The Neuroscience Of Self-Care And Why It’s So Important
Being stressed for a long period of time is dangerous to your body. Not only does stress affect your mental health, it also leads to physical consequences.
Neuroscience proves how stress renders you vulnerable to potential diseases. Pursuing the hustle culture and the fast-paced life compromises the chemicals that your body needs to regulate properly. If you don’t give yourself a break or slow down from your work or other priorities, your body might be the one to decide it for you.
In this episode, John shares the importance of self-care and why people need to give themselves an ideal time to relax, recharge, and rest. Self-care is a preventative measure to overcome stress and keep you healthy.
Feel-good hobbies are effective self-care activities, especially when you spend time with the people you love. As it helps produce the chemicals your body needs to maintain your overall well-being, it’s time to prioritize self-care above all else, especially amid a busy life.
[0:58] Introducing the importance of self-care
[2:49] When was the last time you were overwhelmed and stressed?
[4:41] Being a workaholic is not a badge of honor.
[5:51] What are the dangers of perpetual stress?
[11:00] Self-care is a preventative practice against too much stress.
[12:31] What are the feel-good brain chemicals?
[19:18] Feel-good hobbies are effective self-care activities.
[25:22] John shares his best self-care tips.
[31:40] Self-care doesn’t have to be complicated.
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So you've heard me talk a lot about self-care over the years. And I wanted to do an episode that really kind of dives into the neuroscience of why self-care is so important, because I think the term gets thrown around a lot and I think it's misused and misrepresented because sometimes we look at self care as.
Doing whatever and, and not doing anything, but there's a specific reason behind it and why it's so important. So I'm gonna be talking about the neuroscience of self care and why it's so important coming up. Oh, don't worry about today or things. We cannot change it's over the past week. Can erase welcome back to the mental health today.
Show my name is John Cordray and I am the host of this show. And I'm delighted that you are here today. Very, very happy that you're here in. Like I said, at the very beginning, I wanna talk about the ins and out of self. Why do I recommend it so often? And also why so many people either represent it, misunderstand it, or they just ignore it.
right. Do you fall into one of those categories? And some of you are not very good at self-care and I will say people in my profession as therapists are not the best at self. So we're really good at helping people, but sometimes we don't really think about helping ourselves and we have blind spots too.
So why is it so important? Why is self-care so important? Well, I think the first thing I wanna just start off with is why is it dangerous? Why are there dangers of high stress and what kind of harm it can do to our bodies? And if you are the type of person, maybe you're a perfectionist and you work all the time.
Maybe you have in class yourself as a workaholic, I've met some people that way. And they said, yeah, I'm a workaholic almost as a badge of honor, work, work, work, work, work, hustle, hustle, hustle, hustle. And, uh, I think there's a time and place for that. But if you do it enough over a long period of time, it's gonna wear out your body.
I always say that you'll either implode or explode if your engine keeps revving up. So do you remember the last time you were overwhelmed and stressed? maybe you're, you're experiencing it right now. Maybe you are completely overwhelmed and so stressed. And a lot of people can have multiple types of stressors.
And I call that complex stress that could lead to acute stress. And when it gets to that level, that's when you start to feel it in your body, when you have various stressors and it could be stress from work. Maybe you're stressed about meeting a deadline, or maybe your manager has gotten on you and say, Hey, you need to get going here.
You gotta meet this deadline. Maybe you're worried about whether or not you're gonna get fired or laid off, or maybe you are the CEO and founder of a company. And you're worried that it's not gonna be sustainable. And then you might have to lay people off. That can be stressful. And then on top of that, you have your normal everyday family life.
For those of you who are married and have kids, and that brings a whole nother level of stress. And then on top of that, you might have some other life stressors that happen. Your car might break down. You might have a loved one that was recently diagnosed with cancer or some other terminal illness, or maybe you've experienced a death of a loved.
And all these stressors add, oh, sometimes it feels like you can't catch a break. And when you are so stressed, you have that thought that you have to keep going. If you don't keep going then something bad's going to happen. And so you're internally motivated to do something, but you're doing it at the expense of your own health.
So if you wear the I'm a workaholic as a badge of honor, I'm going to challenge you to rethink that. I'm going to challenge all of you who say that self-care is pointless. I'm gonna challenge all of you who would say, or think that self-care is selfish, cuz it's not. And so I want to dig into first. What are the dangers of not.
Practicing self care. And when you're stressed all the time, what are the dangers? And then we're gonna talk about the neuroscience. We're gonna talk about four specific types of hormones that our body produces for our health. And when we are super stressed, then that can be a bad thing. So we're gonna talk about the dangers of high stress all the time.
