Self care is Not a Buzzword, It’s a Necessity

I wanted to write a post to end this year on a positive note. There are changemakers worthy to be named and revolutions we must remember. Yet, one thing keeps coming to mind – the ever so important practice of self care. As we fight the good fight and tackle human rights abuses in conflict zones, gender based violence or the climate crisis – we need to be our best selves. That’s why “self care” is not a buzzword – it’s a necessity.

This year has been a tricky year for me. Personally, I have battled my inner demands on myself as a mother and entrepreneur – and just as a woman of my generation. I’ve struggled with my hopes and dreams. I’ve faced setbacks and disappointments. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. Here are some of the most important lessons I’ve learnt this year.

Results vs. Capacity

In the #livingthebestlife world of millennials today, it’s difficult to not compare yourself with others. Other women have achieved so many great things. Everyone else seems to be managing so much more. Other people seem to have it all together.

That in combination with the #changetheworld mentality that many of us have – it is difficult to not feel overwhelmed. I’ve heard that my generation believe in the power they hold. That’s amazing. If so, we will take more responsibility for our planet and our fellow inhabitants of this world. Millennials seem to believe that they really can make a difference. If only they recycle more, eat less meat, fly less planes – they’ll literally help save the planet.

Yet things aren’t always so simple. One person alone can make a huge difference but she can’t save the world. We need each other. The pressures we put on ourselves can build and build and build until they’re too much to handle.

Self care lesson 1: I can’t achieve my desired results if they don’t match the capacity I have to get things done.

If my toddler is keeping me up at night I won’t be able to achieve what I would have if I’d slept well. The same can be applied to almost anything. If I keep staring at my goals, ambitions and desired outcomes, rather understanding my capacity – it’s constraints and possibilities – I know I will not get to where I want to be. That means I need to evaluate all aspects of my life. I need to understand how I can be more at peace and have the energy, tools and support I need to move in the right direction.

Sometimes you may need to reevaluate what it is you’re trying to achieve. And sometimes you just have to limit your expectations for a while.

There’s strength in your every breath

This year I’ve experienced enhanced stress and anxiety. My symptoms have been both physical and mental. It escalated in September with my heart skipping beats. quickness of breath, and a pressure over my chest. I had a very low mood and it affected all parts of my life. I knew that it was not sustainable to think I could manage everything on my own – so I asked for help.

Now, I don’t tear up as soon as someone asks me how I’m doing. Instead, I’ve understood that I had way too much on my plate and I was putting a lot of pressure on myself. I’ve also understood that as I delight in dreaming, planning and scheming for the future, I also anticipate negative future outcomes more than I need to. This is a fierce driver of stress.

Self care lesson 2: I need to tame my monkey mind and live here and now.

Although I’ve often heard (and said it myself) that it’s important to live in the present – it’s harder said than done. It takes practice. That’s why I’ve taken on mindfulness meditation. There’s a great little series on Netflix on the mind right now, which was an eye-opener for me. It’s amazing how calm I feel after 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation. It is a self care practice to be done on a regular basis to reap the short and long-term benefits of living in the now.

We’re stronger together

We continuously need this reminder. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength. I truly believe that humans are meant to live in relationships with one another. That’s why loneliness is one of our biggest threats and killers today. Isolation and polarization are both demons in our society and something we must actively work against.

Self care lesson 3: There is strength in asking for help

As soon as I picked up the phone to ask for real help, a big weight was removed from my shoulders. If you’re in a bad place – ask for help. Sometimes that is finding a healthcare professional and sometimes it is a friend or a family member. We all need help and that’s part of the beauty of life.

A fresh start here and now

For me, self care is not about taking baths and painting my nails. It’s about an awareness of my mind and body and making nurturing decisions every day.

Now as the new year approaches, I’m quite happy for this year to be over. I’m a sucker for fresh starts and new beginnings. The best part is that I’ve realized that it applies not only to a new year, but to every moment, every encounter, and every breath I take. I can (and must) choose how I want to live my life over and over and over again. That includes choosing self care as a necessity to not only survive, but to live fully.

Self Care by Laiza Onofre

Illustration for Girls’ Globe by Laiza Onofre.

How Probiotics Have Helped Me Feel Healthier

Many of us have heard about the health benefits of probiotics, but are the stories true? 

I struggled for a long time with frequent bowel movement problems, as well as bouts of cramping and crushing headaches. I was eventually diagnosed with IBS, and my doctor recommended I begin taking a regular probiotic supplement.

Within weeks, my intestinal symptoms, as well as my head pain, abated tremendously. I truly feel these supplements helped me get my life back. Once I began incorporating probiotics into my diet, they helped just about every system in my body work more smoothly.

Boost Metabolism

I’ve noticed since I started taking probiotics that I actually have an easier time maintaining a healthy weight. At first, the connection wasn’t clear, and it seemed especially weird since they had cleared up my tummy problems and I was therefore back to eating more again. But I began researching it and, indeed, there is some sort of connection between metabolism and probiotics. 

While the exact connection is still not fully understood, recent studies have shown that probiotics help to reverse the weight gain that seems to creep up on us as we age due to our slowing metabolism.

Improve Overall Gut Health

Probiotics are perhaps best known for improving gut health. The value of this cannot be understated, as millions of people suffer from conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome that impact their overall quality of life.

