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Self-Care week 4: Where’s the proof? The science behind self-care.

BY Elizabeth O’Connor

Over the past couple of weeks we’ve talked a lot about self-care, mindfulness, and how to implement it. I’d like to end self-care month by showing everyone the physical impacts that self care can have on our bodies. It’s hard to follow a healthcare routine without scientific proof that it works, so here are some self-care routines and the physical benefits that can come with them. According to most of my research, the scientific side of mental health seems to have a lot to do with taking care of the nervous system. So that seems to be where a lot of the research is based. This article isn’t claiming to have a medical backing, but I’m just sharing with you a bit of research on different studies that have been done.

 

Using your senses

We’ve talked a lot about grounding yourself within your environment and making sure you are always present and aware of your surroundings, but we haven’t yet discovered the importance of this. Making ourselves fully aware of your surroundings forces forces us to utilise our senses. It is said that senses, in particular smell, can help to promote and maintain a healthy nervous system, as well as often being able to elicit certain emotions. The nervous system also has a hefty level of control over our mental wellbeing, in particular our propensity to become anxious.

 

Essential Oils

According to the NHS, lavender, ylang-ylang, and clary sage are all effective for relaxation. If you’re starting to feel unstable or overwhelmed, try and take some time out to indulge in a bit of aromatherapy. Aside from mental health, essential oils are also said to be have physical pain relieving properties. I also remember being told by a beauty therapist that rubbing a bit of it into your stomach can be really effective as it reaches your bloodstream slightly faster (although that may have been a very effective marketing ploy!).

 

Although it isn’t a scientific review, I bought the Lavender flavoured ‘Sleepy’ body cream from Lush for a friend of mine and have had brilliant feedback. The cream has also received a lot of press attention. It is said to be brilliant for insomnia, which can often arise as a side effect of an unstable mental state.

 

Lavender is said to have a slowing impact on the nervous system, making it effective at treating nervous disorders (aka neurological disorders). It has also been shown to chemically influence serotonin transporters in the brain of rats. Although the study is not fully conclusive, it is definitely a vote of confidence for essential oils!

 

Yoga

Studies have shown that practicing yoga – usually consisting of poses made to stretch your muscles – can reduce the brain’s production of the stress hormone cortisol. Yoga can also be shown to lower blood pressure. Most mental health symptoms do not pose a physical threat to us, however high blood pressure is one of the few that does. Continual spikes in blood pressure can cause damage to blood vessels, heart, and kidneys. There has also been research claiming that high blood pressure is actually the cause of cognitive decline that has previously been attributed to ageing.  

 

These are just a couple of examples of the many things we can do to make a conscious effort to take care of our bodies and – in turn – our minds. Part of Self-Care is making sure we are informed on the best ways of doing it. I hope these last four posts have given you all as much of an insight into self-care as they have given me.

 

The key thing I have taken away from my research is that making time to take care of yourself must be listed as high up on our list of priorities as everything, that includes work, exams, paying taxes and every other commitment under the sun. It seems to me that if we don’t take time out to do this then it is not a matter of if we will burn out and become unable to follow through on our other commitments, but when.

 

If nothing else, I hope this month has planted the seed in your minds that it is not selfish, or self-indulgent to look after yourself, it’s an act of rebellion! Rebellions rely on numbers if they are to succeed, so let’s all join the self-care revolution. To end self-care month I’d like to stress the importance of open discussion.

 

We need to talk about how we are feeling, what self-care techniques we have tried and how effective they were. The aim of this revolution must be to destroy the stigma around self-care, and make the future one where we all take care of ourselves, so we can all take care of eachother.

 

Next month we will be looking into the idea of gratitude, different ways of looking at it and approaching it, and how to integrate it into our daily lives.

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