We're gonna talk about those hormones. I wanna talk a little bit about, well it's cause it's my show. I wanna talk a little bit about what I do for self-care and something brand new are fairly new that my wife and I are doing and we just love it. Love it, love it, love it. Okay. So let me get to the dangers of high stress all the time.
So you are either overwhelmed and stressed right now, or you at least remember the last time you were. And when your body is stressed and overwhelmed over an extended period of time, it goes into survival mode and it starts to produce high levels of natural stress hormone called cortisol. You may have heard me talk about it before, maybe you know about it, but this cortisol is a natural stress hormone.
Our body produces, and we really need a certain level of. Now everyone's a little bit different with what type of stress they can function the best or at what level they function the best, but we all need some level of stress. It's what keeps us going. It's what keeps us motivated. It's what keeps us really be thinking about the future.
And so a certain level of stress. It's good. It's healthy. Our body produces a healthy stress hormone. But sometimes when we are in constant stress all the time, our Corsol that natural stress hormone is an overdrive and it's releasing way too much of the cortisol. And that can be a very real threat to your health.
Sometimes our stress is. Sometimes our stress is very real, either way, if it's perceived or very real, either way it could release cortisol in our body. And so when we have cortisol, that's too much, that's releasing too much. It can decrease our immune. Because cortisol and other stress hormones are really meant to help boost our immune system and help balance our nervous system.
But when it's too much, you've heard the, the term too much of a good thing. It's a bad thing, right? When it's too much, it could actually hinder and harm our immune system and it can harm our nervous. I'm sure you probably have heard stories and maybe you've experienced this yourself where you or someone that you've heard about has shut down.
Basically, their body has shut down and maybe there's a term called, uh, mental breakdown or complete exhaustion. And maybe they had to go to the hospital and stay a few days in the hospital because their body shut. Well, because they were operating at the high level of stress and it created all these stress hormones, and they were, they were just overdrive.
And I'm sure you've probably heard of stories. And maybe you felt that yourself and maybe you didn't go to the hospital, but maybe you had to take some days off of work. And maybe you just sat in bed all day because you were too exhausted mentally and physically. So too much of it prolonged stress. Can really send emergency signals to our nervous system, to our regulation system or amygdala.
And then our body can go into a fight, flight or freeze mode, which creates a hyper-alertness like we're being under attack. Have you felt that way before that you felt so uneasy and agitated? And maybe your heart was racing and maybe you were kind of sweating and maybe your heart was pumping or maybe it's palpitations, but it was creating a physical sensation and it was scary.
Maybe you thought you were having a heart attack. That's what happens when our bodies are in overdrive, we can shut down. Our body tells us that something's wrong. It sends signals that something is wrong. And something catastrophic is about to happen. So when this happens, our body's emotional and physical regulation system is disrupted and that can lead to a lot of dangerous health issues like anxiety, depression, digestive issues, like IBS or nausea.
Muscle tension and pain, migraine sleep problems, weight gain, memory loss. Distractability the list can go on and on and on. But all of these things are physical symptoms of something that's going on and your body is telling you something. It's saying, whoa, wait a minute. You've gotta slow down or you're going to slow down.
Right. If you don't do something about it. So self-care, think of this self-care is more of a preventative practice rather than a reactive practice, because by the time you realize, oh my gosh, I need self-care a lot of times it's too late. You're already shut down and then you gotta start over and you're totally mentally and physically exhausted.
So that's why self-care is so important to think about as a preventative. You want to make sure you fuel your body, just like you put fuel in your car. It's very similar. Our body and our car is very, very similar. You gotta take care of your car. You gotta get regular oil changes. You gotta fill it up with gas.
Make sure the, tire pressure is right. Our body are the same thing. We've got to make sure that we refuel our body with sleep, that we refuel our body with a healthy diet and drink. Plenty of water. All of that is actually self-care. So the beautiful thing. With our body and our brain. It's amazing. Now our brain is so complex.
We still to this day don't have a good grasp of our brain, but there are things that we do have a good understanding of, and we have developed or not developed we didn't develop that. But we know now through research over the years that there are actual what we call natural feel, good brain chemicals that are released, and you may have heard of some of these.
So I want to kind of go over that and, and this is kind of the neuroscience and how these chemicals in our brain that produce naturally on their. We don't have to go out and try to find them. We don't have to go out and try to want them up. They're there. Our body already produces them. It's amazing what our brain does.
