How Does One “Self-Care”?

Author: Nikki Stock, LMT, MS, CSCS; Coach and Massage Therapist at BG Powerhouse

IG: @primalperformancetrainingbg

I’m glad you’re here. This may be one of the most important blogs you’ll ever read. Not because I’m an outstanding writer, no. I’ve peer reviewed too many papers back in high school and college to believe that. This is one of the most important blogs you’ll ever read because the content is human on the most fundamental level. This blog is about got-dam self-care and if you’re not doing it, you’re dying a lot faster than those that are.

What is self care? Self care is the deliberate allocation of time, effort, and resources to attend to your personal wellness, based on your life demands and your ability to recover from them. To simplify, self-care is promoting recovery from all stressors in your life that can hinder your performance. A recurring theme you will find in my blogs and my coaching philosophy is that performance expands far beyond the gym or your sporting arena. I include work, school, relationships with friends and family, etc. We all want to handle tasks and responsibilities well. That is performance. Your self-care routine needs to dial into the factors that could inhibit your performance in all aspects of life, not just the gym. But it is a great place to start.

Through my coaching and massage therapy business, I post videos regarding “self-care” within the context of training. They’re essentially self-myofascial release techniques aimed at enhanced muscle and soft tissue function to prevent injury, increase mobility, and reduce mechanical stress that leads to mental and emotional stress (i.e. if your neck is chronically tight, that will affect your emotional state). View them on my Instagram or Facebook pages. The rest of this blog is a broader context of overall wellness (which leads to overall performance).

Whether you are in the gym or not, we undergo stimuli that can be positive or negative stressors. Squats are positive stressors - they’ll make you stronger. Your boss demanding more from you on a Tuesday is most likely a negative stressor. Recovery from these stressors is key. Recovery means you can adapt. Adaptation means you can overcome even more - more weight, or more demands. Even though squats are a positive stressor, if you try to squat heavy/haphazardly every day without any attempt to recover properly, you will either a) get injured, b) suffer from overtraining (a very serious issue), or c) never get better at squats. The same can be said for our work-related anecdote. Your boss expects more from you, so you try to oblige, albeit begrudgingly. This additional stressor may make you work faster, harder, or longer. It may piss you off, or it may just make you lose 5% of your restful sleep that night, and quite possibly make you perform worse at a different work responsibility. Is that all, though? Have you ever wondered if any particular added stressor on any particular day may cause you to be 5% less patient with your 5-year old daughter? Maybe 5% less empathetic to your best friend who just lost her job? 5% less focused on the road while driving, 5% less motivated to cook a healthy meal instead of stopping by McDonalds, 5% less likely to lose weight or lower your blood pressure? I have learned very quickly in my life that I suck as a friend, girlfriend, dog mom, and daughter when I don’t take care of myself enough to provide some humanity to other people that deserve it from me. I don’t retain information as well, I can’t listen attentively, and I tend to be less focused, less motivated, and less able to train efficiently. And it is not the job of others to excuse that. It is my job to fix it.

“Rest and self-care are so important. When you take time to replenish your spirit, it allows you to serve others from the overflow. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.
- Eleanor Brownn, Author

In short, your stressors interact and can create a destructive feedback loop that interferes with all areas of wellness (i.e. you physically feel bad, so you perform poorly at work, and eat junk, which makes you feel even worse, which then makes you perform even worse...repeat). You have to break the loop. And it’s not necessarily about doing more. In some areas it may mean doing less. Or it may just mean exchanging your tasks and habits to better put yourself into balance. If you can’t be your best self because of stress (physical or psychological), you need to change something. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.

Before I ventured off to build my own business, I had a full time job at a university recreation center on the east coast. I worked in an office, with the typical office stressors. Now, I happened to learn early on in my youth how shitty of a person I am when I’m stressed. I learned to recognize my stressors and how I responded them, and I became better and better at controlling my adaptation. Which in turn, improved my interpersonal relationships and supervisory skills. But adaptation did in fact, require me to say “no” to my boss. And that “no” was not met with resounding applause for my value on work-life balance. Surprisingly, my boss didn’t appreciate me refusing to take on a project (plot twist). But I held firm, I justified why I knew an additional project would actually not be as beneficial as it sounded. Ever heard of managing your manager? Your move, Steve, your move. In the end, I actually had a good working relationship with my supervisor (it took time). And I managed to double revenue from personal training in the year and a half I was there, while developing twice as many student trainers as I had when I arrived. Not because I’m magically gifted, but because I was supported by a great staff that I had time to develop, supported by excellent coworkers that I had energy to build social rapport with, and the time to resolve the key problems preventing progress. I was also in the gym 5-6 days per week, consistently, happily, and healthily. I also got a dog and coached at the gym a couple times per week. I still could have done better on many things, but I was living pretty well.

