“Take care” is a phrase that gets tossed around pretty often. Perhaps when someone’s leaving or about to end a phone call, he or she will tell you to “take care” or “take care of yourself.” The person means it, of course, but what does it really mean? Whether you’re raising children, running your household or caring for a sick loved one, many of us are far too busy taking care of others to really take proper care of ourselves. And, yet, self-care is a huge factor in our overall health. After all, if you’re not taking care of yourself, you’re probably not going to be able to take care of everything and everyone else in your life for very long.
“Working in diabetes education and weight management for nearly 20 years now, I’m always ready to talk about eating more veggies, reducing processed carbohydrates or finding a way to get to the gym more often,” said Blount Memorial registered dietitian Angie Tillman. “And while most diabetes and weight management programs emphasize eating and exercise behaviors, it is possible that learning self-care strategies may be one of the most important keys to overall health. I often see female patients, especially, who are simply overwhelmed with life. They are caring for children or grandchildren, managing a career, or caring for aging parents, while also dealing with health issues such as diabetes and obesity, plus the hormonal challenges of perimenopause and menopause. They truly want to make changes to their health, but they are simply living in ‘survival mode.’ They hear suggestions of self-care, such as a spa day, a manicure or taking a yoga class, but those things aren’t even in the realm of possibility in their daily routines,” she explained. “While a spa day, manicure or a yoga class can certainly be a part of self-care, it often starts with a few more basic, daily strategies,” she added.
First, Tillman says we all would benefit from getting more sleep. “You want to aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night,” she said. “This is challenging for many people for a variety of reasons, but quality sleep is the basis for regulating so many things in our bodies. We want to prioritize sleep over catching up on work after the kids are asleep, watching TV or just killing time on our phones. We can do this by practicing good sleep habits, such as getting in a bedtime routine and sticking to it, keeping our bedrooms cooler, using white noise to fall asleep, and limiting ourselves to no ‘screen time’ an hour before bedtime,” she explained. “If these things don’t improve your sleep quality and quantity, consider reaching out to a sleep expert for additional help,” she added.
“Next, practice setting boundaries,” Tillman said. “Practice saying no and prioritize the things you say ‘yes’ to. Focus on not overcommitting yourself to activities you simply don’t have time for or that drain you. Say ‘yes’ to things that you know are going to make you feel fulfilled or that you genuinely enjoy,” she added. “This also means saying ‘yes’ to people who make your life better and being more choosy about the people you’re choosing to spend time with,” she added.
Tillman says both stillness and movement also can be elements of self-care. “Take some quiet time to simply breathe and enjoy the quiet,” she said. “Even just a few minutes of unplugging from social media and technology can help quiet the mind. Apps such as ‘Headspace,’ ‘Calm’ or ‘Insight Timer’ also can help you with meditation,” she explained. “Movement, though, also can be a huge stress-reducer. Even a small amount of regular exercise such as walking or yoga can help improve your mood, and can be particularly helpful if you have health conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes. If you can, get outside and spend some time in nature. Studies show even something as simple as having coffee on your back porch can lower your stress levels, promote happiness and improve productivity,” she added.
Finally, Tillman says, diet does have a role in self-care. “We all can and should do better when it comes to what we’re eating,” she said. “This means reducing foods such as sugar, caffeine and alcohol, and increasing proteins, healthy fats, and colorful fruits and vegetables. Just be sure the food choices you’re making make you feel good both physically and emotionally,” she explained.