So I wanna talk about the, the feel good brain chemicals, and there are four of them. And as I talk about them, think about how each of them functions in your life and how maybe specific types of self care can help promote each. And so let me talk about it. I'm gonna list four of 'em. So one is dopamine, oxytosin endorphins and serotonin, and those are four main brain chemicals.
The feel good brain chemicals that are released now, dopamine is a transmitter and serves as a reward center of our brain. Our brains are, are wired to seek experiences that bring pleasure. When we do something fun and pleasurable dopamine is released in yep. You got it. We feel good. And it's a near a hormone that's released by the hypothalamus of our brain and helps with many functions, like helps us pay attention and sleep at night.
It has a Rosal and mood and learning in a reward. Motivation. It also helps us with our behavior. So think of the dopamine. As a reward center of our brain, things that we want to experience, fun things, things that, that are happy that bring happiness and pleasure to our, our brains and then there's oxytocin or toin.
And it's a hormone that's released again by the hypothalamus, uh, into our bloodstream by the pituitary G. And it's often considered the love hormone. no, you love that. The love hormone, yo, that just brings. I had a flash, right? When I said that some of you might remember the show back in the early eighties called the love boat.
You remember that the love boat and the show is all about being on a cruise and all the different characters there. So saying love hormone made me think about the . So this is a love hormone, and here's the cool thing it's associated with childbirth and nursing. And Cuddl. Sexual experiences. And when we fall in love and for all of you parents, especially you young parents and grandparents
So when you have a newborn baby, oh, remember that, and maybe some of you have children that are older. Now, do you remember when you had your child, the first child for the very first time that you were able to hold your child? Yeah, that love hormone surged in for you, moms who nurse and for you dads who love to cuddle with your kids.
That's the love hormone, and it feels good. Doesn't it. Or maybe you don't have kids, but you have a partner and you just love spending time with. It releases this love hormone into our body. And it's just a natural thing. Again, you don't womp it up. You can't find it anywhere. It just happens. Our brain does it for us, but here's the thing.
Low levels of the love hormone oxytocin are linked to postpartum depression and regular depression. If you have low levels, And it is possible to have low levels, especially during childbirth. And that's what happens a lot. Postpartum depression is a lot more common than you may realize. And maybe some of you know what that's like, you've experienced it, but here are some things that you can do to help boost it.
Boost a love hormone. The first one is physical touch. How many of you like getting a massage? Or getting a hug or cuddling. Yeah. So a physical touch will help boost that love hormone, listening to music or singing out loud, especially in a group, hanging out with friends. Isn't that fun to hang out with friends.
And so when we do these activities that are social activities, it releases this love hormone, and we feel good. It releases it into our bloodstream. The next hormone is an endorphin endorphins, help relieve stress and pain. So it releases these endorphins and its specific function is to help us with our stress and our pain to reduce it.
And they are primary created in a hypothalamus and a pituitary glands. Do you see a, a common theme here in our brain? And if you've ever heard of the term runners high, if you are a runner, you know exactly what I'm talking about, a runner's high. So it's developed with an increased level of endorphins from running all the time.
But with those with low levels of endorphins, there are prone to depression in fibromyalgia. So experiencing that runner's high from running, running, running, running, and you know, the drill, right? So when you start to run, you can't run that far. You get exhausted, take a break. And, but you keep going a little bit further each time and eventually you run and run like P's Gump.
right. So run Forrest run and you start to get that runners. And only those of you. I don't know what that's, what that's like, cuz I don't run. My wife does. And she's told me about the runners high. I've known plenty of other people who run and, and experienced that runners high, but it's a good feeling that you can run a lot more than you than you could when you first started out.
But we, you don't have enough endorphins. That's where depression can come in and also fibromyalgia. So here are some things that you can do to boost your endorphins. One is regular exercise and it doesn't have to be a full blown cardio. It is not just running. You can go for a walk, can be very helpful giving to others that can help release endorphins, yoga meditation.
Eating spicy foods. I love spicy foods. My wife and I love, love, love Thai food. And years ago, there was a Thai food restaurant that was really very close to our house and we would, my wife and I would get, uh, Thai food there a lot pretty often. And Mo I like most places. Asian places. They have a rating system for their spiciness from one to five
And so, uh, each day or each time we went, we tried to up the number of spiciness. And so I was pretty proud that eventually I got to 4.5 out of five and every time I went in there, the owner would see me and, and, and he would say, oh, Hey, there's Mr. Spicy guy. So I was able to work my way up to 4.5 on the spice scale of five.
