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On the heels of my previous post regarding the power of sleep as a method of self-care, I decided to play pretend and create the ideal space for a good night’s rest. Good sleep isn’t fashioned out of thin air for most. Many factors play a role. Some of these factors include the avoidance of blue-light from screens up to two hours prior to bedtime. Light in general should be avoided. Heavy duty curtains can prevent outdoor light from shining into the bedroom of a downtown loft. A cheaper option would be an individual sleep mask for the eyes. On top of sleeping in a darkened room, an ergonomic mattress has been shown to greatly improve quality of sleep. An added priority should be sheets that are friendly to the skin and worth sinking into. Lastly, humidity control and replenishing masks allow skin to recuperate overnight from the harshness of sunlight.
In an effort to create the ideal micro-environment for decent shut-eye, here are a list of home favorites that set me up for sleep success.
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I know it’s year 2020 and all, but health care professionals have always had a tough job. Hence, the idea to write a post about caring for the self for health professionals. While I don’t represent all workers in the medical field, I also know many of them can relate to the routine exhaustion one feels in the physical, mental and emotional sense. Not only is dentistry back-breaking work (think hunch-back- of-Notre-Dame), it also requires mental concentration (we are making tenths-of-millimeters-micromovements inside a tiny cavity) and emotional stamina (the minute the patient’s chair leans back, their everyday lives come spewing out). Sometimes I wear the hat of clinician, while other times, I simply play the role of listener. I have to help anxious patients through to the other side of treatment, as well as psychologically support depressed patients through to the other side of life. It’s a fulfilling job, but also a taxing one.
Many times, I come home with no one to fully understand the tolls of my work. Mike wonderfully understands that having dinner ready and giving me space to decompress with yoga is very important. He understands that on some days, I simply don’t want to talk. But he doesn’t really know the why. Sometimes, I feel guilt over acting selfishly, but as clinicians, we need to start removing that word from our vocabulary. You aren’t selfish because you need me-time after giving everyone else their me-time.
This past weekend, I took four days off to vacation with family on the coast of Southern California. My sister-in-law joined us Friday afternoon after her four clients. She also works in health care as a psych therapist. She joined us after a hectic day, and still had a few clinical notes to write. I noted that she looked a bit tired and she mentioned that some of her clients are especially draining, not in the physical sense, but in the mental and emotional sense. She even has one client currently on suicide watch who constantly occupies her mind. We talked of the tiresome nature of healthcare and agreed on the importance of taking care of ourselves first. We also noted that while we are excellent care-takers of others, we usually fail to save room for us.
This is a reminder to all health-care professionals that self-care is key to success. And sometimes, the only person who would be able to give you that space is yourself. If you are a reader who knows of a health-care professional, make sure to check in on them during this time. You might be surprised at their sadness, tiredness, weakness, or loneliness. Below, I wrote a simple guide to taking care.
+ Practice deep breathing in between seeing patients. Deep breathing is something I first picked up from yoga class ten years ago. Yoga itself is a practice focused on returning to the breath, which has been called our “life-force”. Returning to the breath is the last thing on a clinician’s mind. The immediacy of our work and the need that our patients have far exceed our willingness to turn inward and work on ourselves. However, I implore all clinicians to consider deep breathing. This practice was first recommended to me by a wellness coach, Michaela Puterbaugh of Starting from Within and it has been a real game-changer! I would highly advise getting a wellness coach like Michaela (you can book a consultation here), but if that is not your vibe, then deep-breathing is the one thing I learned to do that helped me most with my career. It’s simple. Before running to your next patient, stop by an office or a break-room or a quiet corner and breathe in for five seconds, hold at the top for five seconds, and breathe out for eight seconds. Repeat five times, then you’re good to go. I guarantee that your patients will notice and feel the difference in you. (PS: It helps to close your eyes.)
+ Stretch throughout the day. Many dentists end their careers earlier than they would like due to body aches and pains. Hospital workers also suffer from the same. Nurses and physical therapists have to carry and assist disabled bodies and the elderly. To be honest, physical tolls extend past the medical field and also applies to hospitality workers who stand on their feet all day and desk workers hunched in static postures in front of LED screens (blue light blockers for the win!). Stretching simply makes sense; for everybody. I picked up stretching advice from a continuing education course on ergonomics. There are certain stretches especially helpful to dentists, so I would seek professional advice regarding specific careers. For dentists, the upper back and shoulder muscles, as well as the core muscles, will help alleviate lower back pain and that hunched-back-look. Just like deep-breathing, this can be done in between patients or during any break. After work, I make it a point to roll out my Manduka mat and join a CorePower LIVE session to create movement in my body. I even took my mat on vacation with us this past weekend! That’s how important stretching is to me. Not getting on my mat is like a surfer not getting out on the water. Speaking of water…
+ Drink plenty of water. We are constantly moving from room to room and it’s very easy to forget about the water bottle we have sitting next to our desks. But wherever you choose to do stretches or deep breathing, keep a bottle of water close at hand. It also helps to have a habit built around staying hydrated. I drink two glasses right when I wake up and an entire glass before my shift. Between the start of my workday and lunch time, I make sure to finish at least another bottle. The same standard applies between lunch and the end of my shift. Then when I get off work, I drink two glasses straight away. My water bottle from Kinto_USA is quite portable and the tab at the top of the lid makes it easy to take with me wherever I go. If water is not your favorite drink, why don’t you try tossing pomegranate slices into your bottle or dress it up with ice? Check out my thoughts on staying hydrated!
