Our minds and our bodies are intimately connected. In a world that is constantly firing stress signals at us (Hint: just about all advertising is meant to dysregulate us and cause us to spend money to self-soothe), we can become physically and psychologically healthier by becoming more intentional about real, deep self-care. Mindfulness, pleasure-based movement, and rich emotional support are all ways we can give care to our brains, our bodies, and the connection between the two.
What is Deep Self-Care?
Deep self-care is more than just bubble baths and yoga sessions. While these can be moments of self-care, deep self-care involves creating regular practices that support healthy well-being – mental, emotional, physical, and social health.
Deep self-care includes three components: 1. cultivating mindfulness, 2. practicing pleasure-based movement, and 3. gaining authentic emotional support.
How to Cultivate Mindfulness:
Central to making self-care practices actually effective is mindfulness. Research shows that mindfulness physically changes our brain in ways that help learning, memory, and emotional regulation (Sounce: this study from the National Institutes of Health). Regular mindfulness practices can also soothe anxiety, increase gratitude, and improve satisfaction in relationships.
I’ve created a few resources that can help cultivate mindfulness:
Mindfulness Worksheet – The first resource is this mindfulness worksheet. This worksheet (in print form, digital form, or transferred as a bullet journal template) can be used as an easy end-of-the-day reflective exercise to allow you a few moments to slow down and process a bit of what your mind and body experienced during the day.
Mindful Grounding Card Deck – One way to help calm and soothe a brain in this state is through mindfulness exercises that help our brain gain the flexibility to shift attention to body-based sensations. That’s why I created my Mindfulness Activities Card Deck.
Through practices that help us turn attention to a physical feeling, we can help our brains and bodies reconnect and soothe ourselves into a state where we can focus, listen, and calm ourselves.
Emotion Sensation Feeling Wheel – Emotions exist in the body, and my Emotion-Sensation Feeling Wheel is a tool designed to help us get a better sense of how the physical sensations we experience might be connected to our internal emotional states.
Developing a greater capacity to acknowledge, name, feel, express, and regulate our emotions cannot be separated from becoming more connected to the body sensations that accompany them. Many body sensations are simply a byproduct of biological processes, but learning to interpret and translate them can help us make better decisions to care for both our physical and mental health.
Pleasure-Based Movement as a Self Care Pillar:
Incredibly important to deep self-care is not just emotional care for ourselves, but physical care. Many of us may regard a high-intensity workout as self-care, but movement that brings care is a bit more nuanced.
Movement has the potential to soothe dysregulated emotions and improve well-being in both the short and long term (Here’s a New York Times article summarizing the research on this).
It is important – in regards to self-care and in regards to overall mental health – to find ways to move our bodies that are based in pleasure (as opposed to movements we feel we have to do; for example, going for a run when we either do not like running or running is not healthy for our bodies).
Pleasure-based movement can include a wide range of activities ranging from a regular yoga practice, going on walks or hikes, dancing to good music; or anything that is something that is enjoyed and gets the body moving. Even simply getting outside could be considered deep self-care.
How to Boost the Effectiveness of Self Care through Relationships
Relationships, communities, and social networks support us in many ways- in fact, social connectedness has been found to be one of the best predictors of long-term mental health outcomes (source) even when researchers account for mental health symptoms making it more difficult to build relationships (source).
The first step to building fulfilling emotional support is to invest in the relationships around you. Healthy relationships involve trust and communication, which are key to emotional support. Investing effort, trust, time, and communication in these relationships often results in richer and more emotionally supportive relationships. For some people, however, attachment style, relational trauma, and/or conflict style can sabotage these efforts. Relational therapy can be an effective way to engage these problems and clear pathways for more supportive relationships.
One way to build trust, set the groundwork for deep self-care when it matters most, and create relationship-supporting boundaries is through creating a crisis plan to have on hand for when times get bad, or for when extra support is needed. Through making and discussing a safety plan, trust and emotional support can be built- both keys to having the self-care of access to emotional support.
Maintaining or beginning therapy is also an avenue to gaining more satisfying relationships and more effective self care. Visit the How to Find A Therapist and/or the How to Choose A Therapist doodles for information on starting the process.