While stress is a hot topic all year, the holidays and the start of a new year bring a heightened awareness to the topic. Even as we wind down from the season, self-care takes a back seat to the financial, social, energetic, physical and emotional demands that come up. There are ways we can (truly!) make this, or any, time of the year a special one.
1. Commit. Make a commitment to connect with yourself daily. This time, as short as it may be, (even 1 minute can make a difference!), can shift the course of a day. Feel into your body, notice sensations and emotions that might be coming up, and be present to them like you would for a child. And if you forget one day, be gentle with yourself! Noticing is the first step in shifting, and it takes several redirects to make a new habit stick. Knowing you’re committed to yourself lays the groundwork for making a change.
2. Reframe. Reframing is an effective way to help shift your state of mind around any event. Next time you catch yourself saying “now I have to….” [fill in the blank with the next obligation], try “now I get to….” It’s a subtle shift that makes all the difference. With one word, you’ve changed the attitude around your obligations towards one of gratitude. Now you get to go to that party or pick something special out for a loved one or try a new exercise routine. This begets more thoughts of gratitude – how amazing is it that you have someone to shop for, or friends to go see or a body that moves?
3. Care. While we’re thinking of everyone else, it’s easy to lose ourselves in the chaos. Your body is your first and oldest friend and your vehicle for all these experiences. In whatever way you can, support it – have an extra glass of water (especially first thing in the morning), add some greens to your plate, say no when you need to. Whether it’s a short walk outside, sitting in the silence of your car a few minutes extra before you hop out to run your next errand, or truly savoring your morning coffee, small moments of connection with yourself can keep you grounded.
- Movement. A quick burst workout like high intensity interval training or Tabata, can do wonders for moving any stress-making energy and helping to soothe your nerves.
- Meditation apps and recordings. The Calm and Headspace apps make a guided meditation or mindfulness moment available at your fingertips.
- Emotional Freedom Technique, a.k.a. Tapping, is a phenomenal mind-body tool to help shift unwanted emotional energy. The Tapping Solution (website and book) is a great resource to learn more.
- Visualization. Have an event coming up that you’re not looking forward to no matter how much you get to? Taking a few moments each day to visualize the best version of events you can picture, with feeling, can go a long way. See the event going as joyously as you can imagine while feeling the joy, gratitude, peace, or whatever experience you want to have. This generates a memory in your brain so when you encounter the actual event, you and your body are prepared to experience your vision! Know this works just as effectively in reverse and without effort, so if you’re picturing everything that can go wrong, channel that energy into what you wish to see.
4. Plan. With social events and cozy days inside that are sure to provide goodies that aren’t likely on your regularly scheduled diet plan, it’s helpful to look at your calendar ahead of time. This can help you stay on track in between and fully enjoy your events without worrying about what you’re eating. Food is part of our social culture and enjoying it is part of the fun, so know when you plan to indulge so you can more easily stick to your normal routine leading up to it without feeling like you’re missing out.
5. Sleep. Doing any of the above can help mitigate stress, which ultimately can lead to increased immunity and improved sleep quality. Sleep is a crucial part of self-care (and sanity), and small things like eating a diet rich in whole foods, a daily mindfulness practice, cultivating gratitude, and moving your body can lead to deeper, more restorative sleep, which can lead to reduced cortisol levels and a better outlook. If you’re still struggling, consider some tools to take your sleep to the next level.
- Sleep meditations. The Sleep Guys, the Calm app, and Headspace all have free resources to guide you into a deeper sleep.
- Supplements. Magnesium can be a game changer when it comes to sleep quality. Look for magnesium in its citrate or glycinate forms for best results. Be sure to talk with your doctor before starting new supplements.
- Epsom salt baths. Getting away from screens, warming your body temperature then letting it drop (as you exit the tub), and the muscle relaxing effects of the Epsom salts all set you up for a deeper rest.
Dr. Kate Zachau is an osteopathic medical physician who is board certified in Family Medicine. She practices family medicine, primary care and functional medicine at Collaborative Natural Health Partners in Manchester, where she works with a team of osteopathic and naturopathic physicians specializing in integrative approaches to wellness. Collaborative Natural Health Partners, Manchester, West Hartford, and Stonington. (860) 533-0179.