The notable features of my self-care plan were:

  • deep tissue massage every 4-5 weeks for stress AND muscle recovery - especially a few days prior to competing in weightlifting - PRs every time baby

  • no work emails, phone calls, or texts when I was not at work (I even had to block a coworker who had zero boundaries), & this included not giving my cell number to my student employees

  • Ensuring that I put time into my work schedule for the work I truly loved - coaching (got about 6 hours per week)

  • essential oil diffusing (lavender oil for sleeping, etc.)

  • veggie quotas for my daily diet because I’m not a huge fan, but my muscles and joints love them

  • Frequent phone calls to friends, as I was in a new city, far away from loved ones

  • Learning to speak up when people upset me, and not be embarrassed

  • Breathwork - diaphragmatic, nasal, and rhythmic practices

  • Setting aside a specific amount of money into my savings each month

  • Going to the gym, training weightlifting and CrossFit and thoroughly enjoying the social aspects

*** It is important to note that my life was not perfect, and I was not always bright and shiny. It was a tough challenge, and there were plenty of things that went wrong or made me unhappy. But, I still thoroughly enjoyed that part of my life, and I am currently creating new self-care habits in my current career as a business owner.

I understand that not everyone has this option, not everyone has work flexibility, and not everyone has the job security to refuse things. I get that. I’m merely providing an example of taking control of your life in any way you can, in order to balance the scales and put yourself on a health and performance trajectory to increase the number of quality years you have left. Get busy living or get busy dying.

Before I go on, if you’re one of those people who insists they “don’t have time” to take care of themselves, honestly, you should quit reading. If you have really convinced yourself of that, nothing I write here will change your self-righteous attitude. It may be harsh, but I don’t waste my time with people who don’t understand that you have to MAKE time. You are 100% in control of what you put in your 24-hour periods. And yes, I really do mean it is self-righteous. People act like taking care of others without taking care of themselves is some holier-than-thou sacrifice that they’ve made for the betterment of society. It’s BS. Moving on...

American society has taught us skewed values. Taught us to brag about how little sleep you got, how long you were at work this week, and how much is on your plate. Instead of celebrating self-care and work-life balance, it is subtly looked-down upon. The well-rested person clearly lacks a proper work ethic and mental fortitude. How messed up is that? When you look at the data from the World Health Organization, the US is the third-most depressed country in the world, behind China and India. This worship of exhaustion has even carried over to the gym. In some toxic environments, you will hear boastful, broken-down athletes one-upping each other on how sore, broken, and tired they are from the back-to-back pain sessions. And many people will want to blame CrossFit, but I assure you, ALL strength sports have this subgroup of mislead followers.

It is of the utmost importance to make yourself a priority simply because you cannot share your skills with humanity if you’re broken. So if doing it for yourself is not how you’re motivated, consider it for your loved ones. I know if you’re a parent you care about raising healthy children. Teach your children the importance of self-care. Kids will not only copy how you treat them. They will copy how you treat yourself. If you want to take care of your loved ones, make sure you have the energy to do so.

Another huge problem I see is that many activities that can be considered self-care are associated with pampering and overindulgence, or are things that feel out-of-reach to us. Do not let guilt or insecurity prevent you from your self-care! Self-care is NOT pampering, self-care is NOT selfish, self-care is your human right to thrive. You don’t need to look like the perfect Instagram yogis to reap the benefits of yoga or meditation, you don’t need to buy little Buddha statues (guilty though), and you don’t need to be extraordinarily gifted at the self-care you choose because that’s not the point.

So How Do You Self Care?

Now that you understand why self-care is important, it’s time to incorporate. Your full self-care plan should address all dimensions of wellness; which have commonly been presented as the following 8 areas, for which I’ve included specific examples at the bottom of this post:

  • Physical wellness

  • Mental/Emotional wellness

  • Financial wellness (budgets, proper spending, record-keeping, preparing for future)

  • Spiritual wellness (not necessarily religious)

  • Occupational wellness (any income-related activity, OR developing skills to advance this area)

  • Intellectual wellness (learning)

  • Environmental wellness (i.e. how are your sleeping arrangements?)

