Self-Care! Why is it so Important?

What exactly is Self-Care and Why is it so Critical?

We all get feeling overwhelmed whether it’s due to work, school or just life in general. We’ve all been faced with deadlines that seem almost impossible to meet and on top of that our calendars (which seems almost impossible to even look at) are always full of things that should have been done a week ago).

When we get overwhelmed, a lot of us (including me) tend to forget about the most important things… the things we do for fun, for health and wellness… the things that actually help to reduce those feelings of being overwhelmed and stressed.  We tend to, at times “forget” to eat or eat unhealthy food because in some way “eating badly” is associated with “comfort” with “a way of coping with stress”. We stop going to the gym and our social life seems to completely disappear.

Why is it when we are overwhelmed with life, caring for ourselves seems to be the first thing we stop doing?? This does not even begin to make sense, but it is true of most of us and truthfully, the results is that we end up feeling worse about life, about ourselves and about everything in general.

The word “self care” almost seems like it is a luxury word but it really isn’t. Self care is critical to our ability to function as living beings and when you care for your self you will achieve “quality of life”.

What exactly is Quality of Life?

Quality of Life is basically a term used to describe having a good life? There are so many definitions of Quality of Life:

²Quality of life, the degree to which an individual is healthy, comfortable, and able to participate in or enjoy life events.

³The standard of health, comfort, and happiness experienced by an individual or group.

“the things that are needed for a good quality of life”

Most of us grew up being told that to be successful we would have to work very hard and we believed that sacrifice was just a part of what was needed to achieve success. Most of us also tend to attach having wealth with having a good quality of life.

We have also heard these and similar quotes and definitions:

“Sacrifice is defined as “Forfeiting something for something else considered to have a greater value.” — (American Heritage Dictionary, emphasis mine)

“Great achievement is usually born of great sacrifice, and is never the result of selfishness”— Napoleon Hill

“In order to become prosperous, a person must initially work very hard, so he or she has to sacrifice a lot of leisure time.” — Dalai Lama

In university, for example, I would routinely be up at 4 am in the morning, down a couple of pots of coffee and start studying, be at school by 8 am and then after school go straight to my full-time job.  It was a horrible number of years with no time to workout, no time to eat properly and certainly no time for any social life at all. Yes, I was always the honours student but was it worth it? Absolutely not!! I was always stressed and I can’t say I was ever very happy and I lost years of my life…quality of life, that is.

It’s easy to have the “hard work pays off” mindset and yes, in the end you may reach your goals, but then you have to ask yourself… What is it that I have lost?

I understand that we all need money to live and to have a certain standard of living then we must to some degree, work hard. I understand that, yes, money can make ones life better to a certain degree but when self-care starts to disappear then that so-called “quality of life” will begin to deteriorate.

In this post, I’m going to try to answer the question “what exactly is self-care?”  And “why is self-care so critical?”  I’ll touch a little on how breathing, mindfulness, centering oneself through the practice of meditation and Yoga can help with both physical and psychological self-care.  Then I’ll go into how to choose a fitness (exercise) that is perfect for your own self-care needs and then I’m going to finish things off with some of my own self-care (stretch and strengthen) exercises (including videos) I do to keep my wrists and forearms strong, allowing me to continue performing my duties as a massage therapist for years to come.

Of course, everything I’m writing will be from my perspective and based on my own set of self-care practices.  While some may agree or disagree, it is important to remember that every massage therapist will have their own unique self-care techniques.  What I’m hoping is to provide a better understanding of how important self-care is, and at the same time showing that self-care can be fun. It can inspire us to change our lifestyle to become more aware of whole body health and fitness and how it does have a huge impact on every area of our lives as massage therapists and human beings.

As Oscar Wilde says so well: “To love oneself is the begging of a life long romance.”

Self-Care – It is Critical for maintaining both physical and mental well-being.

Although self-care seems to be the first thing we stop doing when we are overwhelmed, stressed or just TOO busy…It is important to understand when we take care of ourselves, we will experience the benefits emotionally, mentally, physically and in our relationships. We need to stop thinking of self-care or “self-love” as some kind of reward and start thinking of it as being one of our basic physiological needs.

