Self-Care: Exploring the Mind-Body Connection

When you feel at a loss of control over the circumstances in your life, it is common to be filled with self-doubt, anxiety, guilt, and a plethora of other draining emotions that hurt in more ways than one. Whether we are aware of it, pain takes on both mental and physical side effects. Muscle tightness, headaches, weight fluctuation, high blood pressure, and insomnia are just some side effects of persistent negative emotions–and since everybody is different, the symptoms may vary from person to person.

What is also true is that within all of us is the power to take control of how we cope with the circumstances life throws our way. And though we may always face hardship, the way in which we process it can help bring us closer to the health and happiness we all deserve.

What is mind-body medicine? Mind-body medicine is the practice of healing ourselves in both a mental and physical way based on the idea that every mental component has a physical component, and vice versa. And so, we can often address one by giving care and attention to the other!

Here are some suggestions of how to put mind-body healing into practice.


Breathing and Meditation

Have you ever thought about your breath? We all do it all day, every day, but rarely acknowledge the value of it. When we become aware of our breath, we become present in the moment, which benefits our whole self. Diaphragmatic breathing is a relaxation technique which is just breathing deeply from our lower bellies. While practicing diaphragmatic breathing, you can add visuals which help the mind and body to communicate and will help you reach a meditative state.

“Draw a Square”

Close your eyes, and begin to take a deep breath while counting to five in your head. While counting, imagine the first line of a square being drawn. Then hold your breath for two seconds at the end of the inhale. On the exhale, draw the second line. Continue this pattern until your square is complete.

Prefer visual aids? Here’s a video.

“Internal Body Images”

If you have an injury or are feeling pain in a certain place in your body, try closing your eyes and imagine that there is a warm light or warm colored light around the place in your body that is causing you pain. On your inhale, the light/color expands. On your exhale, it shrinks back. Imagine this light is healing. Imagine with each exhale that the pain is being washed away.

For more information on different types of meditation including, movement meditation, mantra meditation, and mindfulness meditation go here.


Journal Writing

This is an outlet known to be transpersonal psychology . That just means that the active awareness we have while journaling can lead to therapeutic self-discovery. By jotting down thoughts, whether they are random or focused, on a specific event or general feeling, we can gain insight and clarity. This can help us clear away overwhelming thoughts that run through our heads everyday and cause stress.

Journaling initiates communication between your mind and soul, providing feelings of catharsis which help us to express our emotions. Because of the calm feelings that accompany journal writing, our body responds positively.

Do you have a hard time getting started journaling? Here are some tips:

  1. Get a notebook that you will just use for journaling, and something to write with
  2. Find a quiet or calming environment
  3. Center yourself — try some breathing exercises from above
  4. Label your journal entries so you can refer to them later
  5. Don’t judge or censor yourself
  6. If structure helps you, try to write for five minutes a day, or build up how long you are writing for bit by bit

Art Therapy

Art therapy enables us to describe our feelings and thoughts in ways that words cannot. When we step back and allow ourselves to express, we may discover things about ourselves we may not have been able to access otherwise.

Here are some ideas that can help you to try out art therapy:

  1. Get some crayons, colored pencils, or pastels
  2. Never say you can’t draw! Art therapy isn’t about being an artist. It’s about expressing yourself
  3. Draw a picture of yourself
  4. Draw a picture of an area of yourself you feel needs attention; part of body, or feeling
  5. Draw an image of peace, a peaceful place, a place you would like to return to, or a place you’d like to go
  6. Draw how you feel in the moment
  7. Draw an image from a dream

Want to try a guided Art Therapy exercise?


Exercise and Nutrition

When we keep our bodies and minds healthy through exercise and nutrition, we lower stress levels, blood pressure, and we fight off possible long term effects of stress and trauma, like diabetes and heart disease. When we exercise, we benefit from the release of positive endorphins like dopamine and serotonin, also known as the happiness hormones. With summer coming, be sure to get outside. Walking, hiking, biking, and swimming are all wonderful activities which promote mind-body healing. Nutrition plays a large part in this as well! Be mindful of what you eat and keep in touch with the foods that make you feel good and give you energy vs. the foods that tire you out and lead to aches and irritability. What goes into your body is your fuel for living! Choose to live well

Chair yoga for people with injuries and disabilities.

