn’t produce melatonin, but it produces cortisol, which means we are awake again. It comes down to your habits. So, two hours before you go to bed, you should not be eating or drinking, you should not be on your phone, and you should be winding down.’ Gerry suggests that every room in the house has just one function. ‘We learn through association, so your body gets used to a certain smell, feel in a room, and attaches a certain function to that. This means, if you are watching TV in bed, your brain does not really know why it is in this room. So, the bedroom should be for sleep only. It should be dark, and you should avoid leaving your phone by or charging close to your bed. If you must work in the bedroom, try to open the windows and doors, and create a different feel in the bedroom between functions. You could also undress the bed - psychologically this helps you to change the energy and the feel of the room and gets it ready for sleep. Even if you have been working in your bedroom during the day, now you have the laptop put away, you have dressed the bed and changed clothes – these things alone are nice trigger systems for the body which makes it realise that it may be the same room, but it is switched into a different mode.’

Practice breathwork

Something as simple as breathing deeply can have a significant effect on lowering stress and increasing energy and vitality. Breathwork refers to a set of practices that involve conscious control and manipulation of the breath for various therapeutic purposes. ‘It encompasses a range of techniques and approaches, but they generally involve focused and intentional breathing patterns,’ explains Milena Jaksic, Founder of Platinum Pilates (platinumpilates.ie) and member of The Skin Nerd Health & Wellness Panel. ‘We take 20,000 breaths a day and our breathing system is both under the control of the voluntary and involuntary nervous system. Breathwork can help improve energy, sleep quality, movement patterns, back pain – the list in endless!’ One major benefit is the potential to reduce stress, ‘Breathwork techniques can help activate the relaxation response, leading to decreased physiological arousal and a sense of calm. Deep, slow breathing has been shown to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, promoting relaxation and reducing the effects of chronic stress.’ As well as relaxing and calming the body, controlled breathing techniques can energise and promote clarity, ‘Breathwork exercises often involve deep diaphragmatic breathing, which can enhance oxygenation and increase energy levels. By improving oxygen intake and circulation, breathwork may support overall vitality and promote a sense of increased energy and clarity.’ What are some of the ways we can incorporate breathwork into our daily lives? ‘First thing in the morning when you wake up 5-10 mins breath work, breath holds while the kettle boils, breath works in the shower. It doesn’t take a long time or a lot of effort to add this into everyday life.’ You can find details of Milena’s recommended breathwork exercises here.

Indulge in healthy treats

Healthy food is often considered more of a chore than a treat, but this mindset is self-limiting in that you form a negative association with the foods that are positive for your health. Reframe your relationship with healthy food by considering the love you are showing to your body by nourishing it with nutrient-rich foods. Eat a balanced diet that supports the recommended intake of vitamins and minerals or if you struggle to meet these via food sources, look to include a supplement or daily multi-vitamin. Mindful eating can also be beneficial when it comes to healthier eating habits and digestive health and involves eating slowly and paying attention to what you are eating (rather than eating in front of the TV or in the car). Nerdie note: We are not suggesting banning sugary foods completely, so instead of depriving yourself of something you are craving, keep it balanced and include plenty of healthy fats, complex carbs, lean protein, and fruits and veggies to nourish the mind and body.

Move daily

In an ideal world, we would all take our 10,000 steps daily, alongside committing to a more intense workout 2-3 times a week but this can be difficult when slotting in alongside family priorities, the cost of living and working at a desk. We can, however, work towards the goal of moving our body daily, taking small steps to stay active – even if that means we have to get a little creative, ‘As soon as you get out of bed move for 5-8 minutes every day – consistency is the key – make this as important as brushing your teeth,’ advises Milena. ‘All movement impacts the nervous system which is in effect the body and mind structure and I recommend all and everything. The body needs different elements physical movement including heart and lungs, muscles, joints and not all exercise is created equal. So, any movement that influences these systems will benefit the body. Pilates is my go-to as it covers an element of resistance training, core strength, mobility and flexibility.’

Write it out

Mental and emotional wellbeing is integral to overall health, and research has found journaling to be one way of reducing anxiety, alleviating depression and managing stress. The therapeutic act of journaling differs from keeping a diary of events and can be used to express and process your thoughts and emotions around specific events, helping you to cope with difficult moments in life. Long term benefits of expressive writing (one of the most researched forms of journaling) include feelings of greater psychological well-being, fewer stress-related visits to the doctor** and lowered blood pressure.*** Expressive writing involves writing deeply and meaningfully about a past event.*** However, there are many different forms of journaling if this isn’t for you. Each kind comes with its own benefits and so it is important that you choose a technique that you enjoy and do it consistently for maximum benefits. Tips include using ‘prompts’ to help you get started – this can include answering questions such as ‘what are three things you're grateful for, and why?’ or ‘describe something you love about yourself and something you're working on.’ These are examples of Positive Affect Journaling (PAJ), which was developed combining theories based in positive psychology. For this kind of journaling, you are required to write about positive aspects of yourself, your life, and past experiences and encouraged to create positive meaning from these previous events. Research has found that this form of journaling has led to increased well-being, decreased mental distress, depression symptoms, and anxiety symptoms, and increased resilience.*****

Commit to a regular skin and body care routine

Selfcare Sunday’s have been trending for a reason – looking after your skin and body feels good! Try to take time out once a week to carry out full body exfoliation, soak in a bubble bath and indulge with a nourishing facial treatment. The act and routine of skin care has been cited as a wellness practice, and you can feed these moments of self-care into your daily lives by bookending your days with a morning and evening regime. We particularly unwinding by double cleansing the day away in the evening but don’t forget the ultimate act of self-love – protecting your skin with SPF 365 days a year!

**King, L. A. & Miner, K. N. (2000) Writing about the perceived benefits of traumatic events: implications for physical health. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 26, 220–230.Google Scholar
**** Davidson, K., Schwartz, A. R., Sheffield, D. et al (2002) Expressive writing and blood pressure. In The Writing Cure: How Expressive Writing Promotes Health and Emotional Well-being (eds Lepore, S. J. & Smyth, J. M.) pp. 17–30.
**** Krpan KM, Kross E, Berman MG, Deldin PJ, Askren MK, Jonides J. An everyday activity as a treatment for depression: the benefits of expressive writing for people diagnosed with major depressive disorder. J Affect Disord. 2013;150(3):1148-1151.
***** Smyth JM, Johnson JA, Auer BJ, Lehman E, Talamo G, Sciamanna CN. Online positive affect journaling in the improvement of mental distress and well-being in general medical patients with elevated anxiety symptoms: a preliminary randomized controlled trial. JMIR Ment Health. 2018;5