+ Find someone to talk to. I know that Mike doesn’t fully understand everything that happens at the dental office, but it’s nice to have someone to talk to when I come home. It also helps that he is a great listener. My daily recaps help release any negative energy that I take home. But don’t get me wrong – dentistry isn’t ALL bad. Talking to someone is also a great time to celebrate the daily wins and highlights, a time to practice gratitude for a rewarding job. Of course, the person you choose does not have to be the same person every day. It can be different people, too. As long as you schedule a few moments to connect with someone outside of work, you’ll find less tension and stress when you unwind for the evening. (Sage tip: Don’t dwell on your workday alone. There are other things to address in life.)
+ Eat healthy. It’s hard to follow our own mantras of consuming healthy foods when we return home stressed and over-worked. I’d be the first to admit that fruits and veggies are not on my mind after a long day and if it weren’t for my husband making nutritious meals for us every day, I would probably be quick to order to-go foods a few nights a week. However, we must follow what we preach. I try to consume only one cup of black coffee a day (otherwise I’d live from coffee to the grave), and balance it with a cup of ceremonial-grade matcha green tea in the evening. I try to choose dark chocolate (88% cocoa or more) for dessert, and fresh fruits from the farmer’s market for snacks. I use a budget to monitor how often we dine out and we still try to follow our zero plastic diet religiously. Skip the temptation by choosing not to buy those bags of chips – or whatever else that has a gravitational pull during your weakest moments. Shop in such a way that sets you up for success.
+ Wind down the mind. In the evenings, I make it a point to wind down my mind. I try to do yoga after work to enter a calm state of energy. Afterwards, I shower and make myself a cup of tea and spend the evening writing or reading. This is the time I also connect with the people I live with. I check on my plants and move them around frequently, and I follow a skincare routine. I recently discovered The Nue Co.’s supplemental spray called Magnesium Ease, which I massage into my skin to help alleviate muscle tension and to improve my sleep. (Fun fact: 80% of Americans are deficient in magnesium!).
+ Get full night’s sleep. Lastly, but most importantly, is sleep. I value sleep more than I value coffee – which is saying something! I make it a point to get at least eight hours of sleep (nine hours is my optimal sleep-time). On weekends, I can sleep as long as 12 hours although luckily, I value my mornings too much to oversleep often. In our home, we sleep around ten in the evening and wake up when Theo meowls for food at six in the morning. I know that many clinicians tend to be night owls due to the nature of our work (late shifts and night shifts are common), but may I suggest abiding by your circadian rhythm? I cherish sleep knowing that I am more helpful to others when I sleep well. For those who have trouble sleeping, you may find these sleep drops helpful!
If you are in the medical field and have somehow come across this self-care guide, I hope it finds you well. For those who need a helping hand with mental wellness, do reach out to a professional. My sister-in-law is practicing in Southern California and is offering video services. I would also like to recommend Michaela Puterbaugh for overall health and wellness coaching as she has helped me balance life earlier this year.
For those curious about the supplements that I recommended, they are from The Nue Co., a company making supplements that you can feel working! Receive 15% off your first order with code NUE15 (affiliate links above). I am really excited about what this company is producing and have ordered the sleep drops for my mom and the magnesium ease for myself. They provide many other supplements that aid with sleep, stress, gut health, and immunity. I would definitely check them out!
This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.
Mother’s Day is a week away and with stores closed, I would say that now is considered last minute, thereby making this post a wee late. But there is still time, so here goes.
This year, I wanted to focus on an aspect that my mom in particular struggles with: sleep. She is not alone in this, as many mother’s will report having reduced shut-eye after giving birth to kids. Something about their over-active Spidey senses constantly tingling, or so she says. After everything our moms sacrifice for us, it seems to me that sleep is the one thing they deserve most.
Now that the kids are out of the house, my mom still has a bit of insomnia. “It’s a habit that’s hard to break.” Resisting the urge to take medications that leave her drowsy in the morning (she has suffered an accident of falling asleep behind the wheel because of these Western solutions), my mom has turned to more holistic approaches. In an effort to give back to moms around the world the gift of rest and relaxation (and more importantly, sleep), I made a thoughtful gift guide to getting them one step closer to their dreams.
