We are a mere week into the New Year, and I would assume most of us are back at work and in the midst of our daily routine. As we take steps towards our 2018 resolutions, we should not forget about ourselves. Self-care is an essential part of our wellbeing, not only to help us stay healthy, but also to help us stay calm and balanced.
Stress is inescapable, and thus finding ways to manage it and reduce it is vital to ensuring we have long and healthy lives. I have written about the damage stress can create, so I won’t get into it here. Instead, I’ll provide 5 quick and effective ways we can use to better care for ourselves.
Notice What Is Going On in Our Bodies
Before I start I want to clarify that it is important we spend time figuring out what we most enjoy and will have the most positive impact. Our bodies are the biggest indicators for what we need to do to take care of ourselves. They absorb stress, and act out to alert us to what we need to do to bring comfort and relief.
For me, stress shows itself through muscle tension and aches. Usually when I am in the thick of it, I am barely aware of how much tension I carry, but as soon as I take a rest or a break, the muscles in my neck, shoulders, and upper back go stiff. I probably tense my muscles for weeks, before I feel any pain.
And this is the case with most of us. We carry stress without noticing it, and only start to pay attention when our bodies want us to do something about it. Our bodies suppress pain during the fight or flight response induced by stress, and likely released enkephalins, which turn off pain signals. Once our bodies relax, enkephalins no longer suppress pain, and we become acutely aware of it (Marieb & Hoehn, 2013).
Thus, in taking care of myself I focus on ways to reduce muscular tension. Many people react in the same way, so most of what I provide here are ways I have found to be effective to reduce this tension. But, you may find that your body reacts differently, and thus may need to find other ways to address the effects stress causes in your body. Pay attention and take care of yourself accordingly.
5 Ways to Take Care for Ourselves
1. Hot baths
Hot baths help me release muscle tension as well as quiet my mind. Heat from the water increases blood flow to the tired and tight muscles, thus delivering more oxygen and nutrients, and helping them heal faster. I put a cup of Epsom salts in the bath, and about 10 drops of a deeply relaxing essential oil blend containing vetivert, chamomile, and sandalwood. They help me fall asleep more easily. Sitting in the bath for just 15-minutes can be rejuvenating to the body and soul.
I had practiced yoga for a long time, but when things get busy and hectic, my yoga routine is one of the first things I toss from my daily schedule. I don’t feel that I can add a 60-minute or 90-minute routine to my already congested day. Yet, movement is essential for reducing stress and muscular tension. It keeps our circulation going, and increases focus and productivity. So, instead of a long routine, I try a 15 or 20-minute sequence. Usually six rounds of simple sun salutations (Surya Namaskar A sequence) does the trick. My body feels more flexible and lets go of some of the tension.
Meditation is a way for us to be mindful and live in the moment, rather than focus on the past or the present. But, meditation is not for everyone. And, especially when things are stressful, it can be hard to find time to meditate, even if only for 2 minutes. Thus, we can find moments of mindfulness in any daily activity. For instance, when I am folding laundry, I think only of the clothing in front of me. I push away thoughts of what I need to do that day or what I didn’t do the previous day. Instead, I focus on folding. We don’t have to take any time out to add moments of mindfulness, but add mindfulness to our activities. In the end, I feel more focused and productive, and have restful nights.
4. Go Outdoors
It is winter where I live, and we had a snow fall not too long ago. Despite the cold, it feels great to be outdoors. Our skins take in Vitamin D from the sun, we breathe fresh air, and that helps us feel healthy and relaxed. Sometimes all I do is go for 10-minute walk around the neighborhood, but those 10-minutes can be rejuvenating. So it does not have to be long, but breathing fresh air is inspiring and grounding.
5. Eat Something Fresh
Eating something that comes from nature can be deeply nourishing, not just for our bodies but also for our souls. It is hard to do this, because particularly during times of stress we tend to turn to fatty, sugary, and processed foods. But, at the same time, there is nothing as refreshing as biting into a fresh and juicy apple, and there are plenty of them where I live in Washington. It makes us feel good about ourselves, increases our energy levels, and improves our digestion.
It can be hard to incorporate wellness practices and turn them into daily habits to help us manage stress and help us take better care of ourselves. But these practices can be quick and effective, and take as little as 2 minutes or up to 15 minutes a day. Regardless of the time we decide to dedicate to self-care, these practices may prove to be well worth our while.
Marieb, E.T., & Hoehn, K. (2013). Human Anatomy & Physiology (9th ed.). Glenview, IL: Pearson Education.