What does it mean to cultivate self-love and how can it affect cancer survivors and caregivers? We talked to Angela Buttimer, MS, NCC, RYT, LPC, a facilitator at Thomas F. Chapman Family Cancer Wellness at Piedmont, to learn more.
Self-love and the immune system
"Practicing self-love is important for both cancer patients and caregivers," says Buttimer. "In our Western culture, we sometimes look at self-love as indulgent, but we know from research in integrative medicine that our bodies respond to our thoughts, beliefs and emotions. When we are sending loving energy from our hearts and minds through our bodies, our immune system and nervous system respond positively."
What does it mean to cultivate self-love?
Self-love is an often-misunderstood topic, says Buttimer.
"Self-love is not self-indulgent. It's the core of our health. I always say, 'Self-care is the new healthcare,'" she explains. "It is synonymous with self-care and investing in ourselves."
Being supportive, rather than critical, of yourself
Honoring your emotions, both positive and negative
How you explain yourself
How you talk to yourself
How you think about yourself
Not pushing past your point of fatigue
Physical activities that are helpful, not harmful
Setting limits and boundaries
Taking time to rest
Self-love is not selfish
If the concept of self-love is hard to grasp, consider that taking care of yourself allows you to take better care of others.
"For some people, practicing self-love may feel selfish initially. However, if we aren't taking care of ourselves, it's harder to take care of others," says Buttimer. "It's like when you're on an airplane and they tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others. When we invest in our health and wellbeing, it is much better for those around us and ourselves."
Self-love and cancer treatment
Self-love is crucial during cancer treatment, Buttimer says.
"When you are diagnosed with cancer, it is a time that calls for radical self-love, care and honor," she explains. "Your body is giving you a signal that you need to give it more attention than usual. Stress is linked to the hormone cortisol, which is linked to disease. As we say at Cancer Wellness, 'It's not worth the cortisol!'"
Self-love for cancer caregivers
Self-love is also important for caregivers, who are often so involved in caring for the patient, they forget to care for themselves.
"It's not just the individual who gets a cancer diagnosis, it's the whole family," she says. "Caregivers are the least likely to practice self-care because they are so focused on the patient. The same philosophy applies here: If a caregiver falls apart, what happens to the care they're giving the patient?"
Take it one day at a time
Sometimes in the midst of chemotherapy and radiation, people are not motivated to do the things they used to enjoy.
"It's okay to take a break and get back to the things that bring you joy when you feel well enough again," says Buttimer. "It's about adjusting to a new normal after your diagnosis. Honor your new normal. If you love hiking, it's okay to do a shorter hike until you feel well enough to do your usual hike again. Part of self-love is practicing kindness toward yourself and adjusting to your present day experience."