Written by: Phoenix A. Muhammad, LMFT, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
Learning what it’s not may prolong your life. Perhaps so many of us are overwhelmed, mentally undernourished, and outright depleted because we think we are engaging in self-care, yet do not truly understand the gravity of its meaning.
Let’s start with what self-care is not. If I had a dollar for every patient, friend, or acquaintance who said they were going to partake in some self-care by getting a haircut or manicure I’d earn a decent passive income. Activities such as manicures, pedicures, facials, and even so-called retail therapy are in fact, on the continuum of self-maintenance. While these will indeed make you feel good during and after, they do not constitute self-care.
Self-care is a very serious, and urgent undertaking. There is even a clinical definition from the World Health Organization. According to the WHO,
“Self-care is the ability of individuals, families, and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a health-care provider."
To clarify, self-maintenance is an activity one likes to do. Self-care is actions that you, your family, and the entire community must do to live and thrive for as long as possible. Therefore, you may not like doing some things that you must do. My mother died after a long battle with colorectal cancer. Do I enjoy getting colonoscopies? Absolutely not, but I must. This is an act of self-care.
According to the International Self-Care Foundation (yes, it’s a thing!), there are seven pillars of self-care.
Pillar 1: The Culture and Literacy of Health and Fitness
This is the responsibility and development of the fundamental competence to access, articulate and employ necessary knowledge to make sound health choices as well as seek appropriate services.
This is about duty to the self. To know if you should rely on the first opinion or obtain a second one. To be able to have intelligent conversations and collaborative relationships with healthcare providers. It is a new norm that functions to exclusively conflict with and disrupt generational and cultural norms about health and is a call to action into the culture of your life conservancy.
Pillar 2: Intelligence About Wellbeing and Personal Agency
In the world we live in now, one should know their vital signs long before attending a health screening. Still, in an active pandemic, every household should have at least 2 thermometers (they can give false readings if defective), an oximeter, a blood pressure cuff, and a scale. Most smartwatches with a health app can measure your resting and active heart rate. Having this awareness not only empowers you in the long run but also gives you a head start for acute illnesses.
Pillar 3: Being Physically Active
Are you achieving 10,000 steps a day? After the covid lockdown, many employers saw the financial benefit in their employees working virtually. Telework has many advantages but running for a bus, standing up on a crowded train, and choosing to take the stairs instead of the escalator made it easy for people to be active. Many trainers now recommend 15,000 daily steps instead. Smartphones with health apps record your steps when holding your device or while it is in your pocket. Even still, medical professionals suggest a minimum of thirty minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise a day. If a Peloton is not in the budget, invest in a jump rope instead or have fun with your friends and family doing the Cha-Cha Slide.
Pillar 4: Healthful Eating
This can be tricky. Obviously, taking in sufficient amounts of water, fresh fruits, and vegetables is crucial. But there are many types of approaches to eating. More people are moving away from eating SAD or the Standard American Diet as research has shown that limiting one’s meal frequency is linked to better health and can even change the course of many diseases. This is where Pillar 1 comes in. Do your research. Don’t just Google it. Use Google Scholar, PubMed, and other databases to identify scholarly articles that are no more than five years old to base your healthful eating decisions.
Pillar 5: Avoiding and Reducing Risks
This wide-ranging pillar includes everything from quitting smoking and other harmful habits to properly securing children in cars and wearing your own seatbelts. Being sleep-deprived can shrink your immune system. Endorphins, a type of neurotransmitter, make us feel good after we exercise, as in a “runner’s high”, but they have an even more important function. They modulate your immune system. And while they can be elevated during the day, endorphins are only produced while asleep at night. Stress and angst can cause temporary yet dramatic spikes in your heart rate and blood pressure. Prayer, meditation, breathwork, and even reading can be stress-reducing activities.
Pillar 6: Proper Hygiene
Meeting the standards of good personal hygiene impacts one’s family and community. This also includes washing your hands and food, as well as cleaning your home. Doorknobs, elevator buttons, handrails, and ATMs are breeding grounds for germs. For the religious, it is said that cleanliness is next to Godliness. I’d like to offer that cleanliness is Godliness.
Pillar 7: The Conscientious Application of Medicines and Diagnostic Screenings
Storage and proper use of medications are vital. Being aware of expiration dates, the number of refills, and medication compliance is necessary. Do not under or over-medicate oneself. Tending to your recommended diagnostic screenings is part of your self-care. Gynecological exams like pap smears are not just for women. Men should get them too! Mammograms are not only for women. Men should get them too! Speak with your doctor and inquire about what exams she recommends for you.
If this feels like a lot to accomplish, do not worry! The great news is that incorporating just one thing consistently can yield impactful outcomes. For example, when you quit smoking, in only one hour, your heart rate and blood pressure start to drop. After one day the body cleanses itself from the poisonous carbon monoxide, decreasing the risk of heart disease. And after one week, nicotine levels are depleted, thereby reducing cravings. Start with one hard thing or a few easier ones.
I’ve put together an acronym to help. Think CLEAN!
C- by all means CALL your doctor
L- LISTEN to your body’s emotional and physical needs
E- clean up your EATING, drink more water, eat more fruits and vegetables
A- get ACTIVE, take up cycling, running, swimming, or follow a YouTube video you enjoy
N- do not actively NEGLECT to go to the doctor out of fear or stubbornness
Here are some closing thoughts. When you purchased your new car, did you take it for scheduled maintenance appointments? Did you buy the cheapest gas, and skip oil changes? Are you guilty of taking better care of your car, computer, or iPhone than yourself? You can always buy a new device. But you only have this one body and this one life. Self-care is the act of taking care of yourself.
So, take good care.
Do you have goals but need some support? If you reside outside of New York State, click here to schedule your free health and well-being coaching call. For all New York State residents, click here. You can visit my website to learn more.
Phoenix A. Muhammad, LMFT, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, Phoenix A. Muhammad is a psychotherapist, writer, and founder of Phoenix Marriage & Family Therapy, PLLC. With Muhammad’s two-decade tenure in entertainment, she is also a script consultant for films involving complex social and psychological storylines and characters. The base of her clinical work is providing therapy for individuals, couples, and families in high-need populations. With Summa Cum Laude completion of her Master of Science from Mercy College, Ms. Muhammad was invited to become a member of the Mercy adjunct faculty. Professor Muhammad’s mission is to strengthen under-served communities, one family at a time.