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How Can We Nurture and Strengthen the Relationship We have With Ourselves? 

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Of the hundreds of relationships each of us maintains — with our kids, partners, parents, in-laws, siblings, co-workers, teachers, coaches, Facebook friends, crossing guards, postal workers, baristas, etc. — only one is so important and powerful that it directly impacts the health of every other aspect of our lives: the relationship we have with ourselves.

Honestly, I'm tired of the term "self-care." I think it's played out. I never need to hear that old adage, "You can't pour from an empty cup," ever again. And the oxygen mask metaphor? Please stop talking to me about oxygen masks. Please.

Here's the thing, though. However oversold these concepts are, we actually can't pour from an empty cup. We also can't help anyone else get enough oxygen if we're suffocating. And, if we want the relationships we have with other people to be positive and high-functioning, if we want any other aspect of our lives to be vibrant and robust, then we have to nurture our own health and well-being through ... yup, you guessed it, self-care.

Self-care may sound like an indulgence. It may even feel selfish. Who has time for such frivolity? Maybe you think you don't. But you know what else you don't have time for? Heart disease, depression and the flu. Which is exactly the kind of trouble we get into when we experience chronic psychological stress (like, for instance, the daily stress of juggling parenting and work).

In an article entitled, "How Stress Influences Disease: Study Reveals Inflammation as the Culprit," ScienceDaily reports that a Carnegie Mellon University research team showed that "the effects of psychological stress on the body's ability to regulate inflammation can promote the development and progression of disease."

How does self-care help mitigate psychological stress? According to Psychology Today, activities that calm your mind and body — breathing exercises, getting enough sleep, yoga — engage your parasympathetic nervous system. This is the part of your autonomic nervous system that decreases your heart rate, slows your breathing and reduces blood pressure. This relaxation response reduces stress, fear and anxiety. It also boosts your energy and strengthens your immune system.

So, starting this month, I encourage you to practice being your own Valentine. Give yourself the gift of self-compassion. Romance yourself with self-acceptance. Give time and attention to the most important relationship in your life — the one between you and you — and notice how every other part of your life begins to improve.

In this monthly column, comedian, writer and mom Autumn Spencer answers tricky parenting questions. Have a question for Autumn? Send it to ideas@kidsvt.com.

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