  • Social wellness

This may seem like a lot. Don’t get overwhelmed, and don’t create problems that aren’t there. If you are satisfied with your financial or spiritual wellness, then address other issues. Tackle the most harmed areas first. I’m willing to bet physical and mental/emotional wellness are where most people need to start, but leave no stone unturned. Your quality of life will increase with any improvement of self-care.  

Understand Prioritizing

Make no mistake, you have time for the important things. The problem may be that you’re shit at deciding what’s important. You never get more than 24 hours per day. 8 of that must be for sleeping. You’ll never find more time, you have to make time. Stop saying “I don’t have time” and replace it with “it’s not a priority” and see how it feels. Stop insisting that you’re too busy because you work 2 jobs, have 3 kids, own a business, flip houses, work the night shift, etc. There is always someone busier than you, you’re not special. A lot of self-care can be accomplished with 0-10 minutes of effort; self-myofascial release, meditation, limiting electronics/notifications on your phone, etc.

Make a Plan

Successful adoption of self-care is all about habits. The hardest part of habit change is consistency. You need to get to a point where the new activity is habit, and failing to do it feels strange. That takes a long time, and a lot of up-front effort. You have to decide how you function best. I set reminders on my phone or put certain tasks in my calendar, with the exact time that I want to be doing it. If it takes up physical space on my calendar, I’m more likely to do it. I don’t allow myself to leave the gym without choosing at least one mobility/myofascial release technique. Some people need an accountability partner. Get your significant other to foam roll with you 10 minutes before bed each night, learn to play an instrument with them, or agree to put phones away 1 hour before bed. Whatever it is, plan for it. Sometimes that means actively sacrificing TV time, social media time, or even other things you find important. Suck it up. You deserve to feel right every day. Within the context of training, you need to make sure you are taking care of your muscles and fascia pre- and post- exercise, as well as performing corrective exercises. This should be a dedicated activity every single day. You can start with committing to one corrective exercise and one self-myofascial release technique prior to leaving. Advancing that self-care would be massages on a regular basis (3-4 weeks) or a 1-on-1 session with a coach to determine weaknesses and get a plan to correct. Whatever your methods, make sure you are planning as a required part of your day, just like you would with anything else you find important, such as picking your kids up from school.

The Benefits

I’ve already gone through a lot of the perks of self-care, but I want to get more specific. Taking the time and effort to care for yourself is not only going to make life more enjoyable (and easier), but you should also consider the following:

  • Improved immune function (especially if your self care includes nutrition, cold therapy, etc)

  • Improved cardiovascular system

  • Improved musculoskeletal function

  • Improved self-esteem and self efficacy

  • Improved sleep

  • Decreased risk for disease

  • Decreased occurrence or severity of some mental disorders such as anxiety or depression

So imagine you get sick less, have fewer aches and pains, move really well, feel good about yourself, and don’t need to go to the doctor for pills. I think that’s worth the effort for self-care.

Conclusion

In the end, it is your choice of what you do. I hope I’ve given you something to think about, and I hope you find it helpful. Now it’s up to you whether you will observe your life and determine how you can improve it. It takes work, but there are so many techniques out there, you really don’t have an excuse. Life is too short to be miserable, life is too short to be be in pain. Get busy living or get busy dying.

Examples of Self-Care:

  • Physical Wellness

    • 8 hours of sleep - consistently

    • Proper hygiene - well-groomed hair, good teeth, skin health, etc.

    • Massage Therapy

    • Limiting time with electronics (blue light)

    • Nutrition planning (I recommend hiring a professional to get you started)

    • Cold therapy

    • Heat Therapy

    • Foam rolling, self-myofascial release

    • Epsom salt baths (aromatherapy salts are an added plus)

    • Yoga

  • Mental/Emotional Wellness

    • Stop multitasking

    • Meditation/yoga

    • Guided meditation apps like Relax, Calm, Headspace

    • Personal mediation in a quiet room

    • Meditation via breathwork (my personal favorite)

    • Limiting time with electronics, especially social media

    • Limit TV time

  • Financial wellness

    • Preparing and maintaining a budget

    • Eliminate needless spending (lotto tickets, candy, excessive booze)

    • Plan for future goals

  • Intellectual Wellness

    • Self-Study - new skill, career development, or reading for fun

    • Learning to perform something new - such as a musical instrument, a new sport such as rock climbing, or a hands-on craft

  • Spiritual Wellness

    • Meditation

    • Church/Temple/etc.