TED-Ed video on food for mental health.


I hope you feel inspired by some of the ways you can promote healthy mind-body connection in your life. Not all of these suggestions will work for everyone. I encourage you to discover new and different approaches to see what fits best for your personality, body, and mind.

Disclaimer: This blog is does not provide medical advice. The suggestions above are based on research and the works of other people.

Additional Resources:

Seaward, Brian Luke. Managing Stress: Principles and Strategies for Health and Well-Being. Jones and Bartlett, 2014.

https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2008/03/sobering-look-at-mind-body-connection/

How to Keep Advocacy Work Sustainable

Sexual violence takes a toll, on those who experience it and on those who work at agencies like SARC to respond to and prevent it. Read our volunteer, Jessie’s, article about how SARC staff and volunteers keep their work sustainable.

With any job, it is critical to practice healthy habits to ensure the work is tenable. When it comes to trauma-informed care for the advocates at organizations like SARC, sustainability can be difficult. When we talk about trauma-informed care and supporting survivors, we also need to talk about keeping this work viable for staff and volunteers. I reached out to current SARC employees and volunteers, as well as mental health professionals outside the agency who deal with trauma for their thoughts on sustainability and current coping skills.

An emphasis on staying centered and grounded in a stressful role was a recurring theme in people’s responses. Baili, a volunteer with SARC said, “I really rely on yoga to help me stay centered.” She also draws attention to the importance of checking out and silencing her phone at times. Disconnecting from the world can be a useful key to recovery from the stress involved in this work. Her last bit of encouragement is that she says volunteering with SARC has grown her support network and she has made connections to more people since starting here.

Lee Anne Dillon, a case manager who has been with SARC since 1994, lends some useful advice on staying grounded. She says, “Staying grounded is staying present with the client, and listening with the knowledge that I will be able to support them through whatever the story is.” It is so important to recognize that even if we cannot change what has happened, we can support people through their experiences and the sharing of their story. Balance is another key focus when it comes to keeping advocacy work sustainable. Finding a balance between what the client or survivor needs from you, versus what you realistically and practically have to give. Saving some of your resources for yourself is a necessary practice, as no one can pour from an empty cup.

Bri Ellingson, another case manager at SARC, states that her support system has also changed since working for SARC, and that it is important to surround yourself with people who support the work you do. She says, “When you’re fighting systems of oppression everyday, it’s important to have people around you who are also fighting the good fight, in whatever way the choose, or are at least open to the idea.”

This insight shows how crucial it is to hold space with people who recognize and appreciate that this work can be exhausting, and is also imperative. Surrounding yourself with other socially conscious people can help you feel like part of a community and less isolated. Sometimes it is easy to push down feelings of being overwhelmed and to “power through.” Having strong supervisors, and fellow coworkers or volunteers to check in with regularly helps counteract that impulse. SARC’s monthly volunteer meetings and weekly staff meetings provide structured space for that as well. Many people engaged in this work also have their own therapists and counselors they speak to outside of work.

Finally, finding things that fill your heart and soul with positivity and love will take you far. Take an overly indulgent bubble bath. Go on a soothing walk in the hills. Go to a chocolate tasting with a friend. Do some deep breathing for sixty seconds. Find things that help you take life one day at a time.

Photo credit: Eden Baron

Gardening Self Care Spotlight

Self-care is an important part of everyone’s mental health, in whatever way feels best for you. In this month’s spotlight, read our volunteer, Eden’s, take on gardening as self-care.

My garden. A beautiful oasis of healing, which offers itself so freely. The place I go when I need to feel closer to myself. A living being that grows, nurtures, and tends. As willingly as I nurture it, I find it is the garden that’s really nurturing me.

Towards the end of winter, I found myself having anxiety which inhibited me from doing my self-care routine. I usually turn to yoga, cooking, friends, (and when Portland offers it, the sun), but nothing this time seemed to help. I felt uncomfortable with the idea that the routine of self-care I had fallen into was no longer my safety net, but the very thing that stimulated these bad feelings. I thought, “how should I be allowed to care for myself, when there are so many people who do not have the privilege to do the same?” Right as I found myself at the pit of these solemn feelings, I considered the winter. It was dark, and I had been removed from my garden for too long. I had spent the past weeks working diligently in school, driving home in rainy weather, and looking at screens much too often. I found myself separated from nature and the growth of new things.

