Double Down on Self-Care
Use the smell of your morning coffee or tea to remind you to take some deep breaths to start your day.
When there is global and national unrest, we all experience a nagging anxiety that just won’t seem to go away even when we are not consciously thinking about the conflicts around us. It’s important to recognize that stress so that you can take extra care. What happens when social stress abounds is that those emotions tend to bubble just under the surface and we expend significant energy trying to manage the worry we are feeling. Because we may be pushing it down, it can bubble over and result in an explosion. We can explode at our partner, or our children when one incident, even if small, pushes us over our boiling point. And we can’t know our exact boiling point threshold.
That’s why in times that are particularly stressful, it’s critical that we look for ways to take extra care to manage our stress. There are numerous small ways we can engage in daily self-care. Most of us know what those things are that we can do but it’s easy for us to brush them aside as unimportant. Be assured that now is the time to take those small extra steps to care for ourselves. We don’t want to have regrets later during this time of excess stress. See if you can’t just begin to notice tension in your body. And when you notice, pause and take some simple actions to reduce it. Here are some reminders of ways we can take care.
1. Breathe deeply.
How can you remind yourself to take ten deep breaths each day and solely focus on your breath during those moments? Put a sticky note on your computer. Wear a bracelet. I remind myself each morning with my hot cup of coffee. I love coffee so much that I know each morning, I’ll smell it before I drink it. With that smell, it’s my small reminder to breathe. I walk out of my front door and take ten deep inhales of fresh air. It takes a couple of minutes but serves to preserve my calm throughout the day.
2. Get outside.
This time of year – winter – it is so easy to burrow into our holes and not come out. Bundling up and walking out into a natural setting whether it’s a backyard or a nearby park among trees doesn’t have to take much time. But it does change our perspective. Researchers at Stanford University found that people who walked for 90 minutes in a natural area, as opposed to participants who walked in a high-traffic urban setting, showed decreased activity in a region of the brain associated with a key factor in depression. 1 The study proved that nature can have a direct impact on our ability to regulate our emotions.
3. Get active.
We know exercise has a significant impact on brain and body performance. Exercise helps the brain cope better with stress, according to research into the effect of exercise on neurochemicals involved in the body’s stress response. “Preliminary evidence suggests that physically active people have lower rates of anxiety and depression than sedentary people.” 2 Kids can be a terrific motivator. Think together of ideas that will get you moving together. Tag? Hide and seek? Biking? A walk around the block?
4. Express gratitude.
“Expressing gratitude may be one of the simplest ways to feel better,” begins Harvard Medical School’s Mental Health Letter. 3 Psychologists have done research on gratefulness and found that it increases people’s health, sense of well-being and their ability to get more and better sleep at night. Do you have a home, a job, a healthy family? Simply articulating to others or writing down what you are grateful for can improve your sense of well-being. Find a daily way to express gratitude for the little things in life.
5. Gain positive, expanding perspectives.
If you are watching the news regularly, you are certainly getting your daily dose of anger, fear, and stress. Consider balancing those experiences with a dose of positivity. Watch a short video of an act of kindness. Look at artwork that inspires. View images or videos of natural beauty. Listen to calming, uplifting music. Watch videos or read about others’ acts of kindness and compassion in other cultures to expand your empathy.
6. Plan for heated emotions.
If you haven’t yet talked as a family about your Emotional Safety Plan, do it now. What will you say when you feel overcome with anger or fear? What will you do to calm down? Take these critical measures to plan ahead and keep your family safe.
If you are a parent change maker and believe, as I do, that your role as a parent can change the world, then consider taking these small steps to ensure that you are well-equipped to play your role to the best of your abilities.
If you want to take your self-care a step further, check out these excellent exercises with self-compassion expert, Dr. Kristin Neff.
1. Hamilton, J.P., & Hahn, K. (2017). Nature Experience Reduces Rumination and Subgenual Prefrontal Cortex Activation. Laureate Institute for Brain Research, Stanford University.
2. American Psychological Association. (2017). Exercise Fuels the Brain’s Stress Buffers. Retrieved on January 31, 2017 at
3. Harvard Medical School. (2016). In Praise of Gratitude. Harvard Mental Health Letter, Retrieved on January 31, 2017 at http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/in-praise-of-gratitude