The end of the first semester has arrived, and the winter holidays are either in progress or fast approaching! This festive time of year can also be a rather “stress-tive” moment in our lives. There is a lot of professional and academic pressure at the end of the fall semester–grades to enter, finals, projects and papers due, data to analyze, goals to set for the spring. There’s social pressure too…gifts to buy, meals to cook, events to juggle, parties to attend, family gatherings. Just those “regular” stressors are enough to often cause exhaustion and burn-out. And for some folks, additional factors like Seasonal Depressive Disorder, grief, anxiety, and loneliness can create a particularly strong cocktail of holiday-associated negative feelings and depression. Though we hope that feelings of love and happiness permeate the holiday season, it’s important to remember that all kinds of complex feelings brought up at this time of year are valid and real.
Therefore, it’s critically important that we take care of ourselves, regardless of our personal, social, academic, or professional status. Ever seen this on an airplane safety card?
If the adult doesn’t put the oxygen mask on first, then they might pass out and be unable to help anyone else. It’s a beautiful example of how taking care of ourselves is a crucial piece of being able to take care of others in our lives. Almost every relationship has an aspect of care-taking, even the ones outside the usual associated with direct care-taking, like teaching or parenting. People in our lives often need us to show up in different ways, and if we don’t have enough self-care oxygen, it’s hard to do that. So put your own oxygen mask on! Here are some ways to do it!
THIRTY SECONDS TO THREE MINUTES
Take three deep, intentional, cleansing breaths. Take three more. Notice how the air moves through your nose and lungs. The breath is always there, and coming back to the breath is one of the most basic, essential self-care activities that is always available.
Notice feelings that are behind a stressed out, upset state of mind. Remember HALT–am I Hungry? Angry? Lonely? Tired? A combination? Take a moment to observe the feelings coloring the present experience. Where do I feel them in my body? How do I know I’m feeling __________? Even say them out loud: Wow, I’m really angry right now. I’m feeling sad and frustrated right now. As Dr. Dan Siegel says, name it to tame it! (Check out his website for LOTS of ideas for self-care!)
Stretch! When was the last time you moved your body? Stand up, reach for the sky, do some gentle forward bends, roll shoulders, massage out the neck.
Kristin Neff, that perpetual champion of self-compassion, suggests that we mammals are programmed to respond positively to nurturing touch. So clasp the hands together warmly, gently squeeze opposite upper arms, hug the knees to the chest sitting down or lying on the back. Get that mammalian comfort!
Take a walk, outside, no electronics. Notice all the sensory input–smells, sounds, physical sensations that come from being here now, outside. Keep breathing.
Take a warm shower!
Call someone who is a positive influence in your life, and express gratitude for them or for anything. Gratitude creates positive feelings.
Eat a mindful snack or meal. Do nothing but eat something delicious, slowly and intentionally. How does it smell? How does it look? What does it feel like in your mouth, between your teeth, on your tongue, as you swallow? How slowly can you eat each bite?
30-60 minutes and beyond…
Exercise! Yup. A brisk walk. A yoga class. A jog. A work-out video. Dancing. Moving the body in an intentional, nurturing, even vigorous (as possible and desired) way has been shown over and over to create and increase positive feelings in the brain.
Schedule something you’ve been meaning to do for your body–a massage, or a physical, or a dentist appointment. Our brains are part of our physical body, and so taking care of our body is taking care of our brain.
Try out a new – or revisit a favorite – creative activity, especially one that engages the hands. Knitting or playing an instrument, working with clay or play doh, painting, drawing, coloring, writing by hand–all of these and many others can help integrate the physical self and the brain, and create positive feelings. Art Works! Creativity is for everybody!
There are many resources for self care out there, almost as many as reasons to find your favorite self-care activities and start doing them right away. Take sweet care this holiday season, and keep your oxygen mask on…#SELfcare for the win! See you in 2017!