Ecopsychology and Self-Care

Next Monday, July 24, is International Self-Care Day. Self-care is the act of attending to your health needs, mental as well as physical, and particularly those practices that do more than just address the most rudimentary, survival-oriented parts of our health. When you take time out to rest and relax, or give yourself nourishing food instead of junk food, or make sure you get plenty of sleep, you are engaging in self-care.

According to the International Self-Care Foundation, there are seven pillars of self-care. I’d like to take a bit of an ecopsychological approach to each of them. In ecopsychology we tend to focus on the mind quite a bit because that’s the general bailiwick of psychology, but the supposed divide between the mind and body grows narrower with each study that shows that the two are closely linked. This is especially pertinent to ecopsychology because it posits that we are intimately linked to the ecosystems we live in both through our experiences (mind) and ingestions (body).

Moreover, our bodies are the most immediate part of our ecosystem that we experience every single moment of our lives. By caring for our most personal piece of nature, we create habits of responsibility and awareness that we can then also turn to the rest of nature and our relationships with it. If you tend a vegetable garden every day, not only are you making yourself feel better with outdoor time and exercise and good food, you’re also tending to a cultivated bit of nature that supports soil fungi, tiny animals and a host of plants.

Health Literacy

Health literacy is having access to basic information about your health, factors that can affect it, and services and products that can help your health. Ecopsychologists may look to environmental factors that can contribute to mental health problems, from a lack of greenspace to environmental pollutants, and then advise clients to seek medical or other help if need be.

Self-awareness of Physical and Mental Condition

This can include basic things like knowing your blood pressure and weight, but it also covers knowing whether you have any mental illnesses or undiagnosed symptoms, and whether they affect you significantly enough for you to seek treatment. Being aware of your overall condition helps you to get more in touch with yourself on all levels, to include the biological level that we humans share with every other animal species on this planet.

Physical Activity

This is one of the most common “prescriptions” given by ecopsychologists because we know just how good being out in nature is for you! The physical activity alone accounts for a fair amount of those positive benefits, as it raises endorphins, reduces stress, boosts brainpower, and relaxes you overall. But nature itself is also beneficial on its own merits; just sitting in nature can lower blood pressure and increase those endorphins, as well as give your brain a much-needed break. Your level and type of physical activity may vary depending on your age, accessibility, time, finances and overall health, but even a little extra movement each day can have great benefits.

Healthy Eating

What “healthy eating” looks like to different people may vary, but generally unprocessed or minimally processed foods are healthier than processed ones, and those that lack residues from pesticides and other agricultural chemicals lessen the chemical load that your body carries. If you can afford the time and money to buy locally produced food, or even grow or raise your own, this can help you become more connected to your local land and soil, and maybe even get you outside more. Moreover, since processed foods require more energy to produce, and non-local foods have more food miles associated with them, even treating yourself to local whole foods on occasion can have significant environmental benefits.

Risk Avoidance or Mitigation

This includes preventative care like checkups and vaccinations, as well as cutting out unhealthy habits like smoking or excessive drinking. As you make these changes you may notice significant improvements in how you feel both physically and mentally. Moreover, some of these habits have negative environmental impacts–plastic cigarette butts, for example. And if you’re spending less money on these habits, as well as preventing future expensive health issues, that means you have more cash for everything from savings to self-care to charity donations (including those focused on conversation and the environment!)

Good Hygiene

This is closely related to risk mitigation because things like bathing regularly and brushing your teeth can help prevent bigger health problems down the line. But they can also help you feel better, too! And as I mentioned earlier in this post, if you develop routines for caring for yourself you’re training yourself to have good habits that you can then turn toward other parts of your world.

Rational and Responsible Use of Products, Services, Diagnostics and Medicines

Related to risk mitigation above, you don’t want to overdo medications you don’t actually need (though you definitely want to talk to your doctor or therapist before making any big changes!) Not only can these be hard on your liver, kidneys and other parts of your body, but their manufacture and disposal can also nave negative environmental effects. By only using what you need to stay healthy and comfortable, and by using preventative medicine to reduce the changes of bigger health issues later, you reduce the demand both on your body’s filtering systems and on the planet as a whole.

One more important note: when you engage in regular self-care, you can reduce your stress and other negative emotions, and in some cases even reduce or eliminate pain and other distracting symptoms of health problems. This frees up a significant amount of energy and attention that you can then focus on more constructive things like enjoying your life. But you can also use that new influx of energy to engage with nature more, and have some curiosity about the world around you. You may even feel moved to reach out and help others, whether human or otherwise, who need help. We are all parts of a greater ecosystem, and when the part of that ecosystem are in better health, it positively affects the entire thing.