Follow-up: The SCIENCE of Self-Care

This morning, I received this comment in my blog:

Lucy is referring to masturbation. Everything else that follows is CM’s quasi-spiritual hippie poseur bullshit.

Rudeness and intent to offend notwithstanding, as I said on Saturday, I intended to talk a little more about the 12 Self-Care Basics yesterday, but spent most of yesterday hanging out with my son playing video games and painting and wasn’t able to find the quiet time to sit down and write.

But today he’s at school, so now I can write a bit more about each of these tips, and show you the science behind each of them as well.

Carl Sagan famously said,

“Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality.”

and this statement very much illustrates my own personal beliefs.

Over the last few years, I’ve read as much as I could get my hands on about the brain, about happiness and what humans can do to “achieve” it. I’ve listened to lectures, read essays, and stumbled my way through technical scientific papers. While these are in no way “official credentials” and I make exactly zero claims to be an expert on any of this, it’s easy for me to conclude that there IS a science to happiness, one which is compatible with spirituality and yet, plainly scientifically documented.

But, scientific claims must be supported and sources cited. So that’s what I’ll do today. Guys, I wasn’t making this stuff up. Everything here is researched. I would have loved to include all of these sources in the comic itself, but that would’ve been a whole lot to write into a 13-panel page. ;)

So! On with the facts about self-care and happiness!

PS: I think masturbation is awesome and empowering and is absolutely a great part of a self-care routine… (Great consensual sex with a trusted partner can be, too!) ..but maybe not one I want to illustrate in an auto-biographical way… :)

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1. Eat Healthy Food

Your body needs fuel. Here’s what the USDA recommend in their Food Pyramid and Sample Menus.

2. Drink Water

Ever been hung over? The head-ache and irritability are due to dehydration. Here’s more about Hydration and Why It’s Important.

3. Get Some Sleep

This is another “no-brainer,” but I feel like it’s important to mention because the time when many people either start or increase their self-care routine is during times of high stress. It can be hard to sleep, or we stay up way-too-late to study for finals, because it seems like that’s the only way to find the time. But NOT getting enough can be detrimental not only to our happiness but also to our health and even our safety. This article cites several studies which support and provide more background to these statements.

4. Be Active

When we engage in exercise and get our heart-rate going, our body releases endorphins in our brains. Endorphins are a neurotransmitter whose job is little else but to make us FEEL GOOD. More about Exercise and Happiness and more about Endorphins.

5. Interact with Nature

Biophilia is a hypothesis that states that human beings have an inherent connection to nature and natural things, as well as a built-in urge to interact with plants, animals, scenery and weather. While it’d be difficult to “prove” this theory, we can see these ideas supported in a famous study where “[Post-surgery] patients with bedside windows looking out on leafy trees healed, on average, a day faster, needed significantly less pain medication and had fewer postsurgical complications than patients who instead saw a brick wall.” (Source)

6. Hang Out with an Animal Friend

Continuing with the theme of Biophilia, human beings seem to have a seemingly built-in connection with animals (especially our fellow mammals) and animals have been used as part of therapy and recovery in a number of studies. Some studies show that when we spend time with animals, we get increased levels of oxytocin, a powerful hormone which makes us feel happy and trusting. (Source)

7. Read (for Fun)

Bibliotherapy, or using reading (often in conjunction with writing) as a healing technique is as old as the ancient Greeks. Today, it’s frequently associated with reading self-help books, but interesting studies show how many parts of our brain light up during an fMRI scan while we read, and others suggest that the act of reading may increase the neuroplasticity of our brain (simply put, the brain’s ability to change and grow, both physically and functionally.)

While reading blogs or using e-readers may engage our brain in similar ways, I suggest reading books or magazines if your goal is to relax. While screens have gotten better over the years, eye-strain still occurs for some, and if you’ve spent all day working at a computer screen, it’s easier to “escape” into a book than another screen. Again, I’m not saying that reading on an e-reader or computer screen is UNEFFECTIVE, but if your goal is relaxation, it may be MORE effective to read a physical book.

8. Meditate (or Pray)

Sit somewhere comfortably. Be quiet. Focus your thoughts.

fMRI studies show that when we engage in this behavior, physiologic changes occur, including: lowering of the pulse and respiratory rates, a decrease in oxygen consumption and blood lactate levels, and changes in EEG patterns. (Source)

While science can’t study nor prove the effects of prayer beyond what happens in our brain – the act of an individual engaging in prayer (regardless of choice of god or gods) seems to stimulate the brain as meditation does. "The psychological benefits of prayer may help reduce stress and anxiety, promote a more positive outlook, and strengthen the will to live." (Source)

9. Keep a Journal

Obviously I’m a big proponent for art-journaling for creative types, but at it’s most simple, the mere act of jotting down a few thoughts every day can have a profound therapeutic effect. Putting our thoughts down on paper helps us to organize and make sense of them. Add to that the cumulative nature of flipping back through old pages and seeing your own growth, and the benefits of journaling become apparent.

“People who engage in expressive writing report feeling happier and less negative than before writing. Similarly, reports of depressive symptoms, rumination, and general anxiety tend to drop in the weeks and months after writing about emotional upheavals.” (Source)

10. Listen to Music

There are a number of studies about music and why it is therapeutic. “Music has been shown to significantly decrease the levels of the stress hormone cortisol, leading to improved affect, mood, and cognitive functioning.” (Source)

11. Talk to Yourself

Giving yourself a pep-talk is a simple way to get the benefits of visualization – in other words, you’re projecting a positive outcome to your day. Scientists are interested in the idea of visualization, which is categorized as a form of CAM, or  Complimentary Alternative Medicine, (an alternative medicine that shows results, when combined with other medicine/therapy.)

Studies show that visualization can impact healing, and even effect the outcome of athletic performance. (Source)

12. Be Mindful

Mindfulness is a Buddhist concept that is far more complex than described in the comic above. It has to do with awareness of mental and physical functions and maintaining deliberate focus. It has also been studied as a part of Western Modern Psychology since the 1970’s.

“The current research does suggest that mindfulness practices are useful in the treatment of pain, stress, anxiety, depressive relapse, disordered eating, and addiction, among others. Mindfulness has been investigated for its potential benefit for individuals who do not experience these disorders, as well, with positive results. Mindfulness practice improves the immune system and alters activation symmetries in the prefrontal cortex, a change previously associated with an increase in positive affect and a faster recovery from a negative experience.” (Source)

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5 thoughts on “Follow-up: The SCIENCE of Self-Care

  1. I don’t know how anyone can even criticize what you have posted unless they are just bitter and closed minded. I am 62 and have followed all of these suggestions my whole life. I am healthy, fit, creatively engaged in art, dance, and Yoga, and try always to be kind towards others, even those cynical tough nuts. And less anyone think I am a complete romantic I taught high school for 24 years. That would toughen anyone up.

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