Never made it to five, but I just loved. And just, even though it would be a little painful, it felt good. My brain was releasing endorphins, eating dark chocolate, my personal favorite eating dark chocolate and the darker, the better for you. And then laughing out loud. I'm talking belly laugh. When was the last time you laughed so hard, it was coming from your belly, right?
Maybe it was a, a TV show. Maybe it was a friend that told a joke or maybe somebody did something and it was accident. And it was so funny that you laughed out loud. All those things can help release endorphins. And, uh, so that's something that you can do to start feeling better. And then the last one is called serotonin.
So serotonin is a natural chemical that's primarily produced in our digestive system and it's from an essential amino acid called triple fan. So it enters our body through the diets in the foods like nuts and red meat and cheese, but low levels of serotonin can result in mood disorders. Isn't that amazing.
It's like what I was saying before our brain is an amazing organ. There's so much we don't know about it, but these are, are chemicals that our body releases and when we don't get enough of them, it could cause mental health issues. It can cause physical issues and so low levels of serotonin that can result in mood disorders.
It's it could actually lead to depression. It could actually lead to anxiety in other different Mo mood disorders. And it's considered to be the regular levels of serotonin. It's considered to be a natural mood stabilizer, and it could help with sleeping, eating, and digesting. So helping us, how we eat and sleep serotonin can help us reduce depression.
It could help regulate anxiety. Could I even heal wounds and enhance bone health and it could help ease nausea. And it's one of the things that UN the unfortunate side effects sometimes of anxiety is nausea and the number one most popular video on my YouTube channel. It's actually called anxiety and nausea, and I offer tips on how to reduce the nausea.
And, uh, it could be a, a horrible, horrible, horrible thing to wake up, not only with anxiety, but also with nausea and, uh, to have those two combined, it's just horrible. So those are the, the four main chemicals feel good chemicals in our body that. The neuroscience of why self-help is so important or, or self-care self-care is really just anything you do to care for yourself.
It's not being lazy. It's not being selfish, but doing things that you enjoy now, is it the same thing for everybody? Does everybody need a certain level of a or amount of self-care? No, everyone's different. But you need something in your life to enhance those, uh, hormones in your body. Exercise is a common denominator.
Eating healthy is a common denominator, sleeping common denominator of all of those feel good hormones drinking, plenty of water socializing. Loving on babies. eating dark chocolate, eating spicy foods. Now I get it. Now everybody can eat spicy foods. I get it. I understand. So I, I want to talk this a little bit.
I, I wanna share with you a little bit about what my wife and I have been doing for our self-care and we just absolutely love it. Now you might think, ah, that's that's so. Simple and so, uh, general, uh, generic, but for us, it's actually really awesome. Uh, because for a long time we were able to do this because our, our kids, right.
Uh, now our kids are grown and on, on their own, we have a lot more time on our hands. And so we can do things like this. And so our number one favorite activity that my wife and I like to do with poor self care is bike riding. Yeah, just that bike rating. So a a a month or so ago, my wife and I bought some really nice bikes they're hybrid bikes.
So you can ride on the road and off the road. So they're not quite a mountain bike and they're not quite a, a 10 speed or road bike, but they're a little bit of both. It's a, it's a hybrid. And, uh, we are fortunate to live where we live in St. Louis. There are lots and lots and lots of parks with lots of trails.
And we found this one trail kind of by accident actually. And, uh, it's a beautiful trail and we, we try to get on that trail as much as we can. And the cool thing is not many people. Are on it when we're on it, it's like a hidden gem. So we, we go on this trail and, and there are different types of trails that we go on.
So there's what I call like the forest trail, a trail that goes through the woods. There's a suburbian trail in, in a suburbia and then theres an urban trail. So we try to do all of those. And this particular one, uh, this trail is in the for, I would say, classified as a forest trail. And we, especially in the evening now that it's, it's cooling off a little bit, it's heading into the fall.
And when it's in the evening, let's say it's mm, mid seventies to low eighties, just absolutely gorgeous. So we go, we're the only ones usually on this trail. And we get on this trail, it's paved, which is nice. And we w it winds through, it starts out with like a tunnel. So when I, it is not quite a tunnel, but think of it as like a tunnel of trees.
And so this, this path, this paid path goes through all these trees and it, the trees kinda. Make a tunnel and it's just so cool. And we go through it and then we go, uh, down, there's a, a ramp that goes down in, into an actual tunnel underneath the road. And then we go through the tunnel and then we go, there's a fairly long stretch along the highway.