What Exactly is Self-Care

For this post, I’m going to talk about self-care for massage therapists.

Although the word Self-Care seems self-explanatory it can mean different things to different people.

Self-care for me, as a massage therapist, means performing certain things that have proven to take care of both my psychological and physical health, that I have incorporated into my life as a habit….as a lifestyle.

Self-care entails performing certain things that take care of our psychological and our physical health and it is something that should be in place as a lifelong habit….a lifestyle.

What Are The Benefits Of Self-Care

Self-Care prevents Burnout

Burnout is considered to be a persistent physical, mental and/or emotional exhaustion caused by long-term stress typically as result of excessive workplace and/or personal responsibilities. If changes aren’t made and some form of self-care implemented burnout can lead to poorer performance, loss of jobs, increased stress levels and ultimately depression.

Self-care helps to reduce the negative effects of stress

Although stress is really a normal part of our lives, it’s the way in which we react to stress that determines how it will affect us. This is why self-care strategies are so important not only as massage therapists but as human beings.

Self-care helps us to think through things, allows us time to take a break from whatever is not servicing us in a positive way…It allows us to be mindful!

Tips and Techniques that can be used for learning and Practicing Self-Care

Centering Yourself

Making it through a day in our modern life can sometimes feel as if we are being hit with a flood of countless slings and arrows. Between news blaring disaster and stressed-out people whose lives are a complete whirlwind of activity, it’s a surprise any of us can sleep at night. This is where self-care not only for us,as massage therapists, but for people in general, is so important.

Centering yourself can provide you with a solid foundation. It can create a base from which you can head out with calm strength to approach each new day.

 Mountain pose (Tadasana) is the foundation for a strong and steady practice. While it may seem quite basic, there are a number of subtle alignment principles that can be applied and carried through to many of the standing poses in yoga.

Mountain pose (Tadasana) is the foundation for a strong and steady practice. While it may seem quite basic, there are a number of subtle alignment principles that can be applied and carried through to many of the standing poses in yoga.

You might be asking…what exactly does “centering myself” mean? Centering basically refers to our psychological and physical states…It is the ability to calm our emotions, slow down our thoughts and control our breathing in order to get through those overwhelming and stressful times. When we have the ability to “Centre” ourselves we will find that we are more alert but also more calm.

One cornerstone of finding this center is to practice meditation. Study after study finds that meditation reduces stress, lowers inflammation, improves sleep, and provides countless other benefits. And it’s completely free.

Meditation is something that all age groups and levels of health can approach. Yes, it might be challenging at first to release distracting thoughts. Take heart in knowing that it can be challenging at times even for the experienced meditator.

If you don’t like to sit, that is fine. Explore walking meditation. Coloring book meditation. Anything which has you focus in on “now” and allow distracting thoughts to fade away will be a benefit.There is immense value in simply practicing. The more one practices, the more one improves. Even small steps in training the brain to release stress can create stunning improvements in health and mood levels.

Another way to build these skills is to practice yoga. Again, this isn’t about twisting yourself into a pretzel while nearly levitating on one finger. It is simply about focusing on and listening to your body. One of the simplest poses is Mountain Pose – Tadasana –, which has you standing still, arms down, feet hip-length apart. That’s it. No levitating on a string. No contortions.

Mountain pose is about being still. About checking in with your body and seeing how it is doing. Are there twinges? Any imbalance? The idea is to examine those with calm patience. We all have physical issues. We all have odd pains and quirks. It is by gently acknowledging them and appreciating what we have that we are best able to move forward with our goals.

The better we can take care of ourselves, as massage therapists, the better we are able to be present for those around us who rely on us. The better we can build our energy to tackle the dreams and aspirations we have for ourselves. Life provides us with a finite amount of time in which to spread our wings and fly. By caring for ourselves each day, we can reach what we have always wished for.

Mindfulness as a Self-Care Technique

Some of us who regularly practice yoga will understand the idea of being mindful or practicing mindfulness, but for those who don’t understand the meaning of mindfulness,and what makes it an excellent way of caring for yourself, I will explain what being mindful means to me.

