Self-care is a term that many of us may be familiar with and it is essentially about making a dedicated and conscious effort to give back to ourselves both physically and mentally that can also enrich us socially and psychologically.
Self-care is also super important for our gut health as the gut-brain connection is completely intertwined so one can affect the other. Practising self-care that helps us to reduce stress, improve mood and optimise sleep is therefore integral to how we nourish our gut and our mind. Here are some self-care tips that we can use to help to give back to both us and our gut…
Unlike positive affirmations, self-affirmations are based on how we identify the things and values that affirm one’s self-worth. If we use more general positive affirmations, they can tend to be ineffective and often have a reverse negative impact. Furthermore, they might also be ineffective if we don’t truly believe them, so it is important we use words and statements that are consistent with our own truth. There can also be the trap of falling into toxic positivity with positive affirmations and seeking some kind of perfection which won’t do anything for our self-esteem.
You might therefore think of self-affirmations more as value affirmations which can help to support our overall sense of self and self-worth and help us to better cope with challenging life experiences. Studies have confirmed that self-affirmation can show some positive effects on stress, and that it can have long-lasting effects. Basically, it helps to switch on the brain’s reward system which has a quieting effect on the stress response and has a real significance in how we support the gut-brain connection.
Claude Steele, who popularised self-affirmation theory states that we need to prioritise having a ‘multidimensional life’ such that we have multiple things that contribute to our life including friends, family, work and interests. He believes this is a big part of how we create our own self-affirmations. One of the most common ways to practise self-affirmation is to create a list of around 10 things that we value and pick the one we rank as the most important and write about this for around 5 minutes on why that is true to ourselves, how we have exhibited it in the past and how we can bring it into the future. So for example it might ‘I appreciate all the ways in which I am unique’ or ‘my life is full of potential’. Think of ones that truly resonate with you. And remember that behaviour is crucial to this process so that we behave in ways that are consistent with that affirmation so that it becomes even more believable and likely to translate into reality.
One of the most significant ways we can exert self-care is through the way in which we nourish ourselves and our inner ecosystem through the food we eat. Fibre is essential to how we care for our gut microbiota, and we need to enrich it abundantly and diversely as possible. Fibre can be found in all types of vegetables, fruit, whole grains and nuts & seeds and we need to think about eating a rainbow of colours to maximise the variety of fibre sources which supports the health of our gut.
Mindfully including prebiotics, which are a type of dietary fibre that has a more enriching effect on the good bugs in our gut, will also serve us well. These can be found in the highest concentration in foods such as onion, garlic, asparagus, oats and under-ripe bananas. Including a daily sachet of Bimuno means we can ensure we are getting prebiotics regularly into our routine and also demonstrates self-care to our gut microbiota and overall well-being.
In addition, fermented foods can have a positive impact on our gut microbiota. This includes natural yoghurt, aged cheese, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir and kombucha. I often refer to kombucha as champagne for the gut which has a feeling of celebration and self-love in itself.
Presenting our meals in a way that shows thought and consideration, much like my Lemony White Bean & Greens Broth, can also have a marked impact on the message we are sending to ourselves as well as the way in which we eat the food on the plate in front of us. Creating an appropriate setting with carefully selected plates, napkins and cutlery and removing all distractions (use a phone drawer if you need) denotes a feeling of value and worthiness. This also encourages us to slow down and take time over our meals, which has a positive impact on our gut and can alleviate some of the more common digestive symptoms such as bloating, trapped wind and reflux.
Small rituals practised regularly are an important way of saying we care about ourselves and for each of us this will mean something different. It could be having a long soak in the bath, especially if we use calmative oils such as lavender or Epsom salts as these can help to relax the body including the gut and at the end of the day help to promote better sleep.
Making a pot of herbal tea and taking time to sip it can also create crucial pockets of recovery in the day that are essential to moving the body into the parasympathetic ‘rest & digest’ mode which is conducive to optimising the functioning of the gut. It might also be taking time for a walk, especially in the morning to expose ourselves to natural light, as this can help to support natural circadian rhythms that affect the sleep-wake cycle. Even savouring some time in the day to enjoy some chocolate can give us a moment of self-gratification and joy. Ideally 70% cocoa content as this also provides polyphenols which our gut microbes also love.
Breathing exercises can be an incredibly powerful way of helping us to practise self-compassion and awareness. The simple 4-part box breathing method is one that is super easy to follow which simply requires breathing in deeply for a count of 4, holding the breath on full for 4, releasing gradually to a count of 4 and holding on empty for 4 and repeating this cycle for 10 minutes or longer. You can even envisage a box at the same time if you need somewhere to focus the mind. This type of ‘diaphragmatic’ breathing helps to engage the parasympathetic nervous system and soothe the vagus nerve that connects the gut and the brain.
Abdominal self-massage can also help alleviate symptoms of bloating and support motility of the gut as well as hands on giving love back to yourself. There are a few ways this can be performed and there are many tutorials that can be accessed online, although one of the most common is working in clockwise direction around the abdomen with gentle pressure. Just make sure you check for any contraindications such as post-surgery or pregnancy.
Many of us can quite often feel like we are always saying yes to things and going beyond healthy limitations which can be to the detriment of ourselves. Setting boundaries is therefore essential to our own self-preservation. This includes the ability to say to no things which can be much more cathartic than we realise.
Prioritising ourselves is fundamental to being able to give back to others so there is nothing selfish in making sure our own needs are also met. Limiting social media exposure and actively unfollowing and muting those that do not fill us up psychologically is an important part of this. Creating ample headspace allows us to be self-reflective and think about the things we really want in our life which is the ultimate practice of self-care.
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