Self-care is the latest trend, and while everyone is talking about it, each person has a different definition of what it is.
I see hundreds of products being marketed every week to sell me some new item created to help with “self-care.” I wish self-care was always luxurious and filled with face masks, bath bombs, and massages. But, in reality, the vast majority of my self-care comes in the form of drinking water, going to bed early, working out, and cooking a healthy meal when it would be easier to eat out or skip it entirely.
Who am I? And why self-care is so important to me
So who am I? I am a groomer, a mom, a yoga teacher, a birth and postpartum doula, and an equine hanna somatic practitioner with a bachelor's degree from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities in Integrative Health. I have been navigating my way around the “woo” for many years and have been animal obsessed since I was a child. I grew up in North Minneapolis but moved out to Washington in late 2019. I entered university on a pre-vet track with an interest in genetics and ethics. During my pregnancy, I did my yoga teacher training and that opened up a new world for me. I gave birth out of the hospital and for the most part, had the most beautiful birth. I was naive to the micro aggressions that I didn’t fully escape because I had been given vastly superior care than I ever had before. Motherhood was an essential part of my healing journey and while I am so much more than just a mom, it is a part of everything I do as well.
I’m Chelsea Ward - A groomer, mom, yoga teacher, doula & so much more!
During my last semester of university, I attended Rio Grooming School in Minnesota. I had been a bather and assistant in various grooming shops to support myself throughout school but I never intended to do grooming full time. Now, I never see myself fully stepping away. Grooming is what introduced me to dog shows and I have since finished multicolored standard poodle in UKC, my Brussels Griffon in AKC, and I have been blessed with many breeder mentors who have let me handle their dogs in the ring as well. This has given me the opportunity to earn points and majors with various terrier breeds.
It was so exciting being able to compete for the first time at 2022 Northwest Grooming Show and earning Second Place in Intermediate Wire and Best First Timer in Wire. Competing had been a goal of mine since before I enrolled in grooming school and so finally being able to do it was so scary. I was extremely nervous and I am so grateful for my skills so that I can still perform under pressure. So, now I want to help other groomers cultivate these skills. And this is where self-care comes in.
What is self-care?
The meaning of self-care has been explored in science. Dr. Debbie Kralik. defines self-care as the process of adapting to changes in life and learning ways to deal with all the physical, social, and lifestyle changes and disruptions. When patients began receiving support in caring for all aspects of their life, self-care became transformative and life-changing. Self-management previously had focused solely on disease symptoms and treatments, leaving out the other complex and unique parts of our lives that also matter. These include things like social interactions, nutrition, movement and cognition. When the patients had a holistic model of care that included all aspects of life, there was a huge difference. This is the self-care that matters, and I would love to teach you why and help you build the routine that works for you.
The primary pillars of self-care (physical + mental)
How lack of self-care impacts your body
According to the CDC, 6 in 10 Americans have a chronic disease. There is no cure for chronic disease, but there is prevention.
Without self-care, our body and mind are more prone to illness and chronic disease. Lack of self-care can result in a presentation of more severe symptoms and higher resting levels of cortisol due to stress. Including regular self-care in your lifestyle can increase happiness and even have a positive impact on your health. High blood pressure is the most common condition and one that I have been monitored for at various times during my life due to family history. My stress plays a huge role in my blood pressure readings.
My ability to self-soothe and lower my own blood pressure and heart rate is important and the only reason I am able to stay on my ADHD medication. At times my blood pressure or heart rate have been so high at the doctor’s office that they refused to refill my medication without further testing. If I had not been able to lower my body’s physiological reaction to internal stress they would not have felt comfortable with the refill. I spent many years cultivating these skills before I was able to readily tap into them during stressful situations.
How self-care supports holistic wellness
Overall wellness includes both your physical body and your mind. These areas both need dedicated self-care to help process the stressors of life and down-regulate from the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is your body’s fight, flight, or freeze reactions. This part of the nervous system is activated in times of stress and was retained throughout evolution for survival. These neural networks communicate faster than conscious self-directed neurons and bypass logic centers within the brain. The more stressful situations that a person encounters, the stronger the sympathetic nervous system pathways become.