To start with, when a massage therapist is interacting with a client and has an understanding of how being mindful fits so well into our jobs as therapist, then an almost magical connection can form between a massage therapist and a client.  The massage therapist can sense hidden tensions and stressors, which even family and friends miss. Part of being so empathetic and aware of another’s pain is that often the massage therapist taking on some of that pain themselves. It can be hard to release the negative emotion when the session is complete.

That is where the importance of learning to be mindful and practicing mindfulness comes in and plays an important role in self-care for the massage therapist.

Mindfulness is a natural part of all of us. However, in the noise and stress of our modern busy life it can be hard to sense it. By slowing down and taking a breath, we can at last recognize mindfulness within us.

Mindfulness is, simply, to be quietly aware of the moment we are in. To not judge or react.  Just to see the moment and to acknowledge what it is and then just let those distracting and stressful moments or thoughts go… acknowledge them and let them “float” from your mind.

How does being mindful and practicing mindfulness help the massage therapist to release stress brought on either by helping a client in need or by other tense situations?

The more one practices mindfulness, the more one learns to separate their emotions and reactions from the scene before them. A person can learn to observe what is happening without allowing themselves to become impacted negatively by it. They see the situation and then can contemplate how to handle it.

There is an adage, that in an airplane crisis it’s important to put on your own breathing mask before you turn to help others. The reason behind that is, if you don’t make sure you are secure first, both of you could perish. You need to be able to help the other person. The same is true with mindfulness. If you practice becoming mindful, and become more present and calm in the moment, then you are better able to not only help others who need that supportive influence but you are able to use mindfulness as a technique for self-care.

Every one of us has, within us, the ability to develop their mindfulness. It is free to do. Even just short periods of practice each day quickly add up to life-changing improvements both for you and for those who rely on you.

As a massage therapist, it is critical to take that first step towards adding mindfulness to your daily routine. You would be amazed at what a difference it makes

Mindful Breathing as a Self-Care Technique

Our world can sometimes feel like a carnival ride gone wildly out of control. We are hit without warning by chaotic stressors and last-minute emergencies. Often there is no way to put the situation on “pause” to go for a relaxing hour-long yoga session or meditation getaway to regain one’s center. What does one do to find a semblance of a center?

The solution is to use your breath.

One of the few things we carry with us at all times, and that we can become attentively attuned to, is our own breath. No matter what we are wearing, no matter where in the world we are or what time of day it is, we have our breath. In. Out. It is our energy and strength,continually renewing us.

 Practicing regular meditation for as little as ten minutes a day could have long- term health benefits and can actually change the makeup of your brain.

Practicing regular meditation for as little as ten minutes a day could have long- term health benefits and can actually change the makeup of your brain.

When you are overwhelmed by stress, pause for just a few seconds. Breathe in, long and deep. Feel the sensation of the air drawing in past your nostrils, bringing in fresh oxygen to your red blood cells. That oxygen will circulate to every cell in your entire body, nourishing it.

Then breathe out, for as long if not longer than the inhale. You are releasing the excess carbon dioxide. What your body no longer needs, the plants around you crave for sustenance. You are providing all plant life with what they desire to grow and be strong.

Breathe in. Feel that tickle in your nose. Sense the oxygen infusing your blood. It is giving you strength.

Breathe out. Release your carbon dioxide to the world. To all living things which rely on it. Share your bounty with them.

Study after study finds that deep breathing impacts the brain’s functioning. If a person breathes in a slow, deep manner, it induces the brain to be calm and focused. To release stress and to handle a situation with more attention. It seems such a simple thing, but the human body evolved with “fight or flight” to outrun saber-toothed tigers. Just as we have a built-in response to rev us up, we also have a built-in response to settle us back down. Deep, slow breathing is that solution.

Attention to breath is completely free. It can be done anywhere at any time. It takes only a few seconds. If you can but pause, to ponder your response, you can focus on your breath during that time period. You can breathe in deeply. Release your breath slowly. And suddenly everything is a bit calmer. Everything makes a bit more sense. 

Boundary setting as part of self-care for Massage Therapists

What exactly are boundaries? Boundaries are simply the “limits between what is considered acceptable and unacceptable behaviour”.

To develop healthy client-therapist relationships and to practice self-care, it is critical that we have clearly established boundaries. Of course, the boundaries may be different for each massage therapist and for each client.

