For Nutrition Month, League is asking pros from our Health Marketplace to offer self care tips on how to encourage your team to make healthier choices—improve your self care, all month long. Because we know you can’t have a healthy business without a healthy team.
Several months ago, a friend of mine asked what I do to improve self care and how she could evaluate whether she was “doing it right.” Interesting, given so many of us spend our entire lives under pressure, pushing ourselves beyond our limits to work harder, achieve more and advance our careers. Instead of pursuing the ever-elusive work/life balance, consider working towards finding balance within yourself. Improving self-care is key.
What do you need to feel good? How can you pare down your schedule to carve out time for the basics? What items can you remove from your life or release yourself from? From regular sleep to luxury vacations, improving self care” can involve a host of activities—but today I’d like to address a minimalist take, one that focuses on 4 parts of everyday life you need to nurture in order to prevent burnout and ensure you’re improving self care. Your most important asset: your well-being.
1. First Tip to Improve your self care is Sleep
While many people insist they do just fine on 6 hours of sleep a night, most people require a steady 7 – 9 hours to feel energized and restored. Over the short-term, insufficient sleep compromises our ability to learn and retain information, can affect judgement and mood, impairs concentration and problem solving skills, and increases our risk of accident or injury. Consider that sleep deprivation played a factor in the 1979 nuclear accident at Three Mile Island, the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and the 1986 nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl. Fatigue is also implicated in 100,000 car crashes and 1,550 crash-related deaths a year in the United States according to The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Several studies have also confirmed that chronic sleep deprivation increases our risk for several health conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, heart attack, heart failure, stroke and Type II Diabetes. Inadequate or poor sleep is also associated with increased cravings for carbohydrates and sugary foods, as well as dysregulated hunger signals.
To improve your sleep, commit to excellent sleep practices. Some steps you can take include
- dimming the lights as soon as the sun goes down to promote melatonin production
- minimizing blue lights from computer screens and other electronics by using apps such as flux or purchasing blue light blocking glasses
- exchanging some of the light bulbs in your home with ambers or reds to mimic the sunset
- sipping on herbal teas (e.g., chamomile or passionflower), which have been shown in some studies to help with sleep
- keeping your home cool in the evenings (60 – 67 degrees Fahrenheit)
- supplementing with magnesium (make sure to speak to a qualified healthcare practitioner before you do)
- making sure you are hydrated, as dehydration can impact shut eye
- reading a book or engaging in an activity that helps you unwind
- avoiding alcohol, as it can wake you up or prevent a restful sleep
- organizing your clothes and gym bag, packing your lunch and writing out your to-do list to prevent unnecessary stress and anxiety
- avoiding vigorous exercise after 7pm (if you can help it), as it raises your body temperature as well as your cortisol levels
2. Nutrition, Improve your diet
Eating regular meals is an important part of self-care. There is no right or wrong way to eat—some individuals prefer to graze throughout the day, while others are drawn to three square meals—but you do want to make sure you’re eating enough to support optimal brain function. Headaches, low energy, poor focus, and irritability can all signal hunger, so if you rarely experience a growling stomach, you may need to tune in to how hunger manifests for you. Make a point to listen to your cravings. What do you need? Which foods would make you feel best? Ideally, eat a variety of foods from all groups to satisfy your taste buds as well as your macronutrient and micronutrient requirements.
Self-care tips to prepare for a busy workweek:
- Meal prep on the weekend. It doesn’t have to be overly involved or time-consuming. Think components: hard-boiled eggs, grilled or roasted chicken, a pot of soup, a big salad (kale and cabbage-based salads hold up better than lettuce salads), beans and grains. Prep fruits such as pineapple, mango, and melon for convenience, and spend a few minutes chopping carrots, celery, and broccoli to enjoy with hummus throughout the week.
- If you like smoothies, consider making a couple ahead of time for ease. Chia seed puddings and overnight oats can both be prepared a night or 2 before consumption.
- Don’t let the great be the enemy of the good. Pre-chopped and frozen vegetables are both awesome options for the time-strapped.
- Lower expectations. While it’s wonderful to enjoy meals that cover all the food groups, there’s nothing wrong with serving breakfast or lunch for dinner (like scrambled eggs, or soup and sandwiches). Though whole foods are ideal due to their nutrient density, processed foods are a part of life and can fit into a healthy diet too.
3. Improve self care through Exercise
Even if you don’t have the time or energy to commit to scheduled, structured workouts, you can still be “fitness minded.” Exercise can help boost mood, productivity and focus. Weight-bearing activities improve bone density and may prevent osteoporosis. Instead of sticking to the calorie burning potential of various exercises, consider what you would enjoy instead. Does ballroom or salsa dancing appeal to you? What about a morning yoga or pilates class? Do you prefer to exercise alone or in a group? Make a point to move every day in a way that feels good to you, whether it’s a walk around your neighbourhood or a metabolic conditioning class.
Try to find ways to build movement into your everyday life to make exercise more consistent and meaningful for you:
- walking or cycling to and from work
- taking the stairs rather than the escalator or elevator
- parking farther away from your destination
- going for walks throughout the day
- rock climbing or hiking with friends
- performing a single exercise a few days a week (like push-ups, squats or jumping jacks)
4. Finally, Rest and recovery
Are you taking some time out to decompress? Health is more than what we put in our mouths and how much we exercise. Participating in the things we love is part of good health too. How can you find time for your hobbies and interests? What hopes and dreams have you been placing on the back burner? These activities could include joining a book club, horseback riding, finding time to read or write habitually, cooking, or enrolling in a self-paced course.
Self-care Pro tip! Remember that improving self care isn’t only about adding things to your life, but also about subtracting those things that make it difficult to maintain a balance. While this list focuses primarily on the former, sometimes simplifying our day-to-day is the best form of self-care we can give to ourselves. Digital detoxes, capsule wardrobes, decluttering, debt repayment, outsourcing, and asking for help when we need it are all excellent forms of self-care.