Words About Self Care.
Most of us will agree that self-care is important. As a PGR (postgraduate research student) I hear the term tons, though in so many different contexts, it’s easy to see that there are many variations of how it is defined. According to my Facebook recommendations, self-care for me involves citrus bath salts and Groupons for golf specials in Barcelona. Um, Okay. (1)
Self-care is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health. And, if you are like me, and manage long-term conditions and/or the fallout of them, self-care is about understanding those and how to live with them.
Self-care is not to be confused with shopping therapy and self-indulgence, although for many this is a fine (invisible?) line. It’s tough, what with all the Treat Yo’ Self images for “self-care” that focus on green drinks in mason jars, gluten-free, fat-free, carb-free, non-caffeinated, protein-powdered, non-dairy foods (?) and skinny bitches doing impossible yoga positions on the oceanside dock of a resort in the tropics that cost more (per night) than I paid (total) for my first car.
Self Care in my 40s has taken many (mostly) positive forms. For instance, I take vitamins now instead of illicit drugs. That’s a start, right? I practice yoga. I take walks outdoors most every day. It’s not like we haven’t heard for years to eat better, be more active, and get more sleep. Why are these simple things so damn hard?
To combat the hours I sit on my ass at this laptop, I exercise. I engage in unsightly squats and terrifying sit-ups. I’ve even been known to jump on the rowing machine at the gym. (It doesn’t like this, BTW.) But my favorite form of self-care involves (of course) bespoke shoes. Fins, that is. That’s right, bitches. I swim.
I forego aquatic Mp3 kit and groovy swimming apps. My rotating arms calm my racing mind. In the chlorine, I listen to my breathing, I focus on my pacing, and I listen to my inner voices that the outside world often drowns out. In the water, I can hear the voice in my center when it says to me:
You can do this.
You are capable.
You are strong.
You are on the right path.
Oftentimes things that are heavy on my heart become weightless in the pool. A problem with my research that I can’t work through becomes fuzzy and floats away, and for an hour or so I think of other things. Or I think of nothing at all. My muscles, my memory, my form, my strokes are all that glide me through the chlorine. I’m not going to tell you that afterwards, all the solutions to my scholarly struggles melt away in the sauna, then congeal with clarity when I return to the laptop. But it has been known to happen. Clarity in the chlorine.
- Mental strength building (it’s not just me, it’s science!)
Regular exercise reduces inflammation and insulin resistance in the brain, which fosters new brain cell growth, which is why it is often employed in ADHD therapies. Swimming allows you to burn off excess energy, which helps “train your brain” to concentrate on one thing for a longer time.
- It’s better than running.
Q:What other cardiovascular activity works as many muscles at once more than swimming? Running, cycling, cart-wheels?
Not everyone’s joints (and backs and tits) are built for running. When you compare swimming to running, you can burn more calories swimming laps in the pool than you can running for an hour. Also, regular swimming can delay the effects of aging by reducing blood pressure, increasing muscle mass, improving oxygen and blood flow to the brain, and increasing cardiovascular health.
Also, you runners out there? Will you PLEASE stop trying to recruit? If you want to run a 5K, have at it. But can you go three consecutive days without mentioning it? #ShutTFup #challenge Thanks. Oh yeah. And constantly-posting Cross-fitters? You’re welcome to get in on that too.
3. It will make you healthy.
Regular swimming can reduce the risk of chronic illnesses, such as heart disease and stroke. It can also boost your mood and help you lose/maintain weight. Swimming is a resistance exercise, similar to weight-lifting, but without the possible negative impacts of weights, because swimming places almost no stress on your joints and bones.
So am I saying go find yourself some chlorine? No. I don’t know YOU. You might not have access to chlorine. You might not even know how to swim.(2) I happen to be a full-time student on campus with a pool and a butt-cheap gym membership. Last time I tried to get back into the water, even though I was working full time, I couldn’t afford the pool dues. So when I graduate, I will reassess. That’s how it works.
You have to actually put some thought into what works FOR YOU rather than going with what you used to do, or by buying into the pre-package glossy images of “Self Care”. Sincere (meaning effective) self-care must be tailored for the individual. All individuals, not just graduate students. Finding a healthy balance in your life takes work. If you can’t find it because you haven’t been thinking about it and working towards it, then I submit you may just be a lazy bastard. Which is OK too, so long as you own it and don’t whine in my direction.
- I personally think FB recommendations are hysterical. I google everything from unicorn poop cupcakes to 18th century Scottish asylum inmates in a given day, so it stays constantly confused. But if you hate those ads, do something about it. Strangers can find out more about you than you think if you have the wrong Facebook security settings. You can also (click here) to disable third-party cookies in your browsers. Wanna get rid of them in your Apps too? You’re welcome.
- You should learn, though. Just sayin’.