As Massage Therapists, we have all spent a lot of time learning about the types of boundaries and we all know the impact that crossing those boundaries can have both on the therapeutic relationship we have with our clients, but on our own mental and physical health. It’s quite simple, establishing specific boundaries and sticking with those boundaries is a form of self-care. The following are the types of boundaries that we, as massage therapists, have learned about:

  1. Physical Boundaries
  2. Social Boundaries
  3. Emotional Boundaries
  4. Sexual Boundaries
  5. Professional Boundaries

30-Day Therapist Self-Care Challenge

We all love to participate in challenges so let’s try a 30-day, towards a self-care lifestyle challenge. The challenge can be started anytime and we will be there to celebrate your successes with you! You can share your progress on our #EngineerYourselfCommunity support page if you wish, but if you don’t feel comfortable sharing, that’s cool too.

This is what we are going to be doing on this 30-day self-care challenge:

  1. Get out a journal and write down one thing that you would like to achieve (regarding self-care) by the end of the 30 days.
  2. Start drinking more water…Let’s see if we can get to 2 litres a day by the end of our challenge.
  3. Everyday, write down in your journal things that you are grateful for…this could be in life or things that you have experienced during that specific day.
  4. Try a new, healthy recipe and get your family to pitch in.
  5. Watch the sunrise or sunset and simply be “in the moment” where the beauty of it is all that is in your mind.
  6. Commit to writing in your journal on a daily basis even if it is only one sentence.
  7. Go for a walk, explore, enjoy places that are new.
  8. Put the electronic devices away in the evenings.
  9. Completely unplug from technology for 24 hours
  10. Put some music on and just have fun, dance like no one is watching.
  11. Take in a Yin Yoga class
  12. Pick a night to light a fire, roast marshmallows and star gaze.
  13. Spend an afternoon at a park or the beach.
  14. Reconnect with an old friend or family you have not seen in a while.
  15. In your journal, write our your BUCKET LIST!
  16. Get up from whatever you’re doing and stretch
  17. Stop whatever you’re doing and do 20 bodyweight squats.
  18. Spend a few minutes just drawing or coloring.
  19. Write a letter to your future self. You can use FutureMe.org to do this!
  20. In your journal, write down what your greatest dream is and what steps can you take to make it happen.
  21. Do 30 minutes a day of cardio…something you enjoy!
  22. Start a conversation with someone you don’t know. Research has shown that chatting with strangers has the same emotional benefits that being helpful does
  23. Write a positive affirmation and post it on your fridge, on mirrors and wherever it can be seen in your home.
  24. Pay a compliment to someone everyday – learn to give others genuine compliments remembering that when you go out of your way to say something nice and give genuine praise to others, it positive affects your own self-confidence and just makes us feel good.
  25. Perform a random act of kindness – studies have shown that doing something helpful and being kind to others can actually reduce the level of stress in your own life.
  26. Don’t forget to “let the inner child out”….Have fun…Play!!
  27. Laugh! Find things that make you laugh!  Laughter is healing and is so powerful it can override pain, stress and even conflict. Laughter is medicine for the soul!
  28. Spend time reading a favorite book
  29. Take a 24 hour break from all social media.Take a Power Nap. 20 minutes does wonders to restore one’s mental alertness.
  30. Treat yourself to a DYI facial and soak in the bathtub or hot tub.

Remember that this challenge doesn’t require you to be perfect. It is about creating a self-care lifestyle that will ultimately give us the tools to deal with life when things get overwhelming and stressful. If you need, grab a friend or a group of friends and share this challenge…this self-care journey!

I challenge you to practice self-care this year. You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes in all areas of your life.

Finding a physical exercise program that fits your personal self-care needs

As discussed earlier, physical exercise is often something we give up when overwhelmed or stressed.

Physical exercise is self-care that is essential for a healthy lifestyle. It is essential not only for our physical well-being but for our psychological well-being.

Coming from a personal training background, to maintain physical and psychological wellness, our goal should be incorporating a minimum of 30-45 minutes of moderate level physical activity in to our daily lives.

Many of us find it difficult to stick with exercises while others just don’t know where to start.  It is important to find a form of physical activity that will you will enjoy, something that you will make part of your life.

