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Cigna 2017

Self-care is a term for the things we do for ourselves to manage stress and to maintain or improve our health.

But we're diverse people from all walks of life, so self-care naturally means something different to each of us. In recent years, the self-care conversation has attracted everyone from fitness trainers to spiritual coaches to activists.

But what might an actual health expert have to say about self-care?


Meet Stuart. That's short for Dr. Stuart Lustig, M.D., M.P.H.

Lustig harvests greens from his backyard garden on a sunny day in San Francisco, California. Photo by Maz Ali/Upworthy.

Lustig is a psychiatrist for children and adults and supports doctors all over the country. Self-care, as you might guess, comes up in his work pretty frequently, for all sorts of reasons and for both patients and health care professionals. Over the years, he's stood by one piece of advice when it comes to self-care and stress management: "Have a PLAN for yourself."

PLAN is an acronym representing the most basic components of a sound self-care strategy.

P is for a period of time.

Image via iStock.

"It should be regularly planned time that's yours alone to do what you want with it," he says. On most nights, for example, Lustig knows he can count on at least 30 minutes of relaxation once his kid's tucked in and his wife starts her own self-care rituals.

L is for a location.

Image via iStock.

Think of it as your "happy place." Have a few locations in mind that put you at ease and that are easily accessible and reliably there for you, whether it's your bedroom, your favorite café, your gym or yoga studio, or the nature trail just beyond your fence. One of Lustig's go-to places is his backyard, amid the beauty and abundance of his garden.

A is for an activity.

Lustig also happens to be a beast on the piano. Photo by Maz Ali/Upworthy.

"When we ask people, 'What's your activity?' we'll get responses like, 'brushing my teeth,'" he says. "Sure, that's good hygiene, but it's not long enough, and we kind of have to do that. Or we hear things like, 'going on vacation.' But how often can you do that?" Instead, he says, choose activities you want to do and that you can integrate into your regular schedule. As for Lustig, he finds escape in the intricacies of classical compositions right from his piano bench.

N is for the name of someone you can count on.

Image via iStock.

"For some people, it’s their mother or their best friend. For some, it’s a therapist," Lustig says. The idea is to have that someone who will listen to what you’re going through, empathize with you, and share with you in that moment to help relieve stress.

How will you know if your self-care practices are actually working?

According to Lustig, to commit to better self-care is to acknowledge that you deserve time to yourself, to accept that it's OK to indulge a little — so long as it doesn't engender too much guilt — and to "turn off" the parts of your brain that are overworked.

Image via iStock.

If you're doing self-care well, you'll feel it. Your stress will become more manageable. You'll tackle the tasks and challenges of your day with greater ease. And you may even begin to feel better physically.

"When we’re stressed mentally, we have a lot of physical problems as a result," he says. "We have more headaches, we have more ulcers, we have more back and joint pain, and we go in for all sorts of other things."

Mental stress also triggers behaviors that can make matters worse, like eating more unhealthy foods or retreating into extended periods of inactivity. "As a result, your cholesterol goes up, your blood sugar goes up, and so on," he says.

Cigna's Go. Know. Take Control.℠ preventive health campaign educates people about their four health numbers: blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and body mass index. Images by Cigna.

Self-care has the potential to make the world a better place — one person, one family, one community at a time.

"When we’re in a good space, we do a better job of communicating and understanding each others' perspectives," Lustig says, channeling his own experience as a husband and father. "When it’s been a long day and we’re exhausted, we are not terribly empathic."

Image via iStock.

"When we feel we have everything we need for ourselves, we’re more generous and willing to share what we have more openly and lovingly," he adds.

He then closed with a final doctorly reminder to take good care: "Get your needs met — your physical needs, emotional needs, spiritual needs, cultural needs, community needs, all of it — and we’ll all be much better off.”

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Man uses TikTok to offer 'dinner with dad' to any kid that needs one, even adult ones

Summer Clayton is the father of 2.4 million kids and he couldn’t be more proud.

Come for the food, stay for the wholesomeness.

Summer Clayton is the father of 2.4 million kids and he couldn’t be more proud. His TikTok channel is dedicated to giving people intimate conversations they might long to have with their own father, but can’t. The most popular is his “Dinner With Dad” segment.

The concept is simple: Clayton, aka Dad, always sets down two plates of food. He always tells you what’s for dinner. He always blesses the food. He always checks in with how you’re doing.

I stress the stability here, because as someone who grew up with a less-than-stable relationship with their parents, it stood out immediately. I found myself breathing a sigh of relief at Clayton’s consistency. I also noticed the immediate emotional connection created just by being asked, “How was your day?” According to relationship coach and couples counselor Don Olund, these two elements—stability and connection—are fundamental cravings that children have of their parents. Perhaps we never really stop needing it from them.


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