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July 22, 2022 • read
10 self-care tips for your overall wellness
You know you should be doing more of it, but making time for self-care isn’t always easy. Luckily, small daily actions that are easy to maintain often do the most good. This leaves a lot of room for options, but some give you more bang for your buck than others. Here are the most effective self-care activities that can help you achieve wellness.
The hormones that promote happiness and overall wellness
The body is a complex system, and neurotransmitters and hormones are its connecting wires. They’re also chemical signals that promote feelings of contentment, joy, and love, helping you to maintain good physical, emotional, and mental health. Here are the most potent ones.
Serotonin is a powerhouse neurotransmitter. Not only does it carry messages between your nerve cells, but it also plays a part in almost all brain functions, as well as your gastrointestinal and cardiovascular ones. More famously, it’s a key player in regulating your mood and sleep — depression and anxiety are both associated with a serotonin deficit.
A lack of serotonin doesn’t just cause low mood, however. It can also contribute to memory issues, sexual dysfunction, and changes to your appetite. Maintaining adequate serotonin levels promotes feelings of happiness and calm, and can increase your ability to concentrate.
Sometimes called the “pleasure hormone,” dopamine also functions as a neurotransmitter, carrying chemical messages between your cells. But dopamine’s domain is in reward reinforcement, and it’s released when you accomplish a task or engage in a pleasurable behaviour.
While this means it’s implicated in drug addiction, it’s also a key component of learning and planning. Dopamine affects your sleep, mood, the way you learn, and your motivation.
Endorphins are hormones your body produces in response to stress. Known as endogenous opioid neuropeptides, they’re effectively a natural drug your body produces to make you feel good.
Your body kicks up endorphin production in response to certain stimuli — when you eat certain foods, or have sex, for example. But you also make endorphins in response to pain and strenuous exercise. They’re responsible for the “runner’s high” you can get from certain exercises.
Sometimes known as the “love hormone,” oxytocin is another powerful hormone, responsible for bonding you to others. Mothers produce it during childbirth, but it’s also released when you’re sexually attracted to someone or when you fall in love.
The best self-care activities
Day-to-day stresses can affect your body’s ability to produce the neurotransmitters and hormones that keep you feeling good. This can leave you feeling unmotivated, depleted, and even depressed. Here’s how to tweak your self-care routine so you can function at your best.
1. Incorporate exercise into your life
You don’t need to hit the gym every morning at 6am, but making time for daily exercise is one of the best things you can do for self-care, and is a major stress reliever. Stress, especially chronic stress, can affect your body’s ability to produce adequate stores of dopamine. It also triggers the release of cortisol, which is an immune suppressor. This contributes to illness, depression, and an overall decrease in life satisfaction.
Beyond managing stress, exercise and happy hormones go together. Exercise releases endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine. This can have powerful effects on your mood, ranging from euphoria and overall feelings of wellness to a reduction in physical pain sensations. And you don’t have to train for a marathon or become a triathlete to reap the benefits. Aiming for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week is enough.
2. Make time for yourself
Having close relationships is one of the building blocks of life. But even the most outrageous extrovert needs alone time every once in a while. Whether it’s to read a book or do nothing, making regular time and space to take a break will leave you feeling refreshed and relaxed. Who doesn’t love that?
This also goes for making time to complete your daily routine, like taking a shower or flossing and brushing your teeth. While missing a shower here and there won’t harm you, your teeth can take a turn for the worst if you’re not making time for them.
That includes brushing and flossing. Brushing your teeth without flossing is like showering without washing your armpits. Yes, you’ll be done faster, but you’ll have missed a crucial step. If you don’t floss, you miss cleaning about one-third of your tooth’s surface.
Poor oral hygiene affects more than just your mouth — researchers think periodontal disease might be linked to arthritis. Also, while it’s unclear exactly why, patients with poor oral hygiene are also more likely to have heart issues than those without, so don’t neglect your dental hygiene — brush, floss, and go easy on the sugar.
3. Maintain a healthy diet
That 2pm cookie is a tasty way to get over your afternoon slump, but it’s guaranteed to trigger a crash once the sugar runs its course. And your energy isn’t all that suffers — unstable blood sugar levels affect your mood and can play a role in depression.
Beyond your mood and keeping you full, your diet also has a profound effect on your health. Research shows that healthy eating may reduce inflammation, which is implicated in a variety of conditions ranging from depression to cardiovascular disease and cancer.
