Exercise and being in tune with your body is essential to your well-being. We often hear of the importance of fitness to our physical and mental health, but the practice of yoga as a component of self-care has benefits that transcend both the body and the mind and create whole-body wellness that fuels personal growth. These benefits do not emanate from a particular pose but from the sustained lifestyle change that yoga and other types of self-care can initiate.

The Challenges of Personal Growth

Life can be filled with everything from obstacles to happiness. Some of us may feel dissatisfied with our place and position in life — and sometimes this realization comes late in life. Personal growth is the ability to identify and act on our need to advance. The need for personal growth skills arises when we are faced with career changes, the prospect of going back to school, and other challenges life throws our way.

Self-care techniques help prepare us to make these decisions. Self-care encourages mindfulness, which can be helpful for many in decision-making. Mindfulness is especially helpful in career decisions because, without self-knowledge, it’s difficult to engage in the type of future planning that career decisions require. Meditation is increasingly being used in business as a way to boost productivity, too. In addition to helping us make better decisions, self-care supports our physical and mental health for life’s challenges.

Yoga as a Self-Care Tool

The power of yoga lies in its nature as a practice rather than an exercise. Yes, there are considerable muscle and fitness components of yoga, and some sessions can have your muscles shaking and body sweating just like the hardest gym workout, but yoga is more about the flow than the poses. The yoga lifestyle is infectious to the rest of our life. The poses encourage self-reflection, which spreads to other activities. We are less likely to overeat, drink to excess, or allow our bodies to be damaged through laziness when we invest time and effort into our yoga practice.

One of the best benefits of yoga is its ability to regulate our stress levels. Most people who practice yoga report considerable reductions in their stress levels. This is likely because, in addition to being a workout, yoga has an underlying philosophy that incorporates compassion, mindfulness, and stress relief. Yoga sessions often being and end with an overt call out to let that day’s stress melt away. When combined with its ability to help us learn about our minds and bodies, yoga holds the key to well-being in the pursuit of personal growth. When taken to heart, yoga provides an outlet to get away from the stresses of the day and refocus on one’s self.

Meditation, Off the Yoga Mat

The benefits of mindfulness are available outside of yoga, too. Meditation requires little more than a quiet area away from distractions. Follow these tips and you can have a sanctuary of your own to help with your mindfulness quest:

  • Find a private space. A separate room is ideal, one with minimal distraction.
  • Make it a pleasant space. Although you want to keep the space quiet, it is also important that the area be nice to look at, so some decoration is helpful.
  • Keep decor simple and inexpensive. If you are planning on renovating your home to create a meditation space, you may be missing the point. A simple uncluttered room or portion of a room is all that is necessary.

Personal growth requires inner knowledge and strength, both of which can be found through yoga and meditation as components of self-care. Mindfulness and peacefulness can help us face life’s challenges confidently and with the ability to make intelligent decisions.

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You’ve heard it put a number of ways—you can’t water from an empty pot. You have to love yourself before loving anyone else. For caregivers, this kind of advice is paramount, and yet pushing yourself beyond limits is the norm. If you’re caring for a senior loved one, feeling drained and overworked is standard. Oftentimes, you’re undertaking caregiving in addition to nurturing your own family, hobbies, work and more.

However, all those words of wisdom are true. If you don’t care for yourself first, you’re in no condition (mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually) to care for another. Professional caregivers are taught to triage their responsibilities so the most pressing issues are addressed first. The same approach can (and should!) be adopted if you’re a caregiver for a loved one.

Caregiving requires incredible selflessness, empathy and compassion—within limits. These are beautiful traits that are partly innate, and partly nurtured throughout life. However, you don’t want to tread into doormat territory.

Here are a few ways to care for yourself first before focusing on another:

  1. Listen to your body. It’s an incredibly subjective and over-used phrase, particularly in yoga classes, but it rings true. If your body is telling you it’s tired, sleep deprived, physically/mentally/emotionally drained, or you seem to be falling ill more than normal, that’s your body’s way of telling you to slow down. (The elections aren’t the only stressor making Americans sick!) Removing some responsibilities or re-working your schedule is likely in order.
  2. Set new boundaries. Particularly if you’re not a “professional caregiver” and you’re taking care of a friend or family member, boundaries can get blurred. You likely have nothing in writing and verbal “agreements” are wobbly at best. Use the excuse of the New Year to talk to your “patient” and agree to terms that include hours per week (with timeframes), who’s responsible for what, and customized details that suit both of you. You might find supplementing with a professional caregiver or nurse is best.
  3. Prioritize reasonable self-care tasks. According to Caregiver.org, the majority of caregivers are women (66%) and 65% of older Americans rely exclusively on family and friends for caregiving needs. Women also have a tendency to chronically put others first, sometimes to their own demise. Schedule some self-care tasks weekly (if not daily) to put yourself first. This might be taking a particular fitness class you like, spa treatments, going for a daily walk, or taking the time each morning or afternoon for a screen-free cup of coffee.
  4. Know when a professional is needed. Maybe you’ve been caring for a loved one for a long time, and they have no desire to bring on a professional or move to a care facility. As a friend or family member, it’s your responsibility to do what’s best for the other person—and yourself. It can be tough to see when it’s time to change caregiving responsibilities. Talk to a doctor to discuss needs, goals, and the best next steps.
  5. Practice saying no. You may have heard of elder abuse (which is often financial), but caregivers can also get taken advantage of in these relationships. Practice the art of saying no kindly but firmly. It’s not easy, especially if emotional blackmail is involved. However, it’s a big issue to watch out for when you blend the lines between loved one and caregiver.

