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Self-Care Sunday: The Importance of Getting Outside & Seeing Your Friends
If you’ve been following me on instagram, you probably noticed that I went on a bit of a rant Thursday night about self-care. This word is all the rage right now, but sometimes I feel as though it’s turned into a bit of a marketing gimmick. Buy this really expensive candle for your self-care day; go to yoga and buy all the gear to invest in self-care. I even see this in my office, with people telling me “it’s my health, so money isn’t an object”. That’s where my job as a health professional comes in; it’s not about selling you something you don’t need, it’s to figure out how to structure your day, how to give you time when you’ve “got no time”, and to teach you how to do it without spending a ton of money unnecessarily.
Over the next few weeks, I’m going to show you how I (try) to practice what I preach. From what I spend on groceries, to how I balance my own hormones, to why I love a good bath and candle sesh, to why doing my hair is actually a moment of self-care for me, and maybe what my favourite “treat yourself” things are. And I say try because no one has it all together, no one is perfect, but I hope by giving you a glimpse into the day-to-day working of my life, we both might benefit from it.
Today I woke up after a pre-period migraine knocked me out for almost 24 hours. I don’t get them that often anymore, but a combination of a good amount of stress this past week triggered a nice like “tick every box of symptoms” from about midnight Friday night to 8pm Saturday eve. Cue the dark room.
So today I’m taking things a bit easy because, well, duh. That’s step 1 to learn about self-care… that sometimes it takes a knock over the head to make you realize you haven’t been taking care of yourself as well as you could. So what am I doing today for self-care?
I’m taking my shoes off and heading into my garden. My mum dropped off about 50lbs of lillies she dug up from her garden (that I was supposed to pick up yesterday, but hello migraine) that I’m replanting into mine because, and I quote, “they do really well when you forget about them”, and headed for a walk with one of my best girlfriends.
There are two reasons for both of these activities. The health benefits of being outside has been researched more than you might think. A 2016 study from the University of Queensland found that “people who visit parks for 30 minutes or more each week are much less likely to have high blood pressure or poor mental health than those who don’t” (1). That’s 30 minutes a week. I think I can manage 30 minutes per week… especially digging up soil.
Another study from 2010 found that being outside resulted in lower levels of cortisol, a marker we use to understand the amount of impact stressors have on our bodies (2), and even another study still found that being outside demonstrated a decrease in both the heart rates and levels of cortisol of participants who spent time in the forest compared to those in the city (3).
The other reason I’m working on spending time on both of those activities is that spending time with your social network, aka your girlfriends, aka your squad, will result in a number of health benefits; not to mention it’s always good to catch up and connect.
Friendship offers a number of mental health benefits specifically; with increased feeling of belonging, purpose, happiness and reduced levels of stress. This particular study found that people without perceived social supports were the most likely to suffer from anxiety and depression (4); while this other study found that social connection is a greater determinant to health than obesity, smoking, and high blood pressure (5). That means the more socially connected you are, the better your health outcomes. Finally, research has shown that social connections don’t only impact your mental health, they also impact your physical health as well.
A review of 148 studies (308,849 participants) indicated that the individuals with stronger social relationships had a 50% increased likelihood of survival (6). This remained true across a number of factors, including age, sex, initial health status, and cause of death.
Ok, noted, self-care lesson #1; spend a little bit of time outside, ideally in the company of a good friend.
1. Danielle F. Shanahan, Robert Bush, Kevin J. Gaston, Brenda B. Lin, Julie Dean, Elizabeth Barber, Richard A. Fuller. Health Benefits from Nature Experiences Depend on Dose. Scientific Reports, 2016; 6: 28551 DOI: 10.1038/srep28551
2. Qing L. Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function. Environ Health Prev Med, 2010; Jan; 15(1): 9-17
3. Miyazaki Y. Lee J. Park BJ. Tsunetsugu Y. Matsunaga K. Preventive medical effects of nature therapy. Nihon Eiseigaku Zasshi, 2011 Sep; 66(4): 651-656
4. Cadzow, Renee B. et al. The Association Between Perceived Social Support and Health Among Patients at a Free Urban Clinic. Journal of the National Medical Association, Volume 101 , Issue 3 , 243 – 250
5. Cockerham WC, Hammy BW, Oates GR. The Social Determinants of Chronic Disease. Am J Prev Med. 2017 Jan; 52 (1 Suppl 1): S5-S12
6. Holt-Lunstad J, Smith TB, Layton JB. Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-Analytic Review. PLOS Medicine 2010 7(7): e1000316.