Holistic medicine and self-care are controversial topics. There is a lot of wisdom in these fields, but there are also some charlatans that encourage self-care and holistic approaches at the expense of conventional medicine. Complementary and alternative therapies that are practiced in conjunction with the diagnostic wisdom and knowledge of the conventional medical community can greatly improve a person’s quality of life and health outcomes.
However, it’s important that practitioners understand the line and know what they can handle themselves and what should be left to doctors with modern imaging and diagnostic tools. Highlighted below are some of the best holistic health options for self-care.
Self-Care and Mental Health
Holistic treatments are popular in the world of mental health because they are a good way of managing mild symptoms. A lot of mental health symptoms are difficult to treat with drugs alone, and some people do not like the side-effects that come with them.
Experimenting with more natural and holistic therapies could be a good option. The medical community is divided when it comes to the effectiveness of holistic therapies since a lot of the evidence base for them is that they have been used historically, rather than the empirical data that is available for modern treatments.1 With that said, even if the treatments are simply effective because of the placebo effect, they still make the patient feel better, which is still a great benefit. Alternatively, they could be used in conjunction with conventional health practices in order to improve outcomes.
Holistic Care in Nursing
The idea of holistic care exists in the medical community, and studies show that holistic care as a nursing practice can help improve patient outcomes. Taking a comprehensive approach to caring can enhance the quality of care that nurses provide.2 Understanding this approach and learning how to apply it to self-care is something that a lot of people struggle with, even the nurses that are so good at providing it to other people, because they find it hard to “put themselves first,” but it is possible.
Principles of Self-Care
There are three core elements of self-care that are important. They are spirituality, relaxation, and sleep.3
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Spirituality does not have to mean believing in a god. For many people, spirituality is more about gratitude. Practicing gratitude can improve empathy and boost your mood.4 Even if you are unwell, taking some time to “count your blessings” and think of the things that you have to be grateful for can be a big help towards improving your mental well-being.
Relaxation is difficult for many busy office workers, students, health professionals, and people from many other walks of life. Occupational stress is all too common and can eventually add up to create negative health consequences.
One of the best ways to get some of this much-needed relaxation is with aromatherapy, which involves using the scents of essential oils to relieve stress or boost mood. Taking the time to relax and unwind with aromatherapy can be a big help. For busy individuals on-the-go, portable diffusers offer the ability to experience the benefits of aromatherapy wherever you are.
Zen MONQ, for example, is a blend of frankincense, ylang-ylang, and sweet orange. Ylang-ylang, in particular, has been found to be effective as a remedy for people who struggle with anxiety and with low self-esteem, while frankincense is thought to relieve stress.5,6
Stressed out workers may find that the FOCUS blend is an option for them. It is a nootropic blend that helps improve focus and cognition. Researchers are still just starting to understand how terpenes can affect brain function, but the evidence is there that some essential oils, such as spearmint, can have an impact on how clearly individuals think and how alert they feel.7
For those who want to relax, Happy MONQ is a blend of fennel, thyme, and vanilla. Thyme is thought to have a number of medicinal effects, including soothing pain, while vanilla is a good mood booster.8,9
The Value of Sleep
Sleep is an important part of self-care, but it is also often the most overlooked element. Sleep is something that everyone needs yet when people are stressed, worried, unwell, or even excited, it is one of the first things to fall by the wayside. The short and long-term effects of sleep-deprivation are well-documented, yet so many people forget how important sleep is and get used to existing on less sleep than they really need.10
The amount of sleep that an individual requires does vary with age, but it is a good idea to aim for a minimum of eight hours. Most people who believe that they can do well on little sleep are actually simply used to being cognitively impaired and find that if they improve their sleep habits, they become more alert and better able to cope with day-to-day challenges.
Finding Holistic Health Assistance
If you have a chronic health condition or you are struggling with mental health issues and are thinking of incorporating holistic health practices into your self-care routine, it is important that you first have a diagnosis. Do not ignore issues that persist or do not seem to be getting better. If you are getting treatment and feel that it is not working for you, ask for a second opinion. Self-care can only do so much and some situations do require greater interventions.
If you are stressed, tired, or anxious, and you can pinpoint a cause such as a difficult project at work or problems with your day-to-day relationships, then self-care could help you with those issues. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 80% of all chronic illnesses can be prevented because they are caused by poor diet, physical inactivity, tobacco use, or other similar lifestyle decisions. Taking charge of your health and well-being will provide better outcomes in the long term for many conditions.11
A lot of people just don’t know where to start with self-care, and this is understandable. Remember that the holistic approach covers the mind, body, and soul. Activities such as yoga and pilates are an important part of self-care, as are mindfulness and meditation. This approach involves making lifestyle changes and also accepting yourself and understanding that your approach does not have to be perfect.
Spoon Theory and Self-Care
For many people, even finding the energy for self-care is difficult. You may have heard of the spoon theory in relation to mental health and chronic illness. This theory notes that each individual has a certain number of “spoons” of energy that they can use each day, and even small tasks cost spoons.12 A healthy person has a lot of spoons to use each day. Someone who is ill may have fewer and has to decide whether they want to spend their spoons on cooking or ironing. Some days they may have enough spoons to socialize. Other days, even getting out of bed to go to the doctor may use all of their spoons.
Holistic self-care approaches will take into account this issue and will not put pressure on someone to make perfect decisions all the time. It may be that you have the energy and the strength to make it to yoga today, but that you slip up and buy soda in the supermarket on the way home even though you had vowed to avoid it.
You could beat yourself up for your bad decisions and for not having perfect eating habits, or you could accept that you made a mistake and move on. Self-acceptance would mean accepting the slip-up and knowing that a slip-up today does not have to mean that you have blown everything. You can make better decisions tomorrow.
Self-care is something that everyone can benefit from. Whether you’re a student, parent, or an executive, it’s important for you to learn how to look after yourself and remember that you can’t be there for those you love if you are not able to put yourself first.
So, recruit the help of a good yoga teacher or massage therapist. Consider counseling or therapy if you are really struggling, or join a peer support group if you think that will work for you. Remember that everyone has their own challenges and difficulties, and everyone has their own coping strategies. It will take time to figure out what works for you, but it will pay off in the end.
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