To reap the most benefits from your food, avoid or limit sugar and refined carbohydrates. Increase your protein and fibre intake and choose whole foods whenever possible. Nuts, fish, and avocados can help you incorporate healthy fats like omega-3s, which are heart-healthy. And berries and tea are a great addition as they contain flavonoids — compounds that may help slow cognitive decline as you age.
4. Soak up the benefits of nature
Whether it’s helping you stock up on vitamin D, which you need for healthy teeth and bones, or helping you decrease your stress, getting outside is a cure for what ails you. From increasing your ability to concentrate and self-regulate to boosting your working memory, the benefits of being in nature are seemingly endless.
Getting outside doesn’t have to mean trekking a mountain path either. Taking a walk in a tree-lined neighbourhood or picnicking at your local park also do the trick. Spending two hours in nature a week can help to boost both serotonin and dopamine levels. No wonder it can also result in better sleep, and increased happiness and well-being. So get outside and enjoy the perks of nature.
5. Prioritize your sleep
A good night’s sleep is the foundation your life is built on. But, a proper night’s sleep is often one of the first balls to drop when you’re juggling a heavy load. And sleep deprivation effects don’t just end at feeling tired and irritable.
Lack of sleep makes it more difficult to concentrate, reduces your alertness and memory, and increases your risk for a host of chronic illnesses. Getting a good amount of sleep every night — seven to nine hours, to be exact — is a critical part of every self-care routine. Without sleep, it’s hard for anything else to go right.
6. Journey into journaling
Mental health support is often centred around talk therapy, medication, or both. Less well-known is how effective journaling can be. Journaling can be a powerful tool for coping with stress. It can also help you reflect on the positive, and change your perspective on any negative aspects of your life.
Studies show that journaling can also trigger physical health benefits — helping you recover from an illness more quickly, and lower your blood pressure, for example. Try putting pen to paper, or typing your thoughts down on a regular basis and see how you feel. It might just be the activity your self-care routine is missing.
7. Try meditation
From the outside, it’s hard to tell the difference between meditation and a nap. Internally, however, science shows that meditation can result in transformational shifts in your brain. Meditation may improve concentration, reduce stress, and help stave off cognitive decline over time. Additionally, it can be a great adjunct treatment for depression and anxiety, and may even help reduce physical pain.
The next time you’re feeling wound up, try sitting in a comfortable position, closing your eyes, and focusing on your breathing. You probably won’t achieve inner peace — at least not right away — but it might bring you down a notch or two.
8. Start therapy
Therapy is a powerful tool for dealing with a traumatic experience or working through mental health challenges. But you don’t need to go through a crisis to benefit from it. Therapy can help you address negative patterns in a number of areas of life.
Perhaps your interactions with your partner or the role you take in your relationships consistently leave you feeling unhappy. Or maybe you’re looking for some additional support to deal with stress. Seeing a therapist can be one of the most powerful tools in your self-care arsenal. It can improve your communication with others, and help you find strategies to deal with difficult and complex situations in your life.
9. Spend time with people you love
Your health depends in large part on your relationships. Humans are social creatures — even the most reserved introvert is hardwired to want to spend time with others. Loneliness is associated with depression, anxiety, and an increased risk of dementia.
Socializing isn’t just about staving off negative effects, however. Being more socially connected brings a host of benefits — higher self-esteem, less anxiety, and better emotional regulation.
Try making some one-on-one time with your BFF or partner, or spend time with family and friends by inviting them over for a meal. If they live too far, try for a weekly video chat instead. All that bonding is likely to spur oxytocin creation, leaving you feeling refreshed and relaxed.
10. Preventive care
Most diseases don’t begin as acute conditions. They start small, like high blood pressure or a weird mole you put off asking your dermatologist about. This highlights the importance of preventative care. Eating well, avoiding unhealthy behaviours like smoking and drinking excessively, and exercising are foundational for helping to prevent disease.
Beyond that, practices like having an annual general health assessment can help you spot potential issues before they may blossom into a full-scale health crisis. This can help you make the best decisions for bettering your overall health.
The final word on self-care
You can’t afford to limit your self-care activities to a monthly massage or a yearly getaway. Neither should replace the daily self-care your body needs, and a lack of motivation just won’t cut it when it comes to your health.
Learning how to implement healthy habits and making time for daily self-care can have a huge impact on your wellbeing. And, you’ll likely find that you have more drive, energy, and patience for the other things in your life. The truth is, you can’t afford not to do it.