What exactly is Self-Care? Years ago I used the term, Self-Management Health Behaviors to identify everything I did to enhance my health given that I was diagnosed with a chronic, progressive neuromuscular disease. Some of the behaviors were already my routine like eating a vegetarian diet and practicing yoga. As I learned more about positive health behaviors from a Stanford University program I took at my local hospital, I became more intentional about how I led my life.
Somewhere along the way these behaviors became known as Self-Care. You can find Self-Care articles everywhere — in all types of popular magazines, TV commercials — it’s entered popular culture. “As of 2012, about half of all adults—117 million people—had one or more chronic health conditions,” according to the U.S. Government’s Center for Disease Control. That’s tremendous!
Even though there are so many different types of chronic health conditions, there is a lot of overlap with symptoms. I have a rare disease but when I look at my individual symptoms — muscle pain, dysphagia, fatigue, respiratory weakness — I can learn a lot from more common conditions. And many of these common conditions have known self-care practices that help mitigate the symptoms.
Based on the Stanford research I became familiar with and my own research, I’ll categorize the self-care practices into these:
- Diet and Nutrition
- Physical Activity and Exercise
- Emotion Regulation
- Social Support
Once we identify our symptoms, we start to look for ways to alleviate these symptoms. What helps my muscle pain may not help your muscle pain. But, perhaps you’re like me, and you are open to exploring. The key, of course, is to explore self-care practices that have minimal if any negative side-effects. During the experimentation phase you may notice some connections; maybe you have less muscle pain on days you’ve slept at least 8 hours the night before? Or, if you have gastrointestinal issues, maybe your gut feels better when you haven’t eaten spicy foods?
It’s a lot to manage but once you hit upon some solid patterns and adopt new self-care routines, it can make your life so much better. It sure has for me.
This trial-and-error process can now be easier with the assistance of a tool. I’m thrilled to introduce an online tool — Health Storylines — to help with your self-care routines. I’ve been chosen to join a team of Self Care Ambassadors who are helping others with chronic health conditions practice self-care. We’ll be doing this together and each month I’ll take a Self Care Challenge with you. Make sure you’re part of our Facebook group so we can track, monitor, and motivate each other.
Are you ready?
Here’s what I’d like you to do over the next month:
- Register for the Health Storylines Tool. If you have questions about the registration process, send me a message via the Facebook group. You can use the Tool on a desktop computer, smart phone, or tablet. The data you enter will synch on all devices.
- Use the Symptom Tracker feature to list all of the symptoms associated with your chronic health condition.
- Using the Self-Care Practices categories above, make a list of self-care practices you already have as part of your routine. Maybe you attend a weekly exercise class? How does exercise impact your symptoms?
- You’re encouraged to explore the other features of the Tool on your own. But for the next month I’ll focus on symptoms and different self care practices that can help them. The goal is to take small steps toward changing your routines so you’re not overwhelmed and it makes it easier to maintain a steady practice.
Good luck and see you in the Facebook group!