You can’t throw a rock on the world wide web without hitting someone who wants to tell you about the importance of self-care. Here is a site. Here is another one. Believe me, there are thousands more. Ordinarily I would be suspicious of an idea that gets so much hype. But I think these sites are on to something. Self-care is important. And most people aren’t doing it.
What Is Self-Care?
In today’s world, most of us are under a great deal of stress. The demands of work, family, and relationships can accumulate. Most people understand instinctively that excess stress can lead to illness, injury, or burnout. So when the stress gets to be too much, they try to find ways to escape it. Drugs, over-eating, alcohol, or risky behavior can get your mind off your stress temporarily, but these strategies do little or nothing to resolve it. And none of them is at all good for you.
Self-care is the opposite side of that coin: it consists of healthy practices that either reduce the stress or strengthen your ability to manage it. What you do for self-care is limited only by your imagination. Meditate, go for a walk, run a mile, write a page in your journal, have dinner with a close friend… If it makes you feel good, takes your mind off your stress, and doesn’t undermine your health, then it’s self-care. The main consideration for the choice of a self-care technique is that it isn’t something you feel you should do. If you feel you should do it, it just becomes another source of stress.
The Importance of Self-Care
Here’s why I think self-care is even more important than most of the websites suggest. An academic article published in 2014 argued that the medical establishment has traditionally poured resources into extending life without attending to its quality. The article, which is titled “Living Too Long,” contends that medicine’s single-minded pursuit of longevity has not served us well. It has added years to our lives without adding life to our years. The author was trying to persuade researchers and policy makers to shift resources away from research on causes of death (primarily cancer and heart disease) to research on causes of morbidity (primarily dementia, and even aging itself).
I’m no expert on the allocation of research dollars, but the article’s description of the tradeoff between longevity and quality of life got me thinking about the ultimate importance of self-care. I would argue that much of what makes old age miserable is the result of a lack of self-care in earlier years. Stress does cause injury, illness, and burnout. Of course, I can’t prove that dementia is the result of a life of stress. But I did run across a 2013 study that found continuous stress has a role in the development of mild cognitive impairment in older adults. This is significant because mild cognitive impairment usually seems to precede dementia.
My hypothesis is that continuous unmanaged stress leads to dementia later in life. If it’s true, then self-care, in addition to being good for you now, is also an investment in better health later.
Self-Care at Peak
We offer a full portfolio of self-care processes here at Peak Recovery & Health Center. We happen to be very good at helping you manage the sources of stress in your life. Whether you want to relax and sweat in our infrared sauna, use cryotherapy to give yourself a rush of endorphins, raise your energy level with photobiomodulation, turn the world off for a time in our float pod, or treat yourself to the tension relief of a skilled massage… you can find stress relief here. And you may enjoy a healthier old age as a result.
Photo: “Girl meditating” by Kim Dahlgren is licensed under CC BY 2.0