It is a general belief that “it takes 21 days of repetition to form a habit”. So find something physical, something fun and make it a habit.

“What bad habit have you put right today?” Quintus Sextius, a Roman philosopher asked. “What fault did you take a stand against? In what respect are you better?”

If you can answer this question that you are participating in physical activity on a daily basis then you are well on your way to forming what will be a life long SELF-CARE habit.

Self care techniques that will help stretch, strengthen and protect the fingers, wrists, hands and forearms

As massage therapists we provide our clients with home care tips and I even have a space in my home studio where I help clients with stretch and strengthening specific to what they are receiving treatment for. I discuss the importance of self-care and show them how to perform self-myofascial release through foam rolling and self-massage to maintain the effects of my treatment between sessions.

As Massage Therapists we are committed to supporting the health and fitness levels of our clients but at the same time there are a huge majority of massage therapists who have never experienced, on a regular basis, the inside of a gym…who have horrible physical conditioning and as a result their careers are cut short due to injuries that are typically progressive in nature.

Although I have been guilty,  on occasion, of not stretching or warming up I do perform physical activity daily, not only to maintain the level of physical conditioning I need for my job as a massage therapist, but to maintain my physical conditioning for “life”…for “quality of life” as I age.

I’m not going to go into my entire workout schedule, but since the hands and arms seem to be the areas where massage therapists will develop the progressive injuries, I am going to show the stretching and strengthening that all of the therapists at Custom Bodies Fitness and Massage do to reduce fatigue and maintain strength in the fingers, wrists and forearms.

The simple stretch and strengthen exercises that I will be showing, when done consistently WILL improve therapist performance.

The Simple “HOW TO” of stretching  and Strengthening for the fingers, the wrists and the forearms

1) Stretch and Strengthen for Finger Extensors

In careers such as massage therapy, our hands and our entire bodies are our tools. For longevity of career and for quality of life it is critical that we are very aware of the importance of stretching and strengthening the body.

Finger extension is the action of opening the fingers and spreading them as wide as possible. Extension of the fingers can be difficult whether it is due to a traumatic injury or to a progressive injury resulting from repetitive duties or actions over a period of time

2) Stretch and Strengthen for Finger Flexors

As Massage Therapists or in any career where we use our hands, career longevity is dependant on care of all muscles in the hands. In this section we are looking at finger flexion and then some stretch and strengthen exercises to keep the flexors of our fingers in tip-top shape. Finger flexion is facilitated by the extrinsic and intrinsic muscles of the hand working across several joints. It is this motion that allows objects to be grasped by the hands.

  • Flexor Digitorum Superficialis (flexes PIP digits 2-5). Nerve: Median Nerve. Spinal Level: C7-T1 
  • Flexor Digitorum Profundus (flexes DIP digits 2-5) Nerve: Median Nerve (lateral part, digits 2-3), Ulnar Nerve (medial part, digits 4-5). Spinal Levels: C8-T11
  • Flexor Policus Longus (flexes digit 1). Nerve: Median Nerve. Spinal Level: C8-T11
  • Lumbricals (involved in MCP Flexion) Nerve: Median Nerve (lateral parts) Deep Branch Ulnar Nerve (medial parts) Spinal Level (C8-T1)
  • Palmar interossei (involved in MCP Flexion) Nerve: Deep branch Ulnar (C8, T1)

3) Stretch and Strengthening for Thumb Health

As massage therapists we tend to use our thumbs a lot and sometimes more than we really should. Thumb health is critical and maintaining flexibility and strengthen in our thumbs is again, critical to the longevity of our careers.

Practice stretching and strengthening your thumbs daily and remember that your career is literally “In your hands".

4) Stretch and Strengthen for Wrist Extensors

Stretching and Strengtheing  the wrist extensors with reverse dumbbell curls (or a can of soup)….Remember that the upward (concentric) movement is when you are shortening muscles and therefore you are strengthening your extensors and the downward (eccentric) movement is lengthening your extensors. As a result, this is once exercise where stretching and strengthening is happening at the same time.

