Self-care is a term that many of us may be familiar with, and it is essentially about making a dedicated and conscious effort to give back to ourselves both physically and mentally that can also enrich us socially and psychologically.
Self-care is also super important for our gut health as the gut-brain connection is completely intertwined, so one can affect the other. Practising self-care that helps us reduce stress, improve mood and optimise sleep is therefore integral to nourishing our gut and mind.
For International Self-Care Day, Bimuno & gut-health guru Eve Kalinik have five self-care tips for your gut.
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Unlike positive affirmations, self-affirmations are based on identifying the things and values that affirm one's self-worth. If we use more general positive affirmations, they can tend to be ineffective and often have a reverse negative impact. Furthermore, they might also be ineffective if we don't truly believe them, so we must use words and statements consistent with our own truth. There can also be the trap of falling into toxic positivity with positive affirmations and seeking perfection, which won't do anything for our self-esteem.
You might therefore think of self-affirmations more as value affirmations that can help support our overall sense of self and self-worth and help us better cope with challenging life experiences. Studies have confirmed that self-affirmation can have some positive effects on stress and can have long-lasting effects. It helps to switch on the brain's reward system, which has a quieting effect on the stress response and has real significance in supporting the gut-brain connection.
Claude Steele, who popularised self-affirmation theory, states that we need to prioritise having a 'multidimensional life' such that we have multiple things that contribute to our life, including friends, family, work and interests. He believes this is a big part of creating our self-affirmations. One of the most common ways to practice self-affirmation is to create a list of around 10 things that we value and pick the one we rank as the most important and write about this for around five minutes on why that is true to ourselves, how we have exhibited it in the past and how we can bring it into the future. So, for example, it might be 'I appreciate all the ways in which I am unique' or 'my life is full of potential'. Think of ones that truly resonate with you. And remember that behaviour is crucial to this process so that we behave in ways consistent with that affirmation so that it becomes even more believable and likely to translate into reality.
One of the most significant ways we can exert self-care is by nourishing ourselves and our inner ecosystem through the food we eat. Fibre is essential to caring for our gut microbiota, and we must enrich it abundantly and diversely. Fibre can be found in all types of vegetables, fruit, whole grains and nuts & seeds, and we need to think about eating a rainbow of colours to maximise the variety of fibre sources which supports the health of our gut.
Mindfully including prebiotics, a dietary fibre that enriches the good bugs in our gut, will also serve us well. These can be found in the highest concentration in foods such as onion, garlic, asparagus, oats and under-ripe bananas. Including a daily sachet of Bimuno® means we can ensure we are regularly getting prebiotics into our routine and demonstrates self-care to our gut microbiota and overall well-being.
In addition, fermented foods can positively impact our gut microbiota. This includes natural yoghurt, aged cheese, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir and kombucha. I often refer to kombucha as champagne for the gut, which has a feeling of celebration and self-love.
Presenting our meals in a way that shows thought and consideration, much like my Lemony White Bean & Greens Broth, can also have a marked impact on the message we send to ourselves and how we eat the food on the plate in front of us. Creating an appropriate setting with carefully selected plates, napkins and cutlery and removing all distractions (use a phone drawer if needed) denotes a feeling of value and worthiness. This also encourages us to slow down and take time over our meals, positively impacting our gut and alleviating common digestive symptoms such as bloating, trapped wind and reflux.
Small rituals practised regularly are an important way of saying we care about ourselves, which will mean something different for each of us. It could be having a long soak in the bath, especially if we use calmative oils such as lavender or Epsom salts, as these can help to relax the body, including the gut, and at the end of the day, help promote better sleep.
Making a pot of herbal tea and taking time to sip it can also create crucial pockets of recovery in the day that are essential to moving the body into the parasympathetic 'rest & digest' mode, which is conducive to optimising the functioning of the gut. It might also be taking time for a walk, especially in the morning, to expose ourselves to natural light, as this can help to support natural circadian rhythms that affect the sleep-wake cycle. Even savouring some time in the day to enjoy some chocolate can give us a moment of self-gratification and joy. Ideally, 70% cocoa content as this also provides polyphenols which our gut microbes also love.
Breathing exercises can be an incredibly powerful way of helping us to practise self-compassion and awareness. The simple four-part box breathing method is super easy to follow, which requires breathing in deeply for a count of four, holding the breath on full for four, releasing gradually to a count of four, holding on empty for four, and repeating this cycle for 10 minutes or longer. You can even envisage a box at the same time if you need somewhere to focus the mind. This type of 'diaphragmatic' breathing helps to engage the parasympathetic nervous system and soothe the vagus nerve that connects the gut and the brain.
Abdominal self-massage can also help alleviate bloating symptoms and support gut motility and hands-on giving love back to yourself. There are a few ways this can be performed, and many tutorials can be accessed online, although one of the most common is working in a clockwise direction around the abdomen with gentle pressure. Just check for any contraindications, such as post-surgery or pregnancy.
Many of us can often feel like we are always saying yes to things and going beyond healthy limitations, which can be to the detriment of ourselves. Setting boundaries is, therefore, essential to our self-preservation. This includes the ability to say no to things, which can be much more cathartic than we realise.
Prioritising ourselves is fundamental to being able to give back to others, so there is nothing selfish in making sure our own needs are also met. Limiting social media exposure and actively unfollowing and muting those that do not fill us up psychologically is an important part of this. Creating ample headspace allows us to be self-reflective and think about the things we want in our life which is the ultimate practice of self-care.
About the Author: Eve Kalinik is a nutritional therapist, author & podcaster. As a specialist in gut health, Eve believes that having a healthy gut is fundamental to our overall well-being and thriving existence both physically and mentally. Eve’s passion and appreciation of how food makes us feel on different levels and her love to create delicious recipes to reflect this sentiment is why Bimuno loves to work in collaboration with Eve. Eve is a registered member of the IFM (Institute of Functional Medicine), British Association for Applied Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy (BANT) and the Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). She also holds a BA Hons degree in Psychology.
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