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The Importance of Self-Care

Although the concept of self-care is simple in theory, it is not easy to carry out consistently. Good self-care is key to better health, improved mood, reduced anxiety, good relationships with oneself and others and so much more.

Awareness of how you are doing physically, emotionally and spiritually requires practice and constant attention. Too many of us wait until we are in crisis before we take the time to care for ourselves.

Joining the show to discuss the importance of self-care is April Johnson, MD. She is a pediatrician with Hendricks Regional Health.
The Importance of Self-Care
Featured Speaker:
April Johnson, MD
April Johnson, MD, graduated from the Indiana University School of Medicine in 2002. She works in Brownsburg, IN and specializes in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics. Dr. Johnson is affiliated with Hendricks Regional Health.

Learn more about April Johnson, MD

Melanie Cole (Host): The concept of self-care is simple in theory, however, it’s not always as easy to carry out if you're someone who takes care of many different people. You may neglect your own care and that’s so important for you to be able to take good care those that you love. My guest today is Dr. April Johnson. She’s an internist and pediatrician with Hendricks Regional Health. Welcome to the show. What is self-care? What does it encompass?

Dr. April Johnson, MD (Guest): Self-care encompasses a lot of things. It can be as simple as just the language that you use to talk to yourself to habits that we use to encourage health for ourselves, not just for short-term, but long-term.

Melanie: Some people say I’ll get to my own healthcare as soon as I'm done here. They feel selfish in a way. Is this something that you’ve heard before and what do you tell people about that feeling that you can't feel selfish because you have to take care of yourself?

Dr. Johnson: We hear this a lot and very common in women particularly who are caring for their families and putting their needs before their own. There's a teaching from Buddha that says “if your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” We are very good at giving to others, but there comes a point where when our own health be it mental or physical deteriorates, now we’re just adding to the problem. It’s important for us to keep our own needs in check while we are caring for others.

Melanie: That’s a wonderful quote. As women, we’re the caregivers of society and when it comes to things like heart disease, we pass off symptoms. We think it’s stress, being busy and running around, all of these things, so let’s start with some of your best advice about what you think we should be doing when we get those little naggings that something is not right. What do you want women to do?

Dr. Johnson: I think it’s important as we keep this in mind that the things that I advise people for caring for themselves are well studied for benefits for our mental health as well as for our cardiovascular health, so we’re not asking you to do something different to take care of yourself from a standpoint of decreasing your risk of depression as we would do to decrease your risk of heart disease or diabetes. It's all the same recommendations. This is great news that you don't have to keep track of more than one thing. The short version is we have to honor our bodies and our minds, and that's the key with nutrition and with exercise, with sleep and with taking some breaks to stop and breathe.

Melanie: Let’s start with exercise and nutrition. People don’t always know what to do or how that even fits into the picture of self-care.

Dr. Johnson: Exercise, we have been recommended by the American Heart Association to get 150 minutes of exercise a week to improve cardiovascular health, but really in the last five to ten years, there's been great research on the mental health benefits of exercise. People who exercise routinely have sharper memories, stronger resilience to stress – that sounds good for our busy moms – and helps us release our natural body endorphins, which helps us feel good. We have studies that show we get those benefits with as sure as 10-minute intervals of cardiovascular exercise, so ideally more than that, but if you're strapped for time and trying to figure out where to squeeze something in, going for a brisk walk for 10 minutes will do you some good.

Melanie: What about nutrition? When you're feeling depressed, when you're feeling upset, you look to comfort foods which can actually have the opposite effect.

Dr. Johnson: You are right. There is a huge impact in what we put into our bodies and how it affects our health. If you're able to make one small change to your eating habits, maybe that drinking water instead of soda or having an apple instead of a cookie, we know that is going to improve your mood and improve your health. We associate the brain chemical serotonin with depression and anxiety if there's not enough of it, and we think of that as a brain chemical. In reality, 90% of serotonin is produced in our intestines and that ramps up when we are eating nutritious food that's full of fiber. The studies simply show us that if you eat healthier today, you will have more serotonin and feel better tomorrow.

Melanie: That’s absolutely true. What about our negative self-talk? We mentioned this at the beginning. Women, we look and we say I'm so fat or I look terrible today, we negative self-talk ourselves into depression and feelings of anxiety. How can we stop doing that?

Dr. Johnson: Very simply, we have to treat ourselves like you would treat your own best friend. If you listen to yourself talk and you're arguing with yourself or beating yourself up because you skipped four workouts in a row or angry because you couldn't get out of bed too late and you're constantly insulting yourself, you wouldn't treat your best friend that way or you wouldn't have that best friend very long if you did. It's important for us to be nice to ourselves, to give compliments to ourselves. When I come across something that I struggle with, I try to phrase it in a positive way and I say I have lots of skills, there are many things that I'm good at, but cooking a turkey on Thanksgiving is not my strong suit.

Melanie: We have to realistically talk to ourselves and not insult. I like that you say that. That’s so important. What about other things like yoga, stress release, meditation, massage? Where do those fit into this picture of self-care?

Dr. Johnson: I would like to touch briefly on the importance of sleep with self-care. Certainly, we know many busy people that sacrifice sleep in order to keep up with all of their demands, and sleep is our body’s built-in detoxification system for our brain. Our brains work very hard for us. If you think about just your average day and the amount of information that we're asking our brains to process, be that through school or work or just getting kids around and caring for others, there's an immense amount of information that's going on up there. The best way for our brains to recover, for our bodies to really just do a good housekeeping of our brain systems, is good restorative sleep. What's recommended is seven and a half to eight hours of sleep a night. There are studies that have been done to compare those getting good sleep versus not. The people that get great sleep have better memory, they have increased creativity, they have healthier body weight, they have increased direct resilience so that sleep is really important and we want to encourage people not to shortchange themselves there.

Melanie: It is and we’re learning more and more about sleep and its relationship to diabetes and obesity and stress. That's a really great point. Just back up for a minute about yoga and meditation. Do you think these things really do help?

Dr. Johnson: I do think these things help. The biggest reason I see for that is that we tend to in our fast-paced lives do everything at about 90 miles per hour. For many of us, we spend all day going full speed through our day full of stress and then we turn ourselves off to try to get a little bit of sleep at night. We get up the next morning and we do the same thing again. Practices like yoga, meditation or even prayer allow us to have these pauses in our day where we slow down our heart rate, we slow down our brain processes and just let things calm a bit. I think that’s an important piece in learning self-regulation of your own speed and emotion and stress response, and that really helps us feel better with stresses at other times in our day.

Melanie: Wrap it up, what you would like women and men to know about the importance of self-care and why we have to put our own masks on before we take care and put the other masks of our loved ones on or we won't be able to care for those we love?

Dr. Johnson: I do think that it’s very important for us to know that we cannot take care of those around us if we don’t take care of ourselves. We have to pause and know that if we’re going to be participating in other people’s health, we have to be role models by taking care of our own health, and that means that we have to provide the basics for ourselves, and that includes our very positive self-talk to our own person, that includes eating well, exercising, getting good sleep and taking some breaks just to stop and breathe and slow down.

Melanie: Thank you so much for being with us today. This is Health Talks with HRH, Hendricks Regional Health. For more information, please visit That’s This is Melanie Cole. Thanks so much for listening.