Self-care is a concept that has been gaining a lot of buzz lately, but it’s really nothing new. Self-care is any activity that we do intentionally in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health. But in today’s busy world, it’s a practice that’s easier said than done. We don’t like to take time out of our day to stop and spend a little time focusing on our needs, and listening to our body.
We all have have bad days. Days where nothing seems to go our way. You’re tired, miserable, cranky… and sometimes it can be hard to let go of the negative feelings. But we don’t have to let them get the better of us. In our society which is so focused on being busy and productive, it can feel impossible to take a half an hour for ourselves. However, taking just a half an hour to destress and cope with our aggravations or disappointments can have a beneficial, long-term effect.
According to the American Psychological Association, 75% of adults reported experiencing moderate to high levels of stress in the past month and nearly half reported that their stress has increased in the past year. In this article we’ll cover how stress effects us and learn a simple five step self-care plan to cope with daily stress.
How stress effects our body
Not only do many Americans feel stressed, but stress can have detrimental affects on our health. Speaking with the American Heart Association, Ernesto L. Schiffrin, M.D., Ph.D., said, “When stress is excessive, it can contribute to everything from high blood pressure… to asthma to ulcers to irritable bowel syndrome.” Yikes! But that’s not all. Stress can also led to weight gain. Stress causes insulin levels to rise, which leads to a decrease in fat oxidation. Both of these result in increased fat storage, according to Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, a professor of psychiatry at Ohio State University College of Medicine in Columbus, Ohio. Stress can also lead to a weakened immune system, slower healing, sleep dysfunction, and more!
How stress effects our mind
Stress has direct effects on our mood which can cause irritability, sleep disruption and cognitive changes such as impaired concentration. To make matters worse, when we are stressed, we are less likely to engage in healthy coping mechanisms. Healthy coping mechanisms such as eating nutritious meals, going for a walk, spending time with loved ones, all of which are actions which help to keep our mood elevated. How many times have you been stressed and instead of dealing with it just hunkered down, forced yourself to work, or ordered an unhealthy dinner? It’s something we all do. However these decisions, which often make us feel better temporarily, can sometimes prolong our negative mood and create a vicious cycle.
The longer we avoid taking a break to do something good for ourselves, the longer we feel stressed. Sustained or chronic stress, leads to elevated hormones such as cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone,” and reduced serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain, like dopamine, which has been linked to depression.
Our Five Step Self-Care Action Plan
Ok, so now that you’re stressed about how bad stress is, what to do?! Having a self-care plan can be a great way to combat stress. Think of it as your “emergency plan”, when you’re having a bad day. For best results though, this half an hour plan can be done daily, especially at the end of the day. This plan doesn’t just promote self-care and giving yourself a break, it also promotes awareness. By meditating and journaling, you create a little more, and very much needed space in your busy brain. By taking a step back, and looking at your feelings and your experience, you can become a little more aware of how your daily activities effect you, and come up with ways to resolve conflicts or even just realize what was good about your day, and what you’re grateful for.
Step One: Brew a cup of herbal tea
Brewing a cup of herbal tea is our first step to our self-care plan. Peppermint, chamomile, kava, passionflower, or valerian root are all helpful herbs that can help reduce stress.
Step Two: Light Some Candles
While there aren’t a lot of scientific studies based around candles and stress relief, there is something quite soothing about candlelight. I usually prefer scents like lavender or woody scents when I’m trying to relax.
Step Three: Put on Some Relaxing Music
Playing relaxing music or ambient sounds like rainfall or ocean waves, can in fact reduce stress. Music is a great way to set the tone (no pun intended) that this self-care time is for relaxation and reflection.
Step Four: Journal for 10 Minutes
Multiple studies have found that journaling can help