Easing daily tension can be difficult, especially if your schedule never seems to slow down. Work deadlines keep crawling up your back. Mental focus begins to fade. Our bodies are equipped to handle the effects of stress—but only for so long. Burnout is inevitable if you cannot cope with prolonged stress.
The importance of self-care cannot be overstated. It’s imperative to maintain the health of your body, mind and soul every day. Self-care is the key to maintaining a healthy relationship with yourself. Here are several ways to emphasize self-care in your life while alleviating the negative effects of stress.
Practice Mindful Eating
During your next meal, pause for a moment and think about the food on your plate. How does it smell? What are you most excited to eat? Observe your food. Slow down and take the time to appreciate the smaller details of your meal: fragrance, textures, colors. All too often, there is a natural tendency to rush through lunch, for instance, and focus on the next work assignment.
Eating slowly can serve as a reminder to enjoy your food. Mindfulness is based on your experience of the moment— you’re not concerned about what’s next on the agenda. This practice can help you develop a healthier relationship with food, potentially leading to weight loss. Avoid distractions during your meal. Turn off the TV, put away your cellphone. Simply enjoy the act of eating.
Journal Your Emotions
Journaling can serve as an emotional release. This is one of the best ways to clear your mind and take note of your current feelings. What is causing you stress? What’s the state of your mental health? Write down your thoughts, both good and bad. Don’t limit yourself. Express your emotions without regard for judgement. Write about your struggles and successes. Enhance your self-awareness.
Taking the time to write about your thoughts can enhance your sense of well-being. Another benefit of journaling: it can reduce symptoms of depression or anxiety before an important event. A 2006 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association investigated patients struggling with a chronic illness. Researchers followed 112 patients with asthma and arthritis, asking them to write in a journal for 20 minutes, three days in a row, about an emotionally stressful situation or about their daily plans. The group who was asked to journal about an emotionally stressful situation showed a 50 percent improvement in their disease after four months.
Make Time for Movement
Our joints are designed to flex and extend. Our bodies thrive on movement. Engaging in a physical activity — whether that be dancing, cycling or gardening — proves to be incredibly beneficial for both the mind and body. Regular aerobic exercise can be exhilarating due to the production of endorphins, which serve as the body’s natural painkillers. What’s even better: you don’t need to burn hundreds of calories in one session to enjoy the benefits of exercise. A quick 20-minute walk around your neighborhood is enough to cleanse the mind and reduce stress.
Choose a physical activity you enjoy. Don’t force yourself to lift weights, for instance, if you have no interest in doing so. Exercise should be fun — it should not seem like a chore. Decide on a few goals that are relevant to your lifestyle. How many hours per week can you commit to exercising? What activities would you like to prioritize? What will help you remain accountable? Consistency is key here. Do not overexert yourself. Know your limits. Begin with a reasonable goal and track your progress over the next few months. Start slowly and gain momentum!
By Sam Horn, MS, CSCS, Community Wellness Coordinator at Valley Medical Center