Text: Valerie A. T.
Edited by Dominic Munton
Illustration: Mathilde R. Lid
Humans share a common need to feel that they are part of something bigger than the individual self. People often desire to leave a mark on the world that they encounter or to find some way in which they can make a difference. On an individual level, self-worth is frequently connected to the notion of realizing one’s potential in life and reaching it. Our ability to reach this potential is directly related to our physical and mental wellbeing; if we truly desire to achieve all that we are capable of then taking care of ourselves, in all of our various aspects, must be a priority. Beset by the pressures of a modern life, many of us struggle to prioritize our fundamental needs, despite constant feedback from stressed bodies and minds. In this article I will elaborate upon a few techniques for self-care that I consider to have particular importance. Should you feel inspired to do so, don’t hesitate to get online and get curious!
The first technique that I want to mention is meditation. These days most people have heard about meditation, but fewer have taken the initiative to try it for themselves. Perhaps you’ve read about meditation’s benefits, but felt like you didn’t qualify as someone who could make use of them or maybe it simply didn’t seem that important to you. In my personal experience, meditation can be life changing. You may have heard that meditation can help to reduce stress and control anxiety, but did you know that it also enhances self-awareness, increases concentration and improves sleep? A 2018 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine even reported that meditation affected the expression of genes regulating inflammation, circadian rhythms and glucose metabolism leading to a measurable increase in the meditator’s blood pressure. There are many fantastic resources and apps available online which can provide you with instruction on how to begin meditating (Check out Headspace and Insight Timer). If you feel you’d like more support there are a host of clubs and groups where you can drop and get to grips with the basics (www.oslomeditasjon.no). The beauty of meditation is that you can practice it anywhere, with or without the help of an app. Whether training, studying or waiting for the bus, you can make use of meditative techniques.
Both types of meditation ultimately support an individual’s efforts towards self-realization and their capacity to contribute to society as a whole.
There are two main types of meditation: Focused-attention meditation and open-monitoring meditation. Focused-attention meditation involves focusing on a single object, thought, sound or other sensory input. This type of meditation often involves focus on the breath or upon a mantra or calming sound. Its benefits include increasing concentration and reducing stress. Open-monitoring meditation, also known as mindfulness, involves practicing conscious awareness of one’s thoughts and feelings as well as of the external environment. Despite their differing foci, both types of meditation ultimately support an individual’s efforts towards self-realization and their capacity to contribute to society as a whole. Having spent some time meditating regularly, I have experienced palpable benefits in my own life.
One of the best ways to take care of yourself is through spending time in nature. A 2018 study by the University of East Anglia, UK analyzed data from over 290 million people and concluded that “Populations with higher levels of greenspace exposure are also more likely to report good overall health”. Shinrin yoku is a Japanese phrase that can be translated as ‘Forest bathing’ and refers to a health trend that was established in Japan in the 1980s and continues to grow. The scientifically-proven benefits of ‘forest bathing’ are similar to those described above for meditation and also include boosted immune system function and an increase in the body’s natural killer cells. The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs is a US based-company whose website collates extensive scientific research demonstrating the psychological and physiological benefits that spending time in nature can have.
Vitamin D is an endogenously produced nutrient whose production is triggered by the action of sunlight on exposed skin. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, increased levels of vitamin D reduces the incidence or rickets and plays a role in resistance to “a host of chronic diseases, such as osteoporosis, heart disease, some cancers, and multiple sclerosis, as well as infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis and even the seasonal flu”. Vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to depression. A 2009 study by the University of Amsterdam found that depression and severity of depression was “strongly associated” to lowered levels of vitamin D, even when adjusted for a wide-selection of lifestyle factors.
By being kinder towards ourselves we also tend to be kinder to those around us
Actively practicing self-compassion is a powerful way of taking care of yourself, but many people find it challenging. According to Dr. Emma Seppala, Science Director at the Stanford Centre for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, self-compassion means “treating yourself as you would a friend in times of failure or pain—with more understanding and kindness”. Dr. Kristin Neff, author of the book Self-Compassion, suggests that one empirically validated way to apply self-love can be through awareness of self-talk. Often when we make mistake we respond to ourselves with harshness and judgement. Self-compassion suggests that “instead of saying things like “How could I have done this? I’m such an idiot!” you might say, “I had a moment of absent-mindedness and that’s okay. It could have happened to anyone; it’s no big deal.”
All of these techniques have proven benefits but there is no need to bite off more than you can chew. You can give meditation a try without needing to sign up for a 10-day silent retreat and you don’t need to become an ascetic Himalayan hermit just to get a little more in touch with nature. Even meditating for as little as 5 minutes a day has demonstrated efficacy in studies and even the busiest among us usually have time for a quick turn around the nearest park or marka. One additional consequence of conscious self-care is that by being kinder towards ourselves we also tend to be kinder to those around us. With so many potential benefits, what is there to lose?