Learning to manage stress is a form of self-care.
The brain is a muscle and it will use the most efficient pathway first. If the survival response is the one most commonly used, it will be the pathway the brain will divert to under stress. Over time as the brain diverts to the survival pathway, the threshold required for enacting the response lowers. Self-care also includes care for soothing your nervous system and mind, and working to restore resiliency to stress. I have ADHD, PTSD, and am autistic. There have been times in life when I don’t feel comfortable leaving the house and when my struggles have been much more severe than they currently are. It has taken many years of therapy, time spent cultivating my skills, and nurturing of my inner child to be where I am now. And even now I still occasionally totally lose my shit and have a crisis, but it doesn’t last as long.
I know how to recoup and recover from a crisis better than I did before and I don’t let it escalate to the extremes it used to get to. So, my journey of healing has not been eliminating those things but being able to give myself the tools to handle getting through those difficult moments. Please see the further reading list at the end of this article for a more in-depth discussion on the physiology of your nervous system.
Stop. Breathe. Process - My journey to physical self-care
Trigger Warning: EDNOS, Body Dysmorphia
What is needed for each person’s body is unique. Not everybody requires the same diet, exercise, or routine. If we all ate and moved the same, our bodies would still all look different. I have focused on three main physical categories for physical self-care and these are nutrition, functional movement, and physical movement. The body was the center of health for me when I was younger. In high school, I really wanted to be a ballerina. I danced 40+ hours a week, I counted every single calorie, and I was never small enough. Looking back, I don’t know how I felt like I was so big because I am so confident with my body now and I know I weigh more and wear bigger sizes. When I mentally separated fitness from how my body looked I found joy again in movement and focused on how I felt.
Use physical activity to make you FEEL good - not just to lose weight.
This wasn’t an easy process. It started in the gym on the Stairmaster. I signed up for my county’s K9 Search and Rescue and in order to be physically ready for the day, I started training. I didn’t want my fitness to be the reason someone did not get found or saved, so I started doing cardio. That was my mantra as I took each step on that Stairmaster. COVID-19 shut down the gyms and I haven’t been back since but my transformation had only just begun.
Over the next two years, I began taking weekly horse-riding lessons which have transitioned to a partial lease that will become a full lease this summer. P.J. Teixeira came to the conclusion that there are more long-term health benefits to exercise when it’s enjoyable, self-motivated, and not driven by weight loss. When there is a feeling of obligation and the focus is on the weight scale many people divert to their old habits and do not maintain their exercise routine long-term. Finding what you actually enjoy doing is what’s most important.
Beginner physical self-care tips
If you’re ready to start practicing self-care in your own life, here are some beginner self-care tips to get you started.
We all know the food we eat impacts how we feel. Western Functional medicine is all about the healing powers of food that the traditional systems of healing have always included. It is important to work with your doctors and I highly recommend consulting with a Health At Every Size (HAES) practitioner to learn about the specific needs of your body. Find out more about the HAES program here.
Eat intuitively. Incorporate healthy snacking like a piece of fruit or nuts.
Try “Intuitive Eating” which is the practice of recognizing and honoring functional hunger. There is more than one type of hunger. Sometimes we may not feel hungry and do not feel the need to eat, but haven’t eaten all day. Honoring your functional hunger would be choosing to eat something small and nutritional even though you are not hungry because you know it will be a long time till you can eat again or it has already been a long time since you ate.
Here are a few examples of how to implement intuitive eating:
Example A: Drinking a protein shake for breakfast before work because it will be a super busy morning instead of skipping breakfast.
Example B: Stopping to eat a quick snack midday even though you have your groove going because it's been 5 hours since your last meal.
Functional movement is defined as movement or exercise used to develop the muscles needed for daily life and work activities. Functional movement helps create muscle memory patterns so that your body is prepared for day-to-day activities.
