Self Care. It’s something we hear a lot about these days but what does it mean?
Essentially it means taking the time and effort to do things that can benefit your physical health and mental wellbeing, things that make you feel better. It also means understanding and knowing how to live with a long term condition or an acute illness should you experience one.
Self Care doesn’t mean you have to manage your health and wellbeing on your own. It’s taking action that will be of benefit to you, alongside getting help from your doctor, dietitian, pharmacist or other health professional when you need it.
The British Medical Association describes self care as:
‘The actions people take for themselves, their children and their families to stay fit and maintain good physical and mental health; meet social and psychological needs; prevent illness or accidents; care for minor ailments and long term conditions.’
Why is Self Care important if you have a Gut Condition?
Because of the intimate connection between the gut and the brain via The Gut-Brain Axis, what is happening in one has a big effect on the other. If you have IBS and/or Functional Dyspepsia (FD) – the two most common Functional Gut Disorders – you know first hand how stress negatively affects your gut symptoms, and vice versa. This can turn into a vicious cycle with stress and/or anxiety fuelling gut symptoms and those symptoms fuelling stress and/or anxiety and around it goes.
IBS and FD are now considered Disorders of Gut-Brain Interaction (DGBIs), and because of this, self care is a vital cog in the wheel of well-being. Self care, and a holistic approach that helps reduce stress and anxiety, and optimises sleep, is an important part of managing your gut condition.
Self Care – The Basics
There is no “right” way to self care, you need to find what works well for you. But there are some fundamentals that we can all benefit from, including regular exercise, eating a healthy and balanced diet, good quality sleep, not smoking and reducing the amount of alcohol we drink. If you’ve been prescribed medication it’s good to take it as advised. If you’ve a gut issue like IBS or FD, conditions we see people with in our clinics everyday, then diet and food choices play a particularly important role in your self care.
We’re well aware that finding the time for ‘self care’ isn’t always easy. It often requires some planning and effort also, which can be difficult if you are feeling at a low ebb. But if you can find the time, you’ll reap the rewards both physically and mentally. You need only read our previous blog on Sleep to learn about some of the significant short – and long-term risks associated with lack of sleep.
The benefits of regular exercise are manifold, including;
- Reduced risk of many major illnesses (heart disease, Type 2 diabetes)
- Improved mood, and reduced risk of depression and anxiety
- Improved energy levels
- Improved sleep quality
- Helps control weight
- Improved gut motility which is particularly helpful if you have constipation or constipation-predominant IBS
- Improved diversity (a good thing) of the gut microbiota
- Improved blood flow to the skin which helps nourish the skin cells and keep them healthy and vibrant
- Improved sex life
That’s a lot of very good reasons to take some regular exercise!
Food affects our mood. The groundbreaking SMILEs study (Supporting the Modification of lifestyle in Lowered Emotional States) published in 2017 showed that a Modified Mediterranean diet led to a significant reduction in depressive symptoms over a 3-month period. We too are advocates of a Mediterranean style diet, it has shown to be beneficial for gut and overall health.
Smoking is bad for you, on every level, and the sooner you quit, the quicker your body can recover. In addition to the very harmful effects smoking has on your heart and lungs, it also takes a toll on your skin, causing discolouration and premature ageing.
Alcohol in excess, is not good for your physical or mental health. For most countries this comes in at around 110g of alcohol per week (this is 11 standard drinks in Ireland or 14 units in the UK, where the measure is a little smaller). We’re not the fun police but it is important that you recognise the effects alcohol can have on your physical and mental health. Recent surveys highlight a worrying upward trend in alcohol consumption since the pandemic began. Alcohol is also a trigger of gut symptoms for those with IBS and/or FD so there’s another reason to reduce your consumption. And finally, as if that isn’t already enough, excess alcohol is bad for your skin.
We strongly believe that people can enjoy alcohol safely but we want people to be aware of the many reasons for staying within the safe-drinking guidelines. Check out our Alcohol Advice
6 Simple Self Care Tips
As we said, it’s a case of finding habits that work well for you but here are some things to consider trying:
- Spend time in nature – there’s an ever-growing body of scientific evidence showing that time in nature helps our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Studies have even shown that exposure to nature through windows or computer/TV screens can have a positive effect on our emotions.
- Enjoy simple rituals e.g. savour a warm drink, enjoy a bath, relish that delicious dark chocolate (it’s also feeding your Gut Microbiota).
- Practice meditation or mindfulness – The Dalai Lama says, “Happiness is the highest form of health”
- Reduce time on your phone – delete apps that fuel anxiety, unfollow people on social media that don’t make you feel good about yourself
- Say no – it’s ok to say no to things. Many of us don’t say no enough in order to keep others happy
- Journaling or Gratitude list – keep a journal or write down three things at the end of each day that you’re grateful for. This can make a big difference to your outlook the next morning
But I don’t have time for self care
We hear this a lot…we say it ourselves sometimes. But the truth is almost all of us can take some steps to facilitate more self care time. Start with the basics we’ve outlined and then try to plan and ring-fence time in the week for other smaller habits and rituals. The small habits will start to add up.
If you are struggling mentally or feeling overwhelmed then please discuss this with your GP or Family Doctor. Sometimes we need a little more help.
So, start getting outdoors more, eat the rainbow, run a bath and talk nicely to yourself – it’s time for some real self care.
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©The Gut Experts 2021