    • Prayer

    • Connect with nature/energy

  • Occupational Wellness

    • Taking classes on a skill or for a new career path

    • Distancing yourself from toxic coworkers

    • Re-organizing your work habits

    • Establishing better work-life boundaries with supervisors and coworkers

      • Stop taking calls and texts after you leave work

      • Don’t check your emails outside of work

  • Environmental Wellness

    • De-clutter your spaces (studies have shown clutter increases stress)

    • Recycle

    • Fix up your yard

    • Repaint your house with strategy

    • Dedicate one room in your house to meditation/craft/self-care so it is always welcoming

  • Social Wellness

    • Specific plans with friends

    • Phone calls with loved ones

    • Game nights with friends and family every month/week, etc.

    • Distancing yourself from people that don’t enrich your life

Cold Training: But Why?

Author: Nikki Stock, MS, LMT, CSCS; Coach and Massage Therapist at BG Powerhouse

*The following post is not a substitute for medical advice, nor a prescription. Consult a doctor before attempting the techniques discussed here.*

I would estimate most people, before they even begin reading, will affirm to themselves how little desire they have to purposely be cold. Perhaps you’ve chosen to read this post so you can use it as an anecdote the next time you want to talk about a ludicrous topic with your coworker. I was one of those people too. However, experiencing new things typically reaps positive benefits. What I will explain in this blog is a pathway in which we can train our minds to positively affect our physiology, and train our physiology to positively affect our minds. However crazy it may seem now, I encourage you to keep an open mind.

Cold therapy (also known as cryotherapy), is on the rise with athletes especially, thanks to the amazing feats of the Iceman, Wim Hof, who has world records involving ice baths and shirtless hikes on Everest, commercial Cryotherapy businesses popping up in most major cities (pricy and not discussed here), and other fitness practitioners on social media sharing their experiences and theories around mindful exposure to the cold.

So what’s the hype? How could the benefits outweigh the discomfort of cold? I’ll start with what the research and practitioners say. Summarizing the research done on different methods of cold training (cryo chambers, ice baths, etc.), the following are potential benefits, provided by the sources I’ve added at the end of this post:

  • Reduced perception of pain

  • Reduced muscle soreness

  • Reduced inflammation (actual physiological improvements)

  • Improved sense of well-being

  • Reduced DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness - the soreness that appears days after a tough workout, and tends to be more painful than general soreness that day after training)

  • Improved immune system

  • Improved metabolism

    • Improved lipid profile

    • Increased thermogenesis

    • Increased brown fat (simply put, this is good fat that helps mobilize more bad fat)

  • Ability to mentally influence the autonomic nervous system (previously thought to be completely independent of your conscious thought)

  • Reduced inflammation-induced bone damage

  • Improved sleep

  • Improved mood

  • Decreased stress

  • Increased focus

  • Increased resiliency

  • Reactivation of the parasympathetic nervous system

So how do we harness these benefits? I’ll start with my experience. Once I finally convinced myself to attempt a cold shower, I ended up making the duration too short, and I ended on cold water. I would go to bed feeling stimulated. The anti-inflammatory effects were still present. I felt better physically and noticed an improvement in my ability to handle discomfort (mental gains). But it wasn’t helping me sleep, which was supposed to be a benefit. Then in Massage Therapy school (Mind Body Institute, Nashville, TN), we talked about hydrotherapy (using hot and/or cold water for a therapeutic effect) and our instructor mentioned the effects of hot and cold are influenced by time; cold can be stimulating for under 60 seconds, and downregulating (calming) for longer than 60 seconds. Then I knew what adjustment to make. So the 1 minute cold showers became 1.5-2min cold showers. This reaped even better effects. I was sleeping better, and still getting anti-inflammatory benefits. At this point it was still warm outside and BG Powerhouse invested in a tub to use for ice baths. 4 bags of ice or more and we were having ice bath parties right there at the gym. Most ice bath veterans agree that baths are actually easier than cold showers. Standing under a faucet is just less comfortable than fully submerging and chilling out, pun intended. We were also able to get the full body in contact with cold water. These ice baths lasted anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes. We’d hop out, naturally warm up, and maybe hit another round or two. We convinced some rookies to join us along the way, all with positive reviews.