Caregiving is perhaps the most selfless of roles, and one that many people find themselves in. It can also be very rewarding, but only if you keep balance in check. Make sure you care for yourself first and establish roles for everyone involved.

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PTSD can be caused by many different things, but it often takes a similar toll on relationships no matter who the sufferer is. Because PTSD is caused by trauma or extreme stress, it can lead to trust and communication issues that can break down a relationship; it can create intimacy issues as the sufferer finds they have no interest in being physically close with someone, or it can go the opposite way and the sufferer may feel an intense need to protect his or her loved ones, coming across as demanding or overly assertive.

Whatever caused the trauma, some sufferers find that they cannot stop thinking about the event months or even years afterward and have a hard time talking about their feelings. They may have intense anger or anxiety that causes them to lose sleep or interest in things they once enjoyed, which can lead to a rift in any relationship. Survivors of extreme trauma may push away the people they love because they feel guilty or ashamed, especially those who faced military combat. Having conflicting emotions about the things witnessed or carried out during battle is common in veterans and can also lead to substance abuse. In fact, alcohol abuse is common in veterans.

Drugs and alcohol often play a big role in the destruction of relationships, as it creates trust issues separate from the PTSD and can heighten anger, violence, and problems functioning in school or at work. Substance abuse can increase impulsivity, making it a dangerous combination with PTSD, which already carries the potential for depression and suicidal thoughts. It’s important for PTSD sufferers to seek help for any substance abuse issue right away, separately from any therapy that might address anxiety. Learning healthy ways to cope is essential in repairing and maintaining a good relationship with friends, family, and loved ones.

It may be difficult for spouses, children, or significant others to understand the feelings a PTSD sufferer goes through every day. It might be hard for them to sympathize because they feel like they are being pushed away, or because they don’t believe they can help. Communication is key in any relationship, and this goes double for individuals living with PTSD. It may be helpful to consider attending a therapy session together as well as one-on-one therapy.

It’s important to remember that having a support system is crucial in learning how to cope with PTSD. This includes social interaction as well as personal relationships, so sufferers should attempt to find ways to interact in a comfortable environment. This can include a support group, a book club, or a simple gathering of friends. It’s possible that certain places or people bring up bad memories or feelings of anxiety because they are connected to the event that caused the PTSD, so it’s imperative to consult with a doctor beforehand to find out whether it will be beneficial to treatment; some therapies involve learning to focus the mind and train it to face the bad memories in order to overcome them, but it’s not right for everyone at every stage of PTSD.

PTSD sufferers should always keep in mind that they are not alone, and that there is help available when they are ready to learn to cope.

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When you lose someone you love, it’s likely you’ll experience denial, anger, bargaining and depression before accepting what happened so you can move on with your life — but this doesn’t mean you can’t manage your grief until you reach the finish line. In fact, it’s crucial to adopt self-care during this difficult period to avoid long-term problems.

The way we eat, drink, love, and cope with stress, depression, anxiety, and sadness all play a big role in the state our mental health is in. Sometimes, it’s necessary to take a step back and ask yourself if you’re doing the right thing for you and not the easiest thing. And when you start to make unhealthy choices, it’s important to learn how to be strong enough to make changes.

The Grieving Process

After someone dies, people may try to throw a lot of advice your way. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Ignoring the pain will only make things worse in the long run.
  • You’ll feel better if you show your true feelings to others instead of putting on a fake brave face.
  • There’s not specific time for grieving; the time frame is different for everyone.
  • Moving on with life does not mean you’re forgetting about your loved one. In fact, the memories are likely to shape who you are as a person in the future.

Talk to a licensed professional

While it’s important to lean on friends and family during this time, there’s nothing wrong with seeking outside professional help. Some issues a therapist can help you with include: how to take care of yourself and family, accepting your feelings, talking through the death of a loved one, and reaching out to others who are also grieving as a form of therapy. If severe depression is detected, your doctor may prescribe antidepressants — but it’s best to try to work through the grieving process naturally as to avoid dependency issues that have a tendency to create a suspended sense of reality.  

Take care of your physical and mental well-being

Don’t turn to drugs or alcohol to numb your pain. You’ll only feel a temporary boost and run the risk of ruining relationships and causing long-term damage to your health. Instead, force yourself to participate in an exercise routine that you enjoy — institute the help of a workout buddy if you’re having problems getting motivated. Eating a balanced diet and getting adequate amounts of sleep (but not sleeping the day away) will help you maintain a healthy emotional and physical well-being.

Do something you love

While it may be hard to engage in activities you traditionally loved, engaging in an activity that you’re good at can give you a major self-esteem boost while taking the edge off your grief.

Have a good cry

Contrary to what you may think, crying does not make you weak. In fact, studies prove having a tear fest can have positive effects such as the release of toxins, stress reduction, improved mood, vision, communication and even bacteria-fighting results.  

Honor the legacy of the person you lost

There’s no need to sweep the death of the loved one under the carpet because you’re grieving. You can still honor the life they had and the person they were by doing acts such as setting up a charity in their name (perhaps something tied to how they passed), planting a tree in their honor, incorporating ashes into fireworks, naming a star after them, placing a memorial plaque on a special bench at their favorite spot — even your backyard — and much more. There’s no right or wrong way to honor someone providing it helps you cope.  

The loss of life is a fact of life, and it’s never an easy process. It’s important to remember that you’re still living, and there are many people who love and depend on you. Take things a day at a time and create small goals that lead up to the big goal of acceptance.  

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