The Science of Self Care
Calling all skeptics… I see you.
I see you because I was you. “Make time for self care!? Between a long day of work, juggling family duties, and squeezing in a little exercise now and again… now you’re telling me I should spend another five minutes writing down what I’m grateful for?” Yes. Yes I am.
Once you see the impact of self care at work in your life, it’s so easy to prioritize it. Still, it’s perfectly normal to be skeptical of new or esoteric practices that sound a little… out there.
As a one-time skeptic myself, knowing that some of these oft-labeled “woo woo” practices have some pretty legit science to back them goes a long way. Understanding a little bit more about the research behind the self care has helped me immensely — in staying consistent, intentional, and knowing that my routine is time well spent.
Check out some of the science-backed benefits of our favorite self-care practices below — with sources for anything you’d like to explore further.
I’m not here to tell you what to think, but I do hope to show you that there may be a little something to this “woo” stuff, after all.
Meditation – Live Longer
Most people know that meditation has some powerful benefits. Did you know that it can rewire your brain and actually slow the aging process!?
One study showed that “Making meditation an integral part of our lifestyle may hold the key to delay aging or promote graceful aging, prevent onset of multifactorial complex lifestyle diseases, promote mental, physical, and reproductive health, and prolong youthful healthy life.”
Furthermore, and especially relevant as we all know the value of a strong immune system today, a study looking at the impact of meditation on the immune system found that “Meditation helps regulate the stress response, thereby suppressing chronic inflammation states and maintaining a healthy gut-barrier function.”
More of a “live fast, die young” type? Consider that meditation has also been shown to help:
- Improve memory and concentration
- Strengthen your immune system
- Reduce stress
- Increase sex drive and libido
- Help with chronic pain
- Reduce symptoms of depression
- Improve sleep quality
- Help you manage weight
Om… my god, right? I know.
Journaling – Reduce Stress
The process of putting pen to paper always feels cathartic, and often provides clarity, but it is also proven to reduce stress, improve immune function, keep memory sharp, boost mood, and strengthen emotional functions.
One study showed that “expressive writing (like journaling) for only 15 to 20 minutes a day, three to five times over the course of a four-month period was enough to lower blood pressure and improve liver functionality.” Write more… stress less.
Another 2005 study found that the kind of “expressive writing” often connected with journaling is especially therapeutic. The study found that participants who wrote about traumatic, stressful or emotional events were significantly less likely to get sick, and were ultimately less seriously affected by trauma, than their non-journaling counterparts.
So… you get it. There’s a lot of benefits, but where do you start? Check out our recent post, “93 Thought-Provoking Journaling Prompts” if you’re looking for a little inspo.
Gratitude – Be Happier
Gratitude often looks like a quick list of statements beginning with “I’m grateful for…” or “thank you for…,” but did you know there’s research that shows it does much more than just putting you in a more appreciative mood?
Practicing gratitude opens the door to more relationships, improves physical and psychological health, enhances empathy and reduces aggression, promotes better sleep and self-esteem, and increases mental strength.
Robert Emmons, a leading gratitude researcher, has conducted multiple studies on the link between gratitude and well-being. His research confirms that gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression.
According to a 2011 study published in “Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being,” spend just 15 minutes jotting down a few grateful sentiments before bed, and you may sleep better and longer.
Even better? Studies have shown that gratitude reduces social comparisons. A common and sneaky culprit that eats away at our self-worth through things like social media.
Rather than becoming resentful toward people who have more money or better jobs—a major factor in self-esteem—grateful people are able to appreciate other people’s accomplishments.
Affirmations & Manifestation – Design Your Dream Future
Intentional thinking through processes like affirmations and manifestations may feel the most woo woo of all, but these powerful and creative thought exercises can have a significant impact on our behavior.
In “Evolve Your Brain: The Science of Changing Your Mind,” Dr. Joe Dispenza says that “our state of being consists of our repetitive cycle of our constant thoughts combined with the production of chemicals within our body which generates our emotions. “
This repetitive cycle has a direct impact on our behavior, which changes our lives. We say it often and we’ll say it again… thoughts become things.
What, where, how, and the length of time we give attention to something in life, along with our repetitive thoughts forms our neurological wiring. Which leads me to…
Visualization – Create Success
You may have heard stories of professional athletes rehearsing their gold-medal-winning routines in their minds. Over and over as a key tool to their success. Did you know there’s research to validate this practice, too?
One study shows that there is a strong scientific basis for how and why visualization works. It is now a well-known fact that we stimulate the same exact brain regions when we simply visualize an action and when we actually perform that same action.
And as Dr. Joe Dispenza mentioned above, this stimulation or repetitive thoughts is actually reforming the way our brains are wired.
Activities like manifestation and visualizations are so powerful, in fact, that The CIA even felt compelled to study them in the 70s and 80s and recently released some of their findings for the first time. More on that at a later date but… wow.
Community – Reduce Anxiety & Boost Self-Esteem
It’s a no-brainer that we as humans are meant to connect, but in an ever-changing world, it can feel like a big challenge to find authentic connection and friendships.
Did you know that “Lonely adults are 25 percent more likely to die prematurely?”
“Community is what keeps us happy and healthy. Period. Relationships are the single biggest predictor of life success. In addition to well-being and professional achievement, relationships might just keep us alive,” says George Vaillant, Director of Harvard’s Grant Study.
Emma Seppala of the Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism Research, and author of the 2016 book “The Happiness Track,” wrote, “people who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression.”
Moreover, studies show they also have higher self-esteem, greater empathy for others, are more trusting and cooperative and, as a consequence, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them.”
Brene Brown, a professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, who specializes in social connection, said in an interview that “A deep sense of love and belonging is an irresistible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to.”
I’d say this makes a pretty great case for seeking aligned friendships and like-minded communities.
Getting Started with Self-Care Science
While a simple Google search can lead you to lots of impressive results, sometimes a quick recommendation makes things a bit easier.
One of my favorite thought leaders in this conversation is neuroscientist, chiropractor, teacher, and author, Dr. Joe Dispenza. Check out his books “Becoming Supernatural” and “Breaking The Habit of Being Yourself” for more of the researched-backed woo.
—We’ll continue to dive deeper into some of this research in future blog posts, in the SCS community, and in class now and again. In the meantime…
To my skeptics: I hope this gives you a little more faith that just 15-30 minutes of daily self care can go a long way. If you’re not quite there yet, I get it, but do encourage you to give one or two or these practices a try for a week or so just to see.
To my ever-growing woo crew: I hope you found this interesting… but you know this stuff already.
See you in class 😉
Please note: Some of the books referenced use an Amazon affiliate link. This is purely for convenience in case you’d like to learn more — all are genuine endorsements of mine, and I encourage you to purchase at your local bookseller of choice when possible.
Great article! Thank you for including this.