Women who fill the family roles of head hugs and nannies often neglect their own personal care.
While they tend to have a daily barrage of boos or help with homework, it’s all too easy to neglect their own care.
And this era of COVID-19 has certainly complicated matters.
Contact with others is reduced to a minimum. Additional tasks have emerged with home schooling and homework arrangements.
In this environment, even small amounts of self-neglect can add up and contribute to chronic disease, said Kristi Artz, doctor, Medical Director of Lifestyle Medicine and Virtual Health at Spectrum Health.
“When we don’t make ourselves a priority, it’s usually because we are suffering from a higher level of stress,” said Dr Artz. “A lot of times that also means we’re not doing the things that make us feel better, like exercising or making contact with friends.
“And instead of eating the foods that nourish us, we turn to the types of foods that contribute to chronic disease,” she said.
When women neglect themselves, it can also negatively affect those in their care.
“Women are often the keepers of the health of other family members,” said Dr Artz. “They’re often the ones who bring others to the doctor and are responsible for what’s in the pantry.”
The good news? As gatekeepers, these women also have inordinate power to set positive examples.
“By modeling self-care behaviors, bringing useful words, foods and meals into the home, these healthy habits automatically influence those around you,” said Dr. Artz.
It is essential to think of personal care in general terms, she said.
Of course, it’s about keeping up to date with medications and doctor’s appointments.
But just as essential is strengthening the fundamental lifestyle habits that keep people healthier. Drink plenty of water, exercise regularly, eat fresh vegetables and fruits, get enough sleep. Strength training and weight training can also work wonders.
These habits play an important role in the prevention and management of chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, cancer and COPD. They can also fight migraines and body aches.
Dr. Artz offers practical tips for incorporating essential lifestyle behaviors into daily routines.
Start with pen and paper
Because we often have a long mental list of things to do, sometimes it helps to make a written list of all the benefits that more self-care could bring, Dr Artz said.
Proper care can offer a host of benefits, starting with reduced stress levels. Make this item # 1 on your list, then grow from there.
Accountability buddies are a great way to keep change on track. Knowing that you are checking in with someone, even virtually, has been proven to make exercise and nutrition efforts more effective.
Aim small at the start
Trying to lose 15 pounds of COVID weight can seem daunting and overwhelming. Conversely, small victories can build confidence.
“So maybe you’re trying to go without meat one day a week, add five minutes of mindfulness each day, or take a 10-minute walk every other day,” Dr. Artz said. “As you hit those little goals, you can add to them.”
Look for magical moments
Don’t be afraid to take some self-care time out of a busy routine.
Dr. Artz leaves a yoga mat to stretch while she waits for her coffee to brew in the morning. She does some squats using the microwave.
“Our bodies are supposed to move and they feel better when we do,” she said. “Even short bursts revitalize us.”
Dr Artz, who works closely with the Culinary Medicine Spectrum Health team, has been a strong advocate of the plant-based diet.
While you don’t have to be on a vegetarian or Mediterranean diet, it can be inspiring to splash around a bit and see how delicious new foods can be, Dr Artz said.
For a great start, check out Spectrum Health’s Cooking classes.
Step into the sun
Even in winter, short walks in the open air will reduce stress and improve your mood.
“Just getting out of my house to walk is an important part of managing my own stress,” said Dr. Artz.
Don’t fall into the trap of equating personal grooming with fluffy shots like bubble baths and manicures. Proper care – in the form of healthy lifestyle decisions – can save your life.
“Lifestyle habits cause 70% of chronic disease,” said Dr. Artz. “It’s not so much our DNA and genetic influences, but what we do every day that predicts our health.”
Even minor changes can get worse over time. It can dramatically affect your health and longevity, she said.
“Lifestyle is medicine,” she says.