When it comes to personal health, no one knows your body and mind better than you. If your muscles ache or you’re feeling overwhelmed, you’re typically the first to notice. While you may associate the concept of self-care with a day at the spa—a luxury that only a small portion of the population can afford regularly—there are many other ways to approach your own well-being. Yes, self-care can mean massages and pedicures, but when it’s being practiced mindfully, self-care is self-advocacy. Not only do you have the power to feel better every day, but you have the right to make your health a priority. Here are a few members of the community who are making it easier to practice self-care in Corvallis.
An Eastern Medicine Approach to Self-Care
Brodie Welch is a local acupuncturist who promotes self-care through her Chinese medicine practice, as well as her podcast, “A Healthy Curiosity.” If you meet with Welch in her clinic, you may receive acupuncture and adjunct therapies, but you can also expect to have a conversation about what it means to take care of yourself daily and why this practice is so important.
“In over 13 years of clinical practice, I have seen that the people who are willing to move differently, breathe differently, eat differently, interpret life differently, and make time for self-care are the people who really end up feeling dramatically different: healthy, confident, joyful, and free,” Welch wrote. She pointed out that while a lot of people understand the basics of self-care—getting enough sleep, maintaining a healthy diet, and exercising—there is still a limited understanding of what the practice means.
One component of Chinese medicine is the idea that every person has a life energy called qi that runs through and sustains the body. The strength of this energy depends on many factors and can easily change. In Western culture, health is viewed as a binary thing—either you’re sick or you’re not sick. “In Chinese medicine, it’s a continuum,” Welch said. “In that place of imbalance, there’s all this room to steer in different directions.” Welch went on to point out that while we often focus on staying super busy and productive, we don’t spend enough time in rest and repair mode.
By looking at health through a Chinese medicine lens, Welch explained, “A lot more becomes possible when we’re a dynamic field of energy instead of a machine or a sack of meat.”
Welch believes that it’s difficult for people to focus on their own self-care when they’re spending a lot of time as caregivers. Without self-care, people end up feeling victimized by disease. “No one is served when you deplete yourself,” said Welch.
To start practicing self-care, you need to start with a routine. As a first step, Welch recommends focusing on breath awareness. “Breath is the lever of the nervous system, the bridge between fight and flight mode.” An easy way to remember your breath is to set a timer on your phone. Other ways to incorporate breath awareness into your routine is to practice meditation, yoga, or qigong.
Overall, Welch views self-care as an act of integrity and self-compassion. Just as we should treat others the way we want to be treated, we need to turn that idea on its head and care for ourselves the way we’d care for those we love the most.
The Role of Technology in Self-Care and Managing Chronic Diseases
Using your phone is not the only way technology can help you practice self-care. In a recent study, Carolyn Mendez-Luck, Assistant Professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU, looked at how often middle-aged and older women use the Internet to help them manage chronic diseases. Mendez-Luck found that barriers to Internet use could be preventing chronically ill women, especially women of color and of lower economic status, from being as healthy as possible.
Self-care can mean many things, but, “In terms of our study, we examined self-care as it related to the management of chronic diseases. Within that context, self-care refers to a person’s ability to deal with all aspects of their disease, including symptoms, treatment, and lifestyle behaviors,” said Mendez-Luck.
Mendez-Luck believes that while the concept of self-care has been around a long time, the notion is evolving, “because of… advances in medical technologies, preventive clinical services that are more widely available, health education programs, and the Internet, which was the focus of our study.” While men should also engage in self-care, Mendez-Luck and her team chose to look at women because they are more likely to live with chronic diseases.
“Self-care works when we listen to our bodies and our minds and then treat what ails us emotionally, psychologically, and physically. For the context of chronic disease, self-care is critical for keeping the disease from getting worse and for preserving the person’s quality of life,” Mendez-Luck said. Just as Welch looked at self-care as a form of empowerment, Mendez-luck believes that self-care “increases self-efficacy—a person’s confidence in being able to manage their disease, as well as satisfaction which can increase the overall quality of life.”
While economic barriers could be keeping some women from using resources found online, Mendez-Luck thinks there could also be a problem with the messaging behind self-care. It’s just not resonating with some people. “Based on my other research in minority populations, specifically the Latino population—they like information that is personalized to them, where they feel like they’re making a connection.” She explained that it’s important, especially for Latina women, to relate to information and how it will affect family. The specific message would be: by taking care of myself first, then I can take care of my family.
“That analogy of when you’re in the airplane and the oxygen mask falls from the ceiling… If we’re sitting with children, we put on our mask first and then put on their mask. If we don’t take care of ourselves first, then we can’t take care of others,” said Mendez-Luck.
While she hopes to continue studying the barriers to using the Internet and practicing self-care, Mendez-Luck has some advice for those who do understand self-care and have access to resources. “What I would recommend for a general audience that’s reading this and thinking, ‘What does this all mean for me?’ is it’s important for women—for all people, really—to find a resource that they feel comfortable with, that fits them.” For many, that may be an online support group.
Self-Care Workshops at OSU
What we’ve learned from Welch and Mendez-Luck is that education is key to developing self-care habits. In response to winter term being historically difficult for students—especially with the change in weather causing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) for many—on top of distress caused by the current political climate, Christine Hoang, an OSU student majoring in Psychology and minoring in Social Justice, decided to launch a Self-Care Workshop series.
“I proposed a Self-Care Workshop at each of the Cultural Resource Centers on campus, because folks from different historically underrepresented and marginalized communities have lived experiences that affect their mental health in varying ways,” said Hoang. Just like Mendez-Luck, Hoang understands that messaging matters.
It was Hoang’s hope that this series would help reduce the stigma associated with mental health and give students a space to explore self-care practices with their peers. “These workshops provide everyone an opportunity to build ongoing awareness of mental health across cultures, increase cultural competency, and learn skills/tools in self-care and supporting others,” Hoang added. Each workshop was tailored to the cultural center it was held in.
“Conversations would be dependent on individuals from each specific community, incorporating discussion questions that speak on the intersectionality of mental health,” said Hoang. Workshops also included activities based on self-care and mindfulness.
Hoang made their vision a reality by collaborating with other Student Success Peer Facilitators and Student Success Liaisons from Diversity and Cultural Engagement. These partnerships helped Hoang address the lack of culturally competent care and the chronic stress associated with having a stigmatized identity, among other topics.
Though Hoang will take a break from facilitating these workshops during spring term, they hope to spend some time redesigning the program for the next academic year. While there will be a break in this series, Hoang has started a conversation about the need for self-care on campus and how the practice can vary across social groups.
We’ve learned that self-care doesn’t have to be a solitary endeavor—these community members prove that support can be found through many outlets—but what makes you feel better is personal. You are the best judge of what your optimal emotional and physical health feels like. Be open to trial and error because your well-being is worth it. As Welch pointed out, “Self-care is not selfish.” If you find something that improves your quality of life, you can still share this with others. A more empowered and healthier community benefits us all.
By Anika Lautenbach