Contrast baths were also a topic in Massage School, which is alternating hot and cold submerges (usually just a foot or hand, but let’s be honest, fitness people intensify everything) and always beginning and ending with hot water. With the weather getting colder, I decided to incorporate this method since the cold weather added to my tension, limiting my benefits a bit. Two or three rounds of contrast, and I was feeling fantastic. Went to bed and slept soundly. Woke up feeling looser than usual, and less inflamed. Coach Burba and I are now on 9 sessions of weightlifting a week, so any recovery method that is cheap and effective is extremely valuable to us, as well as our athletes who are under our advisement.

So what’s best? Contrast showers or ice baths? The answer is yes.

What I’ve begun to notice through my experience and from my own research, is that both methods are extremely valuable for slightly different reasons. Plunging into an ice bath is a great way to work on the psychological aspects of training and influence physiological benefits. Mindfully challenging yourself to a calm ice bath can allow you take control of the sympathetic nervous system (active/stress state) and teach the body to avoid panicking during discomfort (especially in conjunction with specific breathwork, which will be discussed in future blogs). This can positively influence your ability to dig deep in your training sessions and raise your threshold. Simply put, the ice bath can train your brain to handle intensity, reactivate the parasympathetic nervous system (rest/flow state), and increase your performance in training. Wim Hof also relates this mental training to his happiness, resilience, and improved immune function. “The cold is your friend” he says. Similarly, contrast therapy (whether showers or somehow incorporating two tubs of hot and cold water) can be a fantastic way to train your physiology and create positive impacts on your psychology. As I mentioned, contrast therapy provides me distinct physical benefits including reduced soreness, improved sleep, and reduced inflammation. With those benefits come renewed energy for my next training session, better work efficacy, better concentration, motivation, and sense of well-being. With this explanation, it’s clear to see how both methods can have immense impacts on performance inside the gym and outside of it. My personal philosophy on coaching revolves around the value I put on performance in life as a whole. With the benefits discussed here, one can gain an edge in multiple aspects of the human experience.

With all that being said, this is my current cold shower and ice bath regimen:

Contrast shower:

  • shower as normal (if applicable, I do this post-workout, pre-bedtime)

  • turn shower as cold as it goes for 90 seconds or more while breathing in and out through my nose and suppressing the urge to shiver, until skin/muscles feel cold

  • turn the shower to hot (comfortable) for 90 seconds or more, letting my skin warm back up

  • repeat as desired, always ending on hot

  • go straight to bed, little to no stimulus (i.e. phone, tv, etc.)

Ice bath:

  • submerge up to neck in bath, begin nasal breathing or Wim Hof breathing, resist shivering

  • add ice, chill for 1-10 min, usually around 5 (we now keep the water in our tub at the gym, so no ice needed for the season)

  • hop out, towel off, warm up naturally until skin feels distinctly warmer

  • repeat as desired

Optional: once it’s cold outside, sit in front of a heater to warm faster and avoid adverse reaction

It is important to keep in mind that there are benefits and limitations to pretty much any therapeutic techniques, and I want to be sure to differentiate between science and personal experience in this blog. It is important to do your own research before implementing any recovery techniques. We (coaches at BG Powerhouse) have made personal discoveries as we follow some obscure figures in the human movement arena that are paving the way to naturopathic performance enhancement. Another term for this is bio-hacking. An important factor to consider when you are investigating biohacking (or anything exercise related for that matter), is that scientific research is behind the practitioners. You will not find a lot of published science around biohacking topics such as breath training, cold therapy, etc. Research methods are also difficult to design, and difficult to get approved. Scientific evidence is extremely important for validation of our practices, but it is not the end-all, be-all. Self-discovery can provide the most information, as long as you are safe, smart, and know your own limits. It’s all part of the human experience.

Below are some links to review articles that may help you understand where the current research stands:

Hydrate. No Seriously, Do It.

Hydrate. No Seriously, Do It.

Hello friends! It is time to think more seriously about hydration. Hydrating is more than just something you should “try,” but “it isn’t really a big deal if you don’t.” It is more than just getting 8 glasses a day which, let’s be honest, you don’t count your individual glasses or actual consumption. Hydrating is one of the MOST important components of human performance, recovery, and overall health and wellness! So, I am writing to hopefully inform and inspire you to take hydrating a little more seriously and improve your performance and your life!