12 Feb February is love and self-care
Welcome back to this month’s edition of “Ask Giovanna” featuring Wendy Reichental a fellow colleague and freelance writer.
February is all about LOVE so how about showing yourself some with Self-Care
WR: There’s been a lot of hype surrounding “self-care” and the value of taking care of ourselves but with everything going on these days, and feeling pulled in so many different directions – how are we supposed to carve out this all-important time and not feel guilty about it? Where to begin and what does “self-care” really mean?
GD: Ahh the guilt! Women especially have a hard time with this one. But the truth is “self-care” is far from being a selfish or frivolous indulgence. We have some scientific studies showing that following even a few self-care rituals can support your optimal health and help stave off some common conditions caused by stress, like insomnia and sleep problems, headaches, and muscle aches to name a few. As for what is “self-care”, it really encompasses a myriad of practices, with the commonality that they are all geared towards activities supporting your health and stress management. These could include your diet, exercise, or your emotional, spiritual, or mental well-being.
WR: With such a varied self-care menu, what are your top 5 favorite DIY practices that everyone can try?
GD: Hmm I have so many but admittedly my immediate favorite first one is anything that immerses me in nature and allows me to unplug from technology. In Japan, they call this shinrin-yoku or forest bathing. Simply put – just walking along a tree-lined street, can lower your cortisol stress hormone levels, and just looking at things you find in nature, trees, birds, leaves can all lift your mood and improve your physical and mental health. Listen to the sound of the birds, or even the howling of the winds, notice your frosty breath, acknowledge and feel the cold temperature, it all works to awaken your senses!
WR: Would you agree that “awakening your senses” is also part of the philosophy behind meditation?
GD: Nice segue to my second favorite practice, which happens to be mindful meditation. It does encompass sharpening your focus – but it’s also about taking the time to remind yourself to be in the moment and allowing yourself to tap into those senses and feel grounded. It involves tuning into the parasympathetic nervous system and calming or lowering your stress levels by taking purposeful deep breaths.
WR: That sounds easy enough but difficult to follow when we are all feeling so anxious and uncertain. What if you find yourself unable to stay still and disconnect?
GD: That’s a great question because it leads me to my third self-care practice, which is the power of movement. You don’t have to stay still, why not “Shake it Off”! like Taylor Swift sings, and dance your stress off! Play your favorite music and just keep moving! The key thing is to avoid stagnation. Even simple rearranging the furniture in your home and creating an atmosphere or space where you feel happy can have a positive psychological impact. Movement and motion are closely related to the idea of change, so change things up, and gain a different perspective. Embrace color in your life, whether that’s in throw pillows, or in a beautiful flowering plant, get inspired with something!
WR: This reminds me of what the Danish call Hygge, it’s how they cope and survive. Rather than focus on the negatives, they are inspired to make the most of their unbearably long winters, they stay active outdoors, but indoors they also create a cozy ambiance complete with candles and strings of light to set the mood and boost the spirit. How important would you say maintaining a positive mindset and support system play in self-care?
GD: It’s vital! It’s also my fourth self-care strategy – cultivate relationships and maintain connections. You might not think of this as a form of self-care but the ability to make connections with people, whether that’s with your family, friends, or new acquaintances is a practice that wards off feelings of loneliness, despair, even depression. In these crazy times, you need to not feel ashamed to reach out to people and develop a sense of community, even if it’s a virtual one. Learn something new, pick up a new hobby, and stir up your creativity. Until things return to a safe normal, you can connect with others through Zoom. Schedule something to look forward to, and most importantly, connect with yourself, it’s ok to be kind to yourself and take a few minutes to unwind with something that brings you joy.
WR: I guess a little TLC and self-pampering couldn’t hurt to bring some much-needed relief and joy into our stressed lives, would you advise people to try reflexology?
GD: Absolutely! I saved the best for last, it’s my fifth recommendation, why not try some self-reflexology. Although nothing compares to a professional thorough session with a certified registered therapist, you can certainly work a few massage techniques and perform a short foot routine. Even better with Valentine’s Day approaching, why not grab your partner and give each other the ultimate gift of love in the form of a reflexology massage using a few great techniques!
WR: What would be the best way to start and can you give us some easy examples?
GD: A nice way to begin, is to soak your feet in a basin of hot water with some Epsom salts thrown in. The magnesium in the salts is a natural muscle relaxant. After towel drying your feet, sit comfortably in a chair with the knee bent to enable the plantar or sole of your foot to be visible and easily accessed. You can also work on the hands, but stimulating the feet where we have a wealth of nerve endings is known to have a faster effect in mitigating some forms of pain while working on the hands takes longer to see those same results.
One of the best ways to give yourself a reflexology session is to move the thumb forward imitating the movement of an inchworm called thumb walking and starting from the heel of your foot continue like this until you have walked up towards the base of each toe. Another quick effective technique involves placing the outer edge of your thumb under the ball of your foot in the center, this is the solar plexus/diaphragm reflex, while pressing in, take a deep breath in and exhale. This maneuver encourages profound relaxation and calmness. You can finish off by applying a small amount of lotion into your palm, warm with your hands, then work well onto your feet. Remember to have fun with it and be creative!
Bring one foot up to rest comfortably on your knee, or on a pillow. Inchworm your way up from the heel of your foot to just under the base of each toe.
Imagine a vertical line separating each toe as you inchworm your way up towards base of each toe.
You can also rotate each toe, or grab all your toes and gently rotate switching directions.
This technique can be used when working on the spine reflex and is used within the warmup stage and closing stage of a reflexology session. The action is similar to wringing a cloth, move hands down the foot towards the toes, and repeat movement several times to relieve any tension in your back.
Solar plexus push in and lift up.
This technique can be done both at the beginning and at the end. Place your thumb in the center of your foot, just underneath the ball of the foot in the little hollow. This is the solar plexus reflex point in reflexology. Press in as you inhale and release as you exhale.
WR: All great tips Giovanna, lastly, raising an occasional glass of pinot noir to my mouth while breaking off a nice piece of dark chocolate, still counts as exercise and an act of self-care right?
GD: Yes Wendy for you, just do it mindfully and moderately and knock your socks off! And if I could add a bonus tip, maintain that sense of humor, laughter, is the best self-care antidote after all!