Are you “burning the candle at both ends,” and finding it hard to put your needs first?
In the fast-paced world we live in today, the act of self-care is often seen as selfish or overindulgent but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, focusing on your mental and emotional stability makes you better equipped to meet not just your needs but the needs of others.
Let’s explore six self-care strategies you can implement into your routine to reduce stress and improve your overall well-being.
Connect with Nature
Our increasing reliance on technology means more time spent indoors — and even less time outdoors — despite what current research shows nature can do for our mental health.
According to UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Magazine, over 100 studies show that being in nature, or viewing nature in videos and paintings, affects our brains and bodies positively; it reduces feelings of stress, lowers cortisol levels, and calms the nervous system. Nature can also trigger emotions that make us feel awe-inspired, joy, and gratitude which isn’t surprising due to the mind-body connection.
So, whether it’s to enjoy the sun on your face or clear your head, make getting into nature and marveling at its beauty a non-negotiable in your self-care routine.
Although meditation has been used as a spiritual practice for thousands of years, evidence supports mindfulness meditation as a means to manage stress and improve well-being.
Research shows the benefits of mindfulness-based therapy steam from its ability to reduce the body’s stress response which in turn improves physical health as chronic stress:
- Weakens the immune system
- Releases cytokines, i.e., inflammatory chemicals
- Disrupts sleep and promotes anxiety and depression
Mindfulness meditation typically involves focusing your attention on your thoughts and feelings and letting them go instead of reacting. To practice, find a quiet space to sit, set a timer for five to 10 minutes, focus on your breath, and be kind to your wandering mind.
Listen to Relaxing Music
While upbeat music gives you energy, slow music has the opposite effect in that it quiets your mind, relaxes your muscles, and releases stress from your body.
According to Standford University, “because listening to music changes brain functioning to the same extent as medication, music is an easy and accessible way for almost everyone to reduce stress.”
To destress after a long day, consider listening to calming music while you cook, take a bath, or as you’re falling asleep.
Write Daily Gratitude
Writing daily gratitudes is a must-have on your self-care checklist as creating a habit of noticing the positive things in your life helps you cope with stress and improve your emotional well-being.
Practicing gratitude isn’t just for the big moments; on the contrary, it’s important to reflect on the small things that we can be grateful for, too. This can include anything from enjoying your favorite dessert to snagging the perfect parking spot.
Whether it’s alongside your morning cup of coffee or at the end of your workday, choose a time in your routine to find gratitude daily. Moreover, there’s no wrong way to keep a gratitude journal. Simply keep a physical record of your gratitude is and write down whatever comes to mind. The goal is to remember a good experience, person, or thing from your day and to enjoy the emotions that come with it.
Verbalize Your Emotions
When stress is all-consuming, it can be isolating, and relationships may fracture as a result. Instead of bottling up your emotions, consider adding daily check-ins with a family member or loved one to your self-care checklist. Not only will this reduce stress, but it will also reduce physical and emotional distress.
Moreover, research shows verbalizing our pain and frustrations may be therapeutic as it reduces activity in the amygdala — the place the brain triggers the fight-or-flight response — making us less reactive and more mindfully aware.
Move Your Body
The scientific evidence is clear — physical activity improves how our bodies respond to stress.
Exercise affects neurotransmitters in the brain due to the changes in hormones, such as dopamine and serotonin, which positively affect behavior and mood. For example, consistent research shows that those who exercise for 20 to 30 minutes regularly experience a calming effect that can last several hours.
While you may not always have the time, there are several ways to implement more exercise into your routine, and it doesn’t have to be strenuous to be effective. Whether it’s simply taking a walk on your lunch break, joining a yoga class, or cycling after work, it’s important to find an exercise you enjoy as you’ll be more likely to stick to it. Just focus on moving your body to get those endorphins flowing.