We pass a, a big field. There are horses, there's a school that we pass and we keep going and then we come to another. Tunnel underneath another road. And then we come back up and then we go through a reservation area. And in this reservation area, it is absolutely gorgeous and we will ride and then we pass so many different cool things.
There's one area that it's open Prairie and it long grass in most of the time, almost every time we go through there are. In there. And then we pass this farm and they raise alpacas. And so we go by the alpacas, kind of a random thing, but it's kind of cool. And then one of my favorite parts, we go by this, uh, stream, our spring fed stream.
And it's, it's a pretty short part of the way, but as we ride by it, we can hear it like a bubbling brick. Oh, I wish I could play, play it for you. It's so peaceful. And it's a natural spring that comes out of a cave. And so we pass that and then we go to an area where it's open and a lots of times we see deer there.
And then towards the end, we go up a hill and this is. Very very difficult. I don't look forward to the hill at the end in my, my quads are, are burning and I have to switch the gears to where, uh, it's not so difficult and we go, we go, we go. And sometimes I have to remind myself, I've gotta get there because on the way down, it's so much fun.
And so by the time we get to the end of this trail up the hill and we turn, take a, take a, a water break. We turn around. And then we just glide down. Oh. So much fun. And I bet we probably get, I haven't clocked it, but I bet it's somewhere between 10 and 15 miles an hour, coasting, not even peddling. And it's so much fun.
The cool breeze is hitting us in a face we're in the woods. We pass deer, we see all types of wildlife. We hear the birds, we hear the, the frogs chirping in the swamps and the water. And it is just an absolute joy. And we just can, can all the way back the same route and we love it. We've been on suburbian trails and we, what we rode by at one point the, do you know the, the Clydesdale, the Budweiser?
Uh Clydesdale's. Have you seen those before? You may have seen them on the super bowl commercial. Here in St. Louis. We are a home of Anheiser Bush and the Cardinals. And a lot of times they, uh, bring out the, the Clyde stills for Cardinals games. Well, we rode by on a trail, not that long ago. The Lys tales and they were outside and, and it was beautiful.
And I actually took a picture of it. If you go to our, the website mental health today, show.com. I wrote a blog just on this very thing, and I have some pictures on the blog and you can take a look at that. It's really cool. So that's some of the things that I do for self-care. The other thing is, is exercise, go to the gym, go for walks and, and things that I enjoy, things that I look forward to because I wanna release those, those natural chemicals in my body, because I know they're good for me.
They're free. Most of 'em are free, but the hard thing is, is getting the motivation to do it. If you're already shut down, if you already are too stressed out and maybe you're burn out, maybe it's everything you, you can do to get out of bed. I get it. It takes small things. You may not be able to do a, a whole list of things for self-care, but you can do one thing.
Pick one thing today. All one thing. It doesn't have to be huge. It could be doing the dishes. It could be doing something that's you feel accomplished? Just one thing, go for a walk for 10 minutes and then you add another and then another, and then another, it takes time to get to a level where you are utilizing all four of those feel good hormones, but it's possible.
You, you gotta start some. And that's why it is so important to practice self care and it's not selfish and it is important. And if you're the type of person that is always hustling, always on the go, always feeling the pressure you gotta slow down or your body is gonna make you slow. So put this to practice, practice, self care, and you, if you've heard my, uh, recent episodes and I have a guest on, I try to remember to ask all of my guests what they do for self care, just as a way of encouraging you all to work on your self-care.
But this episode, I wanted to dig deeper into the neuroscience of self-care and, and just to emphasize why it's so important. Well, I hope this episode has been helpful for you and maybe, maybe you're thinking of someone else that they need to, to listen to this episode. Make sure you share it. And I would love for you to go check out the blog.
And check out the website. It's, it's, it's a, a lot of great resources right there for you. And you go to mental health today, show.com. You can follow me on Twitter. You can follow me on LinkedIn, but there's a lot of ways that you can reach out. And I wanna mention at the website mental health today, show.com.
You can contact me and you. Feel free to ask me questions. And if you have ideas that you would like me to talk about on, on the, the show I want that I want to hear from you. I, I just had someone the other day email me through the website and I can't wait to you to do an episode about that. It's my way of answering the question.
Now I'll email her back for sure. But if she has the question more than likely other people do too. So why not just talk about. On the show. And so that's what I plan to do. All right, friends, I'm gonna let you go. And as always, I want you to continue to work on your mental health and remember the mental health today show has been championing your mental health since 2015.
Take care. Bye bye.