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What is self-care and why is self-care important?

by Guest on February 6, 2019
Lifestyle

People often avoid prioritising self-care, putting their wellbeing on the back burner while they concentrate on work, family, commitments and the daily grind. However, consistently feeling low, unmotivated, fatigued or irritable is something that shouldn’t be ignored. Dr Preeya Alexander, who you may have seen on TV or online as The Wholesome Doctor, digs deep into self-care.

Self-care explained

Self-care to me is having the courage to put yourself first for a moment, ensuring that your mental and physical wellbeing is OK. As a young working mum, I find self-care hard to prioritise (like many of us do) but I try to make a conscious effort to put myself first. This enables me to be a more patient and healthy mother/wife/daughter/GP and friend.

How to know you need to focus on your wellbeing

Problems with wellbeing can manifest in different ways for different people. Some people describe fatigue or irritability, while some describe issues with motivation and energy. If you’re consistently feeling empty, low, struggling to find strength and motivation then it’s time to review how well you are looking after yourself. It might be as simple as bumping up more exercise or improving your diet, or it might be that you need to talk to your GP about a grumbling anxiety issue you ignore a lot of the time.

How to get started with self-care

You need to have the courage to put yourself first and it isn’t always easy! I find women are often the most reluctant to prioritise themselves. They’re continually putting family first and when I ask about their overdue cervical cancer screening test or mammogram, they look at me sheepishly. I often have to give my patients permission to be slightly selfish and take some time out. Mum guilt is a real problem and a barrier to good self-care – I know this first hand.

The best first step is acknowledging you could do better at your self-care. The next step is having the courage to lock some time in and telling the world/jobs/washing/children/partner they can wait for an hour or two! Self-care can be as simple as going for a walk, having a massage or a session with your psychologist.

Self-care myths

It doesn’t have to be hard or expensive. When I discuss self-care, I feel like my patients initially think I mean a pamper treatment or a long lunch. While both would be wonderful, a simple 30 minute walk on your own or a 15 minute meditation is self-care. It doesn’t have to be fancy!

What jeopardises wellbeing

Lots of things jeopardise wellbeing! A diet high in fatty processed foods can be damaging for physical wellbeing with a higher risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, fatty liver, heart disease and stroke. A lifestyle with heavy alcohol intake (more than two standard drinks a day) can increase the risk of breast and bowel cancer.  There are also lots of things that can jeopardise mental health like poor sleep quality/habits, high-stress environments, relationship issues or financial stressors.

Self-care works!

One of my long term patients eventually came to see me with persistent fatigue. In general practice, we know that most cases of fatigue are due to lifestyle factors such as poor sleep quality, diet issues, inadequate amounts of exercise or stress/anxiety as opposed to organic medical issues like thyroid disease or cancer. After some lengthy discussion and blood tests, I raised with her that perhaps anxiety was causing the fatigue. I had picked up on her anxiety overtime in our consults and we heavily discussed self-care. Self-care wasn’t something she was doing with her children around, though with time, exercise, psychology sessions and meditation she became a new woman. Giving her permission to put herself first, delegate more to her husband and be slightly selfish, changed her completely!
Personally, I know when my batteries are running on low I need to practice what I preach to my patients. I’m not great at accepting help or stating that I might need more help. However, I’ve learnt that if I collapse the whole family does too. So now I try and intervene early with more exercise, more sleep and more time for me!

Self-care for women

Women are very often the “do-ers” or the “glue” of the family and I talk about the female mental load to my patients. Most of us are always thinking of what needs to be done – cooking dinner with leftovers, laundry, walking the dog, ensuring the toddler has spare undies in their childcare bag, picking up packages from the post office, wondering how we will get to work on time, whether or not we have clean underwear for the week ahead and how on earth we’ll get the time to find a present for a family birthday on the weekend.

For a lot of us, we are constantly writing lists and ticking jobs, which can be seriously draining! It’s OK to feel exhausted sometimes, but it’s so important to know that simple self-care is crucial. Take 20 minutes to read, exercise or see your GP for your OWN health issues (and not your child’s). It might just be the thing that stops you (and the family unit) from collapsing!

About Dr Preeya Alexander

self-care advice

Dr Preeya Alexander is a medical doctor who is passionate about all things ‘prevention’ in medicine. Dr Alexander has made TV appearances sharing her tips, experiences and medical based thoughts to encourage discussion and trends toward healthier living.

You can follow Dr Alexander on Instagram @TheWholesomeDoctor.

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