  1. Sit on a flat bench or a chair, and lean forward.
  2. Grasp a dumbbell with an overhand grip (i.e. palms down) and rest your forearms on either the bench or your knees. This can be done with something as light  as a can of
  3. Using your wrists alone (i.e. wrist motion alone), curl the weight upward, exhaling throughout the movement.
  4. Slowly lower the weight as low as is comfortable, inhaling throughout the movement.
  5. Repeat steps 3-4 for as many repetitions as are desired.

Although the movement may seem small, go so and take care not to lift too heavy.

For this exercise, dumbbells can be awkward so you need to be mindful and use very light weights or even better if using a light barbel.

Forearm exercises can easily cause strains/sprains and other related problems if not done carefully. To avoid injury….LIFT LIGHT AND MOVE THE WEIGHTS SLOWLY.

5) Stretch and Strengthen for Wrist Flexors

This is a wonderful and easy exercise that stretches the flexors of the forearm and wrist with the downward or eccentric movement and strengthens the flexors as the muscles are activated with the upward or concentric (shortening) of the muscles (pulling up).

This exercise not only stretches and strengthens the flexors but helps with maintaining range of motion.

Remember that lack of a daily maintenance routine and self-care in jobs requiring repetitive arm movements will not only stunt your career but will completely limit your effectiveness.

Take care not to hyperextend the wrists. To help avoid hyperextension, keep some tension present at the bottom of the movement. In other words, do not let the wrists completely relax.

Proper stretching should be performed prior to performing this exercise.

Forearm exercises, in general, pose a high risk for wrist strains/sprains and other related problems. To help avoid problems of this sort be sure to practice strict form and use lighter weights at least until a strong comfort level is achieve.

6) Stretch and Strengthen for Wrist Adductors and Abductors

this is a wonderful and easy exercise that both stretches and strengthens both the abductors and adductors or the forearm and wrist area:

* abduction will stretching your adductors and strengthen the abductors
* adducting is stretching your abductors and strengthening your adductors.

This is a simple and easy way of stretching and strengthening the both the adductors and abductors of your forearm and wrist, but also a way of maintaining range of motion.

NOTE: again, it is important to go very light on this one and do the movements very close so as not to strain or cause damage. Personally I use 5 pound weights or lighter (a can of soup will even be good) and very slowing supinate and pronate.

Remember that lack of a daily maintenance routine and self-care in jobs requiring repetitive arm movements will not only stunt your career but will completely limit your effectiveness.

7) Stretch and Strengthen for the Forearm and Wrist Pronators and Supinator

this is a wonderful and easy exercise that both stretches and strengthens both the Pronators and supinators of the forearm with:

* supinating stretching your pronators and pronation strengthening your Pronators.
*pronating is stretching your supinators and pronating is strengthening your pronators.

This is a simple and easy way of stretching and strengthening the both the pronator’s and supinators of your forearm, but also a way of maintaining range of motion.

NOTE: go very light on this one and do the movements very close so as not to strain or cause damage to either pronator’s or supinators. Personally I use 5 pound weights or lighter (a can of soup will even be good) and very slowing supinate and pronate.

Remember that lack of a daily maintenance routine and self-care in jobs requiring repetitive arm movements will not only stunt your career but will completely limit your effectiveness.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it is critical for massage therapists and for everyone to make self-care or “self-love” a lifestyle habit. Remembering to combine both physical self-care with psychological self-care all of which will give you the tools to deal with how overwhelming and stressful our lives can sometimes get,but it will also keep you, the massage therapist, and your massage practice up and running for years to come.


About The Author: Hello Friends, My name is Patricia Hildebrandt!

about the author

I’m a massage therapist, personal trainer, avid amateur writer, mother of 4 amazing children and owner of Custom Bodies Fitness and Massage in Edmonton, Alberta. I am passionate about doing whatever I can do to live a full, balanced and healthy life. My focus is sharing what I have learned with others hoping to inspire them to find health and wellness on their own journeys.

For everything health and wellness, follow:
Facebook @Custom Bodies Fitness and Massage
Linkedin @Patricia Hildebrandt

 


References

¹Moore KL, Dalley AF, Agur AMR. Clinically Oriented Anatomy, Seventh Edition. Baltimore, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2014.
²Encyclopaedia Britannica
³https://dictionary.cambridge.org