As an empath, I feel deeply the events which damage the Earth, and the people who are affected by these tragedies. Perhaps what I needed was to put life back into the Earth, even if it meant planting a single flower. With winter at its end, I decided to do some planting in my yard. Though premature, as the last frost of the year had not passed, I needed to get my hands in the soil and come closer to nature, as it grounds, centers, and can help set perspective.

As I planted these flowers, I thought about the survivors from SARC I worked with that winter, as well as people around the world who had been affected by recent events. Though it was a small gesture, I felt that with the planting of those flowers, I put a little bit of beauty and hope back into the world. That for me, was the best self-care I had done. To know that it was not for me alone, but also for the Earth and the memory of the strong people I have the privilege to share it with.

This month, I will once again be expanding my garden with vegetables, fruits, and flowers. I love planting all veggies, but the most fun to harvest are carrots, potatoes, and tomatoes. The exuberance of flowers popping up from the ground always brings me joy and gives me courage to express myself. One thing I love most about gardening is seeing the process of seed to harvest. A cycle that has inspired me to project a similar pattern in my own life. To be open to change, seeing my goals all the way through, and taking the time for self-reflection. Finding that strength in cultivating myself to becoming closer to who I am, and in doing so, being able to advocate for others so they can do the same.

Spring is the season of rebirth. What I have learned from gardening is to take it as an opportunity to find what it is that makes me grow. I also learned through this experience that your self-care routine can change, and that is okay. We are all capable of allowing ourselves to be a seed, while also being the water to help ourselves, or someone else, grow. Finding the courage to dig our hands deep into our personal soil, and acknowledge our roots of strength to help us overcome our obstacles. This season, I encourage you to plant something. Be it a flower, veggie, fruit, or herb. You may be surprised to find what grows.

Photo credit: Eden Baron

Cooking Self Care Spotlight

Self-care looks different for everybody. Read our volunteer, Frankie’s, blog about cooking as self-care below!

Food is the universal language of love. Many people love to cook, and all people love to eat. Some are passionate bakers; some prefer to stick to the savory.

My first experience cooking came courtesy of my mother. My father and brother were three hundred miles away for the weekend, and it was just us girls. On weekends like this, we made simple food. Rotisserie chicken from the grocery store, farfalle noodles, and canned pesto sauce. I made the noodles while my mom picked the chicken clean. I wasn’t very sly when I pilfered the small pieces of succulent dark meat as she pulled them from the bones. These nights with my mom are the feeling I try to recreate when I cook. Time was suspended and the meal was always perfect.

I forgot about our special nights for years. When my partner and I moved into our very own house, he insisted on buying a new oven. With this purchase came a promise to myself: I will learn to cook. I didn’t have the talent of a great chef, but I could learn the techniques if I practiced. I would apply myself, hit the (cook) books, and I would be a Michelin star cook on a year.

That didn’t happen. However, now in year three, I can roast a very fine chicken. Along the way, I did surprise myself. I had grown to love cooking. It made me feel the way I did on those nights with my mother. I felt safe and warm, the way I felt curled up with my mom on the huge, blanket-covered couch at home.

Cooking made me feel capable. Never before had I had an urge to photograph and post food to my social media. Never before had I found beauty in vegetables, or observed the delicacy in garlic and sprigs of thyme. I had never felt the tragedy of throwing away sauce I had made with my home grown tomatoes. I am not ashamed to say that I shed a tear that day.

Cooking was always something others did for me. It was not something I aspired to learn one day, until we bought the oven. Now, coming home and preparing a painstaking meal is one of my favorite things. Sautéing onions until they are achingly silky is an empowering experience. Heating the pan, drizzling oil, and the decisive slicing of a knife into a carrot is an exercise in control. When I put all of the ingredients together in the right way, it creates something whole, new, and delicious. Cooking is a way to be completely alone, but still feel close to my family. The experience of making something that both fills my body and nourishes my soul is my way of caring for myself. It really helps that it tastes good, too.