I went through a period of time where I was literally afraid to eat. Every time I ate pretty much anything, my stomach started cramping as though I had really bad gas or period cramps. But since it wasn’t just gas or period cramps, there was really no way to calm the pain at the time. Unlike with period cramps, my body wasn’t responding to any over-the-counter painkillers. I basically had to wait for it to pass, and it made me fear eating.

After I started taking a regular probiotic, I noticed a clear difference in the amount of pain I felt after eating. It decreased significantly and is sometimes not there at all.

If you have IBS or something similar, you should be discussing it with a doctor. However, for me, probiotics were a great place to start. Probiotics help to maintain the correct balance of healthy bacteria in your small and large intestines, so they can help aid digestion. There is also evidence that probiotics can help ward off certain foodborne illnesses such as salmonella because they help the gut build a protective film to combat illnesses.

Maintaining a Healthy Vagina

I learnt that adding probiotics to your diet can also help your vaginal health. This is because, just like your stomach, your vagina requires the correct balance of healthy bacteria. Probiotics create a slightly acidic environment in your vagina that helps ward off infection.

Interestingly enough, I was first told to take a probiotic years back, before I started experiencing IBS. I had a simple bacterial infection that some antibiotics helped clear up, but I was told to take a probiotic in the weeks following to get my pH back on track. It did seem to help, as the situation resolved itself. I had no idea back then how important probiotics would end up being to my health later in life.

Women who frequently suffer from yeast infections can help stave them off by adding a daily probiotic supplement. If you’re trying to get pregnant, adding probiotics could help boost your chances by creating an environment conducive for getting the sperm to the egg.

Boost Mood

Recent studies have shown that your stomach and your brain are more intricately connected than previously thought. Some researchers believe that mental disorders, such as anxiety and depression, can be exacerbated by an unhealthy digestive system. By bringing the stomach back into balance, you get a mood boost as well.

This is just my experience, and if you’re worried about your health you should talk to a doctor or health professional.

But take it from me – it’s worth researching how your diet could support your own health and wellbeing. I’m big on holistic health, and there are so many things out there to try!

Repairing the Mind-Body Connection After Trauma

 “Yoga can build back people’s ability to slow down in reacting to stress, to re-build the connection with their bodies, and engage in self-care.”
– Rebecca Epstein, Executive Director, Center on Poverty and Inequality

A recent report from Georgetown Law revealed a new avenue of trauma-informed treatment for adolescent girls. Rebecca Epstein, Executive Director of Georgetown Law’s Center on Poverty and Inequality and current yoga teacher, co-authored the report alongside Thalia González, Associate Professor at Occidental College. The report explores the potential of somatic interventions to improve the physical and psychological wellbeing of girls who have experienced trauma. Somatic interventions – meaning interventions that focus on the connection between the participant’s mind and body – are not new, but this research is showing new levels of promise for adolescent girls and young women.

“Trauma is part of many marginalized girls’ lives,” Epstein stated in a recent interview. “Across the board, girls have experienced every form of trauma studied at a higher rate than boys…yoga is one way to try to repair the mind-body connection.” Somatic interventions are made up of three core components: mindfulness, regulated breathing, and physical poses.

Epstein and González specify that, to be effective, somatic interventions targeting girls who have experienced trauma need to be trauma-informed, gender-responsive, and culturally competent. The teachers must pay attention to girls’ specific needs, provide options and choices, and acknowledge that different cultural experiences may affect a girl’s reaction to somatic interventions and the practices involved therein.

A stand-out participant named Rocsana exemplifies how somatic interventions, specifically yoga, can help girls heal. In a phone interview, she described how yoga taught her to be calm, to be more patient with her children, and how to think before she reacts. She practices yoga at home with her children, along with breathing and mindfulness exercises, and states that the techniques helped her leave an abusive relationship.

Now a yoga teacher herself in her own community, Rocsana aims to empower other girls through the methods she learned from the California-based Art of Yoga Project.

“The girls that I teach are young girls and they’re mostly Latina and African American. I want them to feel strong and powerful. I want them to feel good about themselves.”

A key element of somatic interventions is an appreciation of girls’ intersecting identities and individualized experiences. One of the report’s key recommendations reads, “Account for differences in types of trauma experienced by girls based on their intersectional identity.” Many holistic approaches to girl-centered programming acknowledge that girls’ experiences are directly related to the various, and often multiple, types of oppression and discrimination they face.

As Epstein describes, girls’ overlapping identities – be them race, gender, sexual identity, or others – affect how they experience trauma and how they are treated if they should choose to disclose or report their experience. “Women of color are responded to differently when they experience trauma…they are often ignored or blamed for their trauma.” Epstein underscores that girls of color are often seen as complicit in their trauma or are blamed for their experience.

Trauma-informed somatic interventions that acknowledge and address intersectionality allow girls to reclaim their agency, their sense of choice, and their ability to separate the trauma from their self-worth, dignity, and potential.

The use of somatic interventions signals an advanced appreciation for girls’ holistic wellbeing. As evinced by the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study, childhood trauma can lead to long-term mental and physical health effects. These include depression, suicidal tendencies, heart disease, and cancer.

Epstein and González see great potential in using somatic interventions to mitigate these effects and interrupt the inter-generational cycle of violence. “While there has not yet been a mainstream connection between the body and the mind and trauma and the body,” says González, “we see this report as a critical next step in advancing policies and practices aimed at providing system-involved girls with the foundation for a healthy and successful future.”

Perhaps this report will help those in the adolescent girl field make the connection and envision new, holistic ways to help girls improve their wellbeing.