Self-Care from a Health Perspective: Its effect on your MIND+BODY

Incorporated into your routines and habits each day, self-care has exponential potential to build up over time. We’re going to be frank with you here. Self-care is not a “whenever you have the time” activity. You can’t approach it in this manner. Instead these last few weeks we’ve been trying to get you used to the idea that self-care should be a practice. You may not see the results immediately but over time, step-by-step, you will be amazed at how far you will come. Self-care has a direct impact on your mood, relationships with yourself and others, and even physical appearance. 

We’ve already covered the role of self-care when it comes to making better food choices, staying active, and rethinking your beauty routine. This week we wanted to discuss self-care from a health perspective and its effect on your mind+body. How does stress affect our body? What role does mental and emotional health or stress play in self-care? We asked our wellness partners over at Parsley Health to share some insights and had the opportunity to interview Dr. Soyona Raatajah, an Integrative and Functional medicine expert.

What does self-care mean to you?

To me, self-care means creating balance in my life.  Too many people nowadays are becoming very good at living at the extremes.  We see more and more of it from patients coming to Parsley Health. For that reason I often think about my self-care regime as I try to formulate self-care recommendations for my patients. Self-care, to me, means doing things for yourself every single day that you know will better your ability to be the very best version of yourself. Self-care may seem selfish, but in the end, if you don’t have a discipline for self-care, you cannot do anything for anyone else.

Do you have any weekly self-care routines?

I take self-care extremely seriously. One thing that I do every week of my life is move my body. I dedicate 30-60 minutes to movement 5-6 days per week. I take days off, because it is possible to have too much of a good thing.  I think that people can become obsessed with the need to exercise every single day, and sometimes hurt themselves by working out too hard or becoming stressed about it.  It should be something that is seen as fun, relaxing, and releasing. As long as you make a point to include some form of sustained movement in your life around 4-5 days per week, your metabolism will stay strong. This can even mean going to a sober dance party which is what I did last week at Ecstatic Dance.  It was a substantial work out, huge rush of endorphins, and an inclusive, community feeling.

What role does mental and emotional health or stress play in self-care?

Self-care can be very difficult for people who are going through a hard time emotionally and mentally.  It’s a shame, because these are the people that need it the most.  It can be hard to tell which came first, because anyone who does not practice routine self-care will inevitably have poor mental/emotional health.  As a physician, I try to encourage my patients to incorporate self-care into their lives every single day.  Everyone’s situation is different, so using the personalized care model that we have at Parsley Health, we are able to come up with a self-care program that would fit each individual that we see.  Certain people benefit more from certain diets, exercise programs, and relaxation techniques, and it’s up to us to help the person arrive to the combination that works best for them.

How does stress affect your body?

Stress and mental/emotional health can contribute to almost every and any health problem under the sun.  We know that stress directly contributes to inflammation, and since practically every medical problem has an inflammatory component, stress can worsen all of them.  Our bodies interpret our stress and “survival”.  So when you’re mad at your boss or your computer isn’t doing what you want it to, your body will interpret the situation as you running from a tiger to survive.  If you live under those conditions for too long, in order to adapt, many disturbances can arise in your metabolism and hormones, among other physiological functions that can break down under excessive, chronic stress. This is one of the reasons we are routinely testing patients for adrenal fatigue in a way that other doctors often ignore. We know the toll that stress can take on the body and we want to be smart about diagnosing it and treating it as efficiently as possible. 

What is your number one tip for others when it comes to reducing stress in their lives?

Stress will always be a part of our lives.  Stress comes from change, and change is part of life, whether positive or negative.  Since stress will always be a constant variable in life, it is our reactions to the stress that must change in order to deal with that stress better.  This is a mentality that comes only with practice.  Sure, there may be some people out there who are naturally born with that calm and durable demeanor, but most people who handle stress well have worked extremely hard at it.  I encourage all of my patients to learn about meditation and how to calm the mind from within.  We offer a free year subscription to the meditation app, Headspace, with a membership to our medical practice, Parsley Health.  This is how strongly we feel that meditation improves people’s lives and health. 

How does what we eat affect our mental health?

The digestive tract has been called “the second brain” for decades now. We have a multitude of data showing how the nervous system in the gut directly affects how we feel and think, and visa versa.  About 75% of our neurotransmitters are made in our digestive tract, so that means, if we eat inflammatory foods, then our mood will suffer.  A few power food groups that we can eat to improve mood are plenty of fiber from vegetables of all kinds, probiotic or fermented foods which contain healthy bacteria, and healthy fats, since our brains are made of mostly fat.

Parsley Health is a groundbreaking medical practice of highly trained doctors and health coaches. We take a smarter, whole approach to helping you live a healthy life. Our doctors and health coaches take the time to know you and your individual story. We thoughtfully use state of the art diagnostic tests to determine the root cause of what’s bothering you to then curate the best possible medical, nutrition and fitness plan for you. The result is you’re happy, well and in control of your own health. 

Soyona Rafatjah is an Integrative and Functional medicine physician and board-certified in Family Medicine. She graduated summa cum laude from University of Michigan with a BSE in Biomedical Engineering, received her medical degree from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, and did her residency training at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, FL. Before joining Parsley Health, she worked at the renowned Mount Sinai Beth Israel Center for Health and Healing, the largest Integrative Medicine center associated with a academic training program, as well as Dr. Frank Lipman's Eleven Eleven Wellness Center. Areas she specializes in includes thyroid management, bio-identical hormone replacement therapy, menopause, adrenal fatigue, digestive disorders, allergy desensitization, and autoimmune conditions. In her spare time, she enjoys being outdoors, spending time with friends and family, honing her yoga practice, world travel, dancing to music, and embracing all forms of art.