Self-care is the first step to your overall health. Without it, our overall health – our mind, relationships, and outlook on life – will suffer. Life will always challenge us and throw unexpected curve balls. It’s a reality! But you can manage and overcome those boulders in the road.

In a previous blog Are you surviving, or thriving? Building your resilience, I unpacked the Top 10 tips on how to build one’s resilience. At the center of creating a launchpad for you to be able to bounce back from life’s stressors, is self-care.

Important thoughts on self-care:
– Should be central to your day-to-day living
– Must include activities and practices to reduce stress and maintain and enhance our short- and longer-term health and wellbeing
– Necessary for effectiveness and success, both professionally and in your personal life
– Requires consistent, focused and sustained efforts.

SEEDS for growth!
Different authors and researchers have created different models for holistic health. These models highlight the importance of balance: in terms of emotional, physical, intellectual, vocational, social, and spiritual health. Each of us may differ in the domains we emphasise and the balance we seek among them.
For me, self-care is encapsulated in six SEEDSS – sleep, exercise, educate, diet, socialise, and spirituality. After all, we need to sow in order to be healthy and flourish!

Unpacking the SEEDSS

Sleep
Neuroimaging and neurochemistry studies suggest that a good night’s sleep helps foster both mental and emotional resilience, while chronic sleep disruptions set the stage for negative thinking and emotional vulnerability.
Watch my video to learn the five top tips for improving your sleep and read more about how sleep deprivation affects our overall well-being.

Exercise
Physical exercise directly benefits the brain, creating new cells in our hippocampus that improves our immunity, decrease depression and anxiety, and increase positive emotions of happiness, joy, and pleasure. It’s not only beneficial for muscle size and a trim waistline. Regular exercise gives one an incredible sense of wellbeing – you will have more energy, an uplifted mood, and sleep better. Exercise reduces stress, improves your memory, and is the key ingredient in managing overall mental health challenges.
Aim for exercising 30 minutes five times that will elevate your heart rate to at least 65%. If you enjoy walking, set yourself a target of 6.4km per hour or 9 minutes per km. Make it a family event and by doing so spend some quality time with those close to your heart (and wellbeing!).

Education
Your mind is a garden and your thoughts are the seeds. But you have a choice of what you plant – flowers or weeds.
Just as physical activity keeps your body strong, mental activity keeps your mind sharp and agile. The more we think, the better our brains function – regardless of age. Without something to keep us mentally charged, our brains, like unused muscles, can wither, leading to a decline in cognitive abilities.Learning is not only about studying or reading!

Add some of these activities to your education seed:
– Travel
– Play card and other thinking games such as Sudoku, chess, and Scrabble
– Dance
– Play musical instruments
– Crafts and arts –painting, quilting, ceramics, etc
– Ditch the calculator once in a while and force yourself to do the calculation
– Volunteer as much as you can
– Start a new hobby such as bird-watching, cooking, gardening, etc
– Learn a foreign language

Diet
There is a reason why food and mood rhyme! All brain chemicals are directly or indirectly made from the foods we eat. Have you fallen into the trap that you reward yourself with poor food choices? Fast food, processed, carb, or sugar overloaded? Ending up with a five-second lift yet hours of regret?
We’ve all been there – using food as a reward and thinking it will make us feel better about ourselves. Yet we forget that food is there to nourish and sustain our bodies – not only physically but emotionally too.
Our gastrointestinal tract and our brain have a close relationship – called the ‘second brain’ – creating a direct link between diet and our emotions. Your gut is home to billions of bacteria that influence neurotransmitters – dopamine and serotonin, the ‘feel good’ transmitters – constantly signaling messages to your brain. When these transmitters are healthy, your brain will receive constant positive messages which will reflect in your emotions.
Sugary and fatty foods cause inflammation, hindering the production of these healthy neurotransmitters. Although they can temporarily spike the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitters, you will post the rush, be left with a terrible crash that will affect your mood negatively.

What does a healthy diet look like?
– Increased fruit and vegetables throughout the day
– Increased leafy greens
– Reduced intake of red meat
– Increased fiber, fish, and nuts
– Avoiding processed foods, especially fast food and ready-made meals
– Increased Omega-6 rich oils found in canola, flaxseed, walnut, sunflower, or grapeseed oil
– Never skipping breakfast! Enjoy wholesome cereals, oats, a smoothy, or protein such as eggs.

Socialise
There is a lot of comfort in social interaction. We are part of society after all – isolation and living in solitary confinement go against our natural human behaviour. Even if you are an introvert, you will crave social connection.
Social interaction can be measured by how often people talk on the phone or meet up with friends, neighbours, and relatives, and how many people they can share their most private feelings and concerns with.
Research shows that socialising decreases our perceived stress improves our mood and helps us see things in perspective. Socialising has a protective effect on the brain because it’s a form of mental exercise. Not only does interacting with people stimulate the brain, but it can also keep you sharp – after all, dealing with people can be pretty challenging. Strong social ties have been associated with lower blood pressure and longer life expectancies.
U.S. researchers found that talking to another person for 10 minutes a day improves memory and test scores. They found that socialising was just as effective as more traditional kinds of mental exercise in boosting memory and intellectual performance. They also found that the higher the level of social interaction, the better the cognitive functioning.
In a study of more than 2,800 people ages 65 or older, Harvard researchers found that those with at least five social ties – such as church and/or social groups, regular visits, and phone calls with family and friends – were less likely to suffer cognitive decline than those with no social ties.
So even if you are new to a town, there are many ways to stay socially active. Use technology to connect with friends and family far away, join a health or religious group, volunteer, or start a new hobby and join a local club.

Spirituality
We often do not feel comfortable talking about spirituality. However, spirituality does not only refer to formal religious practices but also mindfulness. Life is fast and full of challenges and more often than not, we find ourselves exhausted and overwhelmed by the velocity of the speed of our daily being. But life is not for being on auto-pilot! Being spiritual – whether religious or mindfulness, helps us to create much-needed mind and soul space.
Research has shown that people who actively engage in religious practices have better physical and mental health. In a meta-analysis of 42 studies of more than 120000 people, researchers found that those who actively practiced a religious faith even lived slightly longer than those who did not!
However, you do not need to practice a formal religion. You can also learn to be mindful. Mindfulness can help you to slow down, appreciate moments, and offer you an overall sense of wellbeing that will make you actually far more productive and mentally strong.

Mindfulness is the state of being active, open, and fully present in the moment. When you are mindful, you observe, either through your senses or your thoughts and feelings, from a distance, without judging them as good or bad. Being mindful decreases heart rate and inflammation, and protects us from the effects of stress and anxiety. We all have the ability to be mindful, we are simply not training our brain to use it daily!

Try these useful tips:
– Meditation – there are many apps online that will guide you through a session. It doesn’t have to be long! Aim for five minutes every morning and start your day calm, in control, and grounded
– Throughout the day, take a quick walk and allow your senses to literally smell, see, feel and hear your surroundings. When you eat, feel the crunch and taste the combinations of flavour.
– Instead of rushing to answer the phone, take a moment and pause for breath – you can always call the person back!
– Pay attention – when you are visiting a friend, watching a movie, or running on the treadmill, be THERE. Don’t think about your to-do list, the past, or anything other than who you are with or what you are doing at that moment.
– Take breathing breaks throughout the day. Where ever you are, take a few deep breaths and focus on how the air moves in and out of your body. You will immediately feel calm and grounded.

“The fact that I can plant a seed and it becomes a flower, share a bit of knowledge and it becomes another’s, smile at someone and receive a smile in return, are to me continual spiritual exercises” (Leo Buscaglia)