When Self Care makes it to the cover of the New York Times magazine, you know it’s serious. Self care isn’t just bath bombs and stylized photos of gals having tea in bed, it’s crucial and daily practices we all need to keep from losing our shit. Or, to put it more politely, to show up as our best selves. Self care is also scientifically proven to boost our immune systems, reduce stress, and improve our moods.
Our best selves will vary from day to day and year to year. Many of us are dealing with chronic stress and fatigue from the uncertainty this wild year has brought, and so self care has become more important than ever. It’s what keeps our cups full.
When we neglect self care, we’re quicker to burnout, send shitty text messages, and we might feel like we need a nap all the time. We might become irritable or get lost in a sea of stress reading never-ending doom-and-gloom news stories. We might polish off a bottle of wine or search for other quick fixes that leave us feeling worse off later.
Prioritizing our self care is a way to take a step back, turn off the noise, and make life a little easier, a little calmer, and a little more enjoyable for ourselves. If that sounds frivolous and unnecessary, think again.
Self care is an effective way to help us manage stress. Too much prolonged stress can actually weaken our immune systems. It can also cause high blood pressure and lead to depression and anxiety, so don’t laugh off self care as a cute Instagram hashtag! It’s the real deal in supporting our mental and physical health, and generally living well, and something you can often do for free that will greatly improve your life.
Here are my top self care recommendations to get you through 2020
Spend Time In Nature
With many businesses and social institutions closed, and with many of us spending more time at home than ever, it’s more important than ever to get out of the house and get into nature.
Time spent in nature is proven to help reduce stress and anxiety, and can even boost serotonin production (a happiness chemical) in our brains.
If you can get to a panoramic, sweeping view, even better, as Andrew D. Huberman, an American Neuroscientist says when we are able to scan a horizon as opposed to focusing on a small area (like our phones) we are actually more calm.
Have you heard of “forest bathing”? There’s scientific evidence that spending time in a forest can “reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and anger; strengthen the immune system; improve cardiovascular and metabolic health; and boost overall well-being.“
Can’t get to a state park or a beach? A soccer field, park, or yard could provide the same benefits. Just make sure the green space you choose is not difficult to get to, is clean, and well lit. Consider visiting a public garden, garden center, or nursery as well.
Seriously, laughter relieves stress, helps us release physical tension, improves our immune system and boosts our mood. What’s not to love? Watch some stand-up comedy, read The Onion, listen to comedy podcasts (I love Whitney Cummings Good For You) hang out with your funny friends, crack jokes, watch funny YouTube accounts, enjoy memes and gifs, and get deeply acquainted with the dark side of your sense of humor. It’s good for you.
The last place you need to be stressed out is at home, especially since we are all spending more time there these days. Your home should feel like your sanctuary, and even if you have to share it with people, you can find ways to create your own little corner of peace away from it all.
Some scientifically backed ways to make your home more calming are: decluttering, and keeping to a regular cleaning schedule, (disorganized homes cause procrastination and can lead to increased stress, perhaps leading to putting off cleaning further and getting more stressed about it?) Utilize your outdoor space, and natural light. Keep walls bright and neutral, and incorporate scent (candles, essential oils, dried flowers) that smell great to you.
As I write this, my phone is in a box tucked away on the top shelf of my closet. You gotta do what you gotta do!
It’s important to stay informed, but the news makes money by creating dramatic, clickable headlines that only tell one part of a big story and essentially freaking us out so we click and they get paid. So if you’re constantly reading the news and stressing out, it’s essentially a form of unnecessary self harm.
Beyond just the endless news cycle, the blue light from screens, and hyper-awareness we experience being always available to respond to texts and emails actually increases our cortisol production, which causes stress in the body.
Taking time to unplug (especially in the hours before sleep) can actually lead to better sleep quality, deeper connections, and a heightened awareness of the present moment, among other benefits.
Time With Loved Ones
Spend time with people face-to-face. You can meet up outdoors, stay six feet apart, wash your hands, and all that good stuff. Make plans to see your friends, go for walks, have a picnic, spend time in nature, go to the beach. See the people you love face to face.
According to Stanford University, people who feel more connected to others have improved immune functioning, better disease recovery rates, and can actually live longer.
When you can’t meet face-to-face, utilize apps like FaceTime or Hangouts and use your phone to connect with people you love. Even a call or a text message is better than nothing if you can’t meet face to face. Social distancing does not mean you have to socially isolate.
Yes, saying no can be a form of self care. We all want to extend a hand and help when we can, but sometimes over-giving when we have too much on our plates actually builds resentments, and that’s not a pretty look on anyone.
Set healthy boundaries with the people in your life, and feel empowered to say no to the things that drain you.
I know you’ve heard it before, but if you’re having trouble sleeping at night, here are some things to consider:
Stop drinking caffeine after 12PM, or cut it out all together.
Eat your last meal a few hours before bed, as digestion can disturb our sleep.
Put your phone away an hour before bed, because the blue light our screens give off send a signal to our brain that it’s midday. Keep your phone in another room entirely, and on silent through the night. Buy an old fashioned alarm clock.
Limit alcohol, or if you do partake, stop drinking a couple of hours before bed.
If your brain is racing before bed, try some breathing exercises. You can inhale through your nose for five counts, hold for five, then exhale through your mouth for five, and repeat. You can also inhale through your nose, inhale a little deeper through your nose, then exhale through your mouth and repeat. This is the new and improved version of counting sheep.
You’ve Got To Move
It doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to last for an hour. It doesn’t have to be with a personal trainer. It doesn’t need to give you a six pack to be beneficial. You can jump around in your living room, dance as you’re getting ready, walk to the store, walk around the block, do some push ups, go for a hike, roller skate, or watch one of the millions of free YouTube videos and get in a quick workout.
Exercise is free medicine that helps regulate our hormones, boosts our immune system, improves our mood and our sleep, and helps us stay mobile as we age. Plus, it’s free, and you can do it almost anywhere, so just do it already.
You Are What You Eat
According to Harvard Health Publishing, sugar, processed foods, and caffeine can actually increase symptoms of anxiety. So while it may be tempting to stress-eat a bag of candy and some cheese puffs, these foods can actually do the reverse. Try to limit these foods, or at the very least, avoid using them as stress- relief, as they’ll often do the opposite.
We Can Do Hard Things
So, my dears, there you have it. You don’t have to crawl down the doomsday hole, at least not all day, every day. Take a peak and see what’s happening down there if you must, but walk around the hole. Don’t fall in. If you do find yourself down there, climb out. Practice self care. Make it a part of your daily routine. Notice how you feel. Keep going. If you slip up, just keep trying. You’ve got this.