Soothing the Nervous System: Tips for Mindful Self-Care
Updated: Jun 8
What is Self-Care?
Take a moment to think about this…What does self-care mean to you?
There are many different answers to this question, and it varies with each person, but really, what does it mean to care for the “self”? Self-care is something that is provided by you, for you. Self-care is the heart of healthcare and is absolutely essential for balanced and healthy living. At its core, stress management is an act of self-care. We know that self-care has the opportunity to provide huge benefits.
Self-care means acknowledging your own needs and taking action to fulfill those needs so that you may be fully engaged with your life and with those around you.
If you’ve ever flown on an airplane, you’ve seen the image of a man using his oxygen mask before he helps the child next to him. Why do the flight attendants direct you to place the oxygen mask on yourself BEFORE helping others? Well, simply because if you pass out due to lack of oxygen, you’ll be unable to help anyone around you.
The Role of Mind-Body Medicine
The field of Mind-body medicine focuses on the interactions between the mind and the body and the powerful ways in which you can participate in your own health and healing. Thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and attitudes can affect and shape every aspect of our psychological and physiological functioning, and in turn, how we care for our bodies can affect how we think, feel, and believe. This means that we have many opportunities and can do many things to care for ourselves. There are techniques and practices, some ancient and some modern, that we can use to have an impact on our well-being, both in mind and body.
It’s important to note that the effects of mindfully tuning into our own self-care go much deeper than just boosting mood and perception. Mindfulness can impact the body’s stress response, our “fight or flight” response, by calming the nervous system and changing how the brain reacts to stress. For example, research has found that people who regularly meditate have different patterns of brain electricity, potentially leading to more efficient attention and learning. Science suggests that if we can change our thoughts or the way that we think, we can elicit structural changes in our brains and subsequently influence our cognitive abilities and behavior.
Soothing the Nervous System
The pandemic has been traumatic for our nervous systems – from lockdown to possibly being sick with COVID, dealing with the loss of loved ones, and so much in between. We all received a wake-up call about basic self-care over the last year and a half. It’s important to keep this knowledge in the foreground so we can LEARN from 2020 rather than shoving it away.
This week, try one small soothing practice. Keep it doable. Establish a regular habit. Choose what resonates the most. Start where it’s easiest…
Here are a few quick and easy mindfulness practices to get you started:
S - stop whatever you are doing/thinking
T - take a few deep breaths
O - observe what is happening within you and around you
P - finally, proceed with what is important to you. What matters most?
Every now and then throughout the day, challenge yourself to find 5 things that are a part of your present experience.
1. First notice 5 things that you can see with your eyes. They don’t necessarily have to be interesting; it might just be a table, the carpet, or a cup in front of you. The aim is simply to bring your full awareness to your experience right now in the present moment.
2. Then notice 5 things you can hear. Keep listening until you’ve distinguished five different sounds.
3. Then notice 5 things you can feel with your body. These might be the material of your clothes, a slight breeze, or even tension in your neck.
Before you rise from bed, breathe in love (imagine all the people you love, friends, family, pets, etc., feel the love and breathe that in), and breathe out love to the world.
Every time you take a shower, visualize washing away your stress, worries, and anxieties. Concentrate on the feeling of the water upon your skin…Envision the power of the water washing away your negative thoughts. Feel these negative thoughts (e.g., sadness, regret, anger, frustration) washing right off you. Let it all go down the drain. You’ll start to feel lighter and much more clear.
Like anything skill in life, it takes practice in order to get better at taking care of yourself. It's like working out a muscle, the more work out your mindfulness muscles and your self-care muscles, the stronger they will become. When you start to bring some mindfulness around your self-care needs, the easier it is going to become for you to respond to yourself with the compassion and care you need.
Work with a Wellness Coach
Feeling ready to take your self-care to the next level but not quite sure how? Work with one of Aila's wellness coaches! A coach helps you uncover what you want, set goals, pursue those goals, and celebrates with you when you make progress. Your goals may be related to your physical, mental, social, and financial health or any other “spoons” that are important to you.
Download the Aila Health app today to learn more.
Still not sure?
Schedule a 15-minute introductory call with Aila Health's leading coach, Shannon Sims, PhD.
Article written by: Shannon Sims, PhD
Shannon Sims, PhD, is an integrative wellness coach and mind-body specialist with Aila Health where she focuses on supporting Long Covid and other chronic illness warriors in their journey to greater wellness. Dr. Sims is also a professor at Saybrook University’s College of Integrative Medicine and Health Sciences in the Department of Mind-Body Medicine.