We’ve all been told countless times to practice self-care. Use your vacation days! Stash chocolate in your desk! Get a foot massage! And we’re here to tell you – yes! Do all of those things. But if you want to know what type of self-care is going to be most effective and have the longest lasting results, let’s dive into the science.
The science we’re talking about here is neuroscience – how the brain and body work together. Effective self-care must take into account the brain-body connection. What does that mean?
Many tips related to self-care are externally focused, meaning they emphasis things that live outside the brain-body connection. Going to a spa, taking a week off from work, or eating a square of chocolate you keep stashed away in your desk are great, and they can provide enjoyment. Yet all of these are examples of extrinsic care. They don’t get to the root of any mental health challenges or stress you may be facing. They can distract from it – and sometimes that’s what we need to get through the day – but they don’t necessarily address it.
Stress is not externally focused. When we are dealing with stress, we feel it in our body, and it impacts our brain. Stress is an internal challenge that cannot be solved with external interventions. Again, it can be supported by, or even improved by, chocolate and vacations. But we must also address internal challenges with internal solutions.
Here are some of the ways that the brain-body connection is affected by stress:
Rapid heart rate
In order to address the science of self-care, it is important to take a moment and reflect on how stress impacts you. Every person responds differently. Do any of the items on this list sound familiar to you? Do you experience these, or other body symptoms as a result of stress? When you notice these signs showing up in your body, you can start to respond appropriately.
The number one goal – the most important thing you can do to manage stress – is to regulate the nervous system of the body. This is why those vacations and spa days don’t always do the trick. You may come back from vacation and walk right back into the stress of life, and if your nervous system is not regulated, it will still be in an active mode of stress response.
Instead, you can find self-care tools that work to regulate the brain and body. And there’s good news here! There are so many, and they’re easy, and they don’t require a membership or an expensive purchase.
Here are a few self-care tools that are research-backed and supported by science to regulate the nervous system:
Acupuncture or tapping pressure points
There are plenty of options that will do the job. What you’re looking for here are strategies that use your brain and your body to work together to help regulate the nervous system. What it boils down to is this: the most effective self-care strategies (according to science!) are those that address the brain-body connection. And the best way to have a lasting impact is to make them a routine part of your life. Apps that send reminders to breathe, progressive muscle relaxation on your lunch break, meditation to start your mornings, or a practice of tapping pressure points before going to bed are all great ways to make a habit of self-care. The more you do it, the more it becomes routine, and the better your nervous system will respond.
So if you’re feeling stress in your body (and who isn’t!?) that square of chocolate will surely give you a moment of enjoyment. But after the taste leaves your mouth, consider the science of self-care and give one of these brain-body strategies a try.