With the holiday season upon us, it’s important to recognize when we need a break before we boil over. This time of year is usually stress inducing, not to mention everything going on right now (I’m looking at you, COVID-19), especially with disruptions to our yearly traditions. Stress can wreak havoc on our health-mental, physical, and emotional. With this in mind, I’m calling for December to be “Self-Care December”. Remember, when you notice you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a self-care timeout!
Stress Relief-Short Term
These are ideas for lowering stress right now, like when you’re about to have a job interview or if you’re feeling completely overwhelmed. The best type of ideas are ones that can: be done anywhere, provide instant relief, and are relatively quick. Remember, these are just ideas, it’s up to you to find what works best.
- Guided imagery
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Breathing exercises
- Take a walk
- If you’re at home or a comfortable space:
- Get a hug from someone you care about
- Try aromatherapy
- Get creative with an art project
Stress Relief-Long Term
Practicing long term stress relief habits can help encourage resilience to stress and improve overall wellness.
- Make time for relaxing activities and hobbies like gardening or knitting.
- Work on your self-talk! The way we talk to ourselves matters. Negative self-talk re-enforces stress and negativity. The first step is to just notice negative self-talk. Then we can work on stopping it. Finally, we can try to use more positive self-talk.
- Practice Yoga
- Express gratitude-things you are thankful for like having a supportive family or a sunny day. Some people create a gratitude journal. Looking back at things you are grateful for can help when you’re having a bad day.
- Get regular physical activity doing something you enjoy and that makes your mind and body feel better after. If you don’t like going to the gym, find something else you do like!
- Have a social support system.
- Remove things that add to your stress and say no to new engagements if they will stress you out.
Stress relief activities are great tools but they won’t help long term if you aren’t taking care of yourself. Use self-care to be proactive in your health.
What is Self-Care?
Self–care is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health. Although it can be simple, most of us don’t take the time to take care of ourselves.
Types of Self-Care
We have to take care of our bodies to keep it running smoothly, just like changing oil in our vehicles. When we take time to care for our bodies we will think more clearly and feel better. Physical self-care includes how we fuel our bodies, how we sleep, how much activity we get, and how we are taking care of our physical needs. Going to appointments and taking medications as prescribed are all part of physical self-care. Here are some areas to explore to improve your physical self-care:
- What do your sleep patterns look like?
- How are you fueling your body? Are you fueling enough? Are certain foods making your body feel sluggish?
- How are you moving your body? Do you enjoy this type of movement? Does your body and mind feel better after this type of movement?
Emotional self-care activities will help you to recognize, validate, and express your feelings on a regular basis. Ideas can include:
- Talking to someone close to you
- Enjoying an activity that helps you process your emotions
Here are some areas to consider when choosing emotional self-care activities:
- What ways do you process your emotions currently? Is this working well for you? Are there any other ways you could look into?
- Do the activities you include in your life help you feel recharged? If not, what are some activities that may help?
It’s hard to keep up with making time for friends and family when life is busy or we’re staying home to keep ourselves and others safe. Working on building our relationships can help our social self-care. Here are some areas to explore:
- How are you getting time with your close connections (in person or via technology)? Is this amount of time right for you? Do you need more time or less time connecting with others?
- What are you doing to continue building your relationships with your friends and family?
Things and information that you expose yourself to and the way you think about things influence our psychological well-being. Mental self-care activities include things that help keep your mind sharp like puzzles, learning about new things that interest you, reading books, or watching movies that inspire you.
Mental self-care also includes doing things that keep your mind healthy like practicing acceptance or compassion to help with a more positive inner dialogue.
Here are some areas to explore for mental self-care:
- Do you have any activities that mentally stimulate you? If not, what might be a good idea? If you do, are you making enough time for them?
- Do you notice your inner dialogue? Is it healthy? What could you do to improve it?]
We all have different religious or spiritual beliefs and research shoes that including these beliefs is generally more healthy. Working on your spirit does not have to include religion though. Spiritual self-care activities are those that will help you have a better sense of meaning or connection to the universe. Activities could include:
- Attending religious or spiritual services
Here are some areas to explore when thinking about spiritual self-care:
- Do you consider questions about your life and experience? What questions are they? Are they meaningful?
- What spiritual activities do you engage in, if any? Do you enjoy them? Are they fulfilling? If you don’t, what activities might you enjoy or find helpful?
Make A Plan
Everyone’s self-care plans will be different, and will likely change over time. It is up to us to decide which areas we may need to spend more or less time and effort on and decide which activities we would like to try. For example, someone that is working may not need to make as much effort to be social as someone that is not currently working. Not all activities will work for everyone. Try different ones until you find the right fit. Notice which areas change over time and realize when you may need to up your self-care game in that area. Make sure to put aside the right amount of time for self-care activities. Remember, self-care is most important when we feel like we don’t have enough time, be sure to make it a priority. Even spending a few minutes out of your day on a short self-care activity can make a huge difference. After a while it may even become part of your routine and you’ll realize how much you were missing self-care.