Here is an example of how you can incorporate functional movement into your grooming practices:
Practice mindfulness while going about your daily activities.
Mindful Drying Time
Try to spend 6 minutes of drying time with each dog being mindful of your posture. This will help your brain build up a pattern of body awareness! Try this short series, which is based on the Bartenieff Fundamental basic 6 principles.
Min 1: Take notice of your breathing
Min 2: Stand tall, lengthening your spine and creating space between the vertebrae
Min 3: Make yourself do a big yawn
Min 4: Slowly relax your head to the right, slowly return back to upright, and repeat on the left
Min 5: Do a 30-second lunge on your right side holding the dryer in your right hand, and repeat on the left. Be mindful of keeping your knee behind your toes.
Min 6: Do a 30-second lunge with your right leg holding the dryer with your left hand, and repeat on the other side.
Restorative movement is the gentle low impact movement that helps relax and restore our body. Our muscles do not lengthen, so stretching can sometimes be counterproductive. Instead of stretching, somatic work is focused on pandiculation and the slow release of the muscle contraction back to neutral.
Try adding this restorative movement exercise to your daily routine:
Try this somatic shoulder exercise to help relax your neck and shoulders.
Somatic Shoulder Exercise:
Step 1: Soften your gaze and begin to notice your breath to begin.
Step 2: On an inhale slowly shift your gaze over your right shoulder.
Step 3: On an exhale, tilt your head back slightly.
Step 4: Inhale and slowly lift your shoulder up.
Step 5: Exhale and release the tilt of your head.
Step 6: Inhale to prepare and slowly exhale as you simultaneously return your head back to
center and relax the shoulder.
Beginner mental self-care tips
Equally as important as physical self-care is mental self-care. The mind is a muscle and these practices will help you to strengthen your overall mental wellness. The mind categories are broken down into cognition, meditation, and social wellness. All of these areas are equally important aspects of a healthy self-care routine.
Cognition pertains to memory, language, learning, attention, thought, and perception. It is how our brain takes in, processes, and stores information for later.
Here is an exercise to help you strengthen your cognition:
Doing simple activities with our non-dominant side is one way to flex the brain muscle for cognition. It will create new neuromuscular pathways instead of relying on the old muscle memory connections already established. Try cleaning out dog ears with your non-dominant hand during your next grooming appointment. It will feel odd at first, but it will help you strengthen a new area of your brain.
Meditation is how we relax our analytical, thinking brain. It is not necessarily the absence of thought, but it is the absence of giving that thought room in our brain for storage. In meditation, a thought may come in and ideally, you will watch it leave just as quickly. During every inhale you absorb the present moment, and during every exhale you release it all, and come back to the breath.
Meditation is one of the best self-care practices to help you stay present.
Try out meditation at different times of the day to see what works for you! Morning, mid-day, or evening are all equally great choices and the time that is best is personal to you! Start with small goals of 1-3 minutes, 5 minutes, 10 minutes, and eventually work up to even 15 or 20 minutes. My favorite meditation app is Insight Timer.
Humans are social creatures and we need interaction with others to thrive. Check in with yourself and be honest - are you seeing your friends enough? Make time to have fun! It is an essential part of your health and wellness.
How often do you need to see others to fulfill your social needs? Look at the month ahead of you! Schedule your social times now to help you be more successful in prioritizing this area too.
The Bigger Picture
The best reason to incorporate self-care into your routine is self-determined and different for everyone. Self-care is one way that I cultivate happiness in my life. Self-care is also what gives me the tools for longevity within the grooming and animal industry. Working with animals is both difficult on the body and the mind. I love to groom and show my dogs. I love to express my creative passion through grooming and if I want to continue doing it when I am 70 then I need to care for and maintain my body now. There are so many reasons to include self-care and only you know the best reason for yourself. We all have different goals and self-care can be a foundational step for every goal, contributing hugely to overall health and wellness.