Of course, insomnia is a health issue and I’m not here to belittle that fact with gift baskets and the sort. If your mom or someone you know really is suffering from sleep deprivation, may I suggest speaking with someone about what could possibly be done. Perhaps the answer lies in non-monetary solutions, like yoga, meditation, or a way to relieve her of her responsibilities and stress? Regardless, I hope those privy to insomnia this Mother’s Day find some comforting thing to bring them back towards a restful evening in bed. We appreciate all that you have been willing to sacrifice, but sleep shouldn’t be one of them.
When I first set out to write a piece re: self-care (yet again), my initial though was to create a curated list of small businesses to support, and let support. In the spirit of being helpful to those who may need it most, I then concluded that perhaps doing so would make a thing as vital as breathing itself unattainable for many, especially at this time.
To commoditize caring for the self as it has been by consumer industries seems suddenly wrong and unaligned with what it was originally created to be – that is, a movement that promoted the under-privileged to care for themselves because… who else would, if not them? Which now, knowing the provenance of the term, makes me quite uncomfortable with turning self-care into something that benefits consumer culture.
In an effort to respectably recognize it’s humble intention, I am now sitting down to write of self-care with a different lens. Self-care doesn’t have to be pampering yourself, as defined by most millennials. It doesn’t require spending money buying things or paying for services. As much as the cosmetic industry would like to make us think that our pores and skin are working against us, or the fashion industry wants us to believe that everything can be cured by a shopping spree, trust me when I say that neither is true and both are baloney.
It’s quite easy to convince someone that happiness lies on the other side of a credit card swipe (especially when that someone is mentally exhausted or extremely stressed from say, oh, work … or a pandemic!) but come on, we’ve all felt it. That uncertainty afterwards that lingers in the back of our mind. A feeling of guilt that our hard-earned dollars went into someone else’s pocket. Or the regret of not choosing to spend “free-time” in our PJs on the couch, rather than going out to treat ourselves to food and drink. Face it – anything that makes you feel like crap afterwards is NOT self-care. It’s an easy hide-under-the-rug kind of care. An avoidance of care, if we are truly being honest. Another thing to add to the to-do list in order to not-do anything about important things.
Well, you get the gist.
So here we go. A tribute to what self-care was originally meant to be.
Make your bed – and other ways to tend to a home (here and here). Something as simple as washing and changing the sheets can be as therapeutic as buying a new bed set, I guarantee, without the stresses of deciding on a new color, where to put the old one, and which of the two you’ll use.
Work on your finances. Taking care of your future self in the form of budgeting and saving is an OG approach to self-care.
Take a long bath – no need for bath bombs or richly sensuous oils. Just turn on the water, sit in the dark, light a candle, listen to music with no words. Easy does it. I personally dislike baths, but I do like to clean the bath tub as a way to show care.
Nap without guilt – to which my roommates laughed because apparently, some people are able to do just that. I always feel guilt and unrest after waking up from a nap – as if I’d wasted precious time. But I am trying to re-learn that sleep is productive in its own right.
Drink plenty of water. If you want to fancify it, add lemon slices or mint sprigs. A mixology fact- tapping a stem of mint leaves on the back of your hand makes it more aromatic. Add ice, if it’s all you got.
Write a list of ten things you love about yourself – or what you want to accomplish, or who you care about, etc.
Practice breathing exercises or meditation.
Alternatively, stretch a few times throughout the day. Body movement is the best way to combat aging. Avoid static postures. Dance, if you must. Like no one’s watching, too – it’s a real mood booster.
Reduce your social media follows. Curate your feed. Much of how you feel is dependent on what you see and who you follow. If you follow athletic people to motivate you to lose weight, but they also make you feel bad about yourself, maybe they aren’t the best follow? Same goes for aesthetic spaces, models, clothing companies – everything that makes you feel like worthiness requires something better, or more.
Do absolutely nothing. For me, this is the ultimate form of self-care. An activity that takes me a while to get into, it is so much better than any solution you can immediately achieve.
I am sure there are plenty more, none of which requires spending. I’d enthusiastically promote the tabulating of your own personally gratifying self-care activities, and to carry that in your back pocket like arsenal. Because if not you, then who? And if not now, then when?
It’s June first. Can you believe it? We are on the cusp of entering summer time, I am on the cusp of leaving my twenties behind. And while my body has carried me through all these years, It’s time to return the favor and think of ways to care. On self-reflection of my current state, I wish to focus on space to create. In preserving bodily health, A list of gifts that signify wealth, In things that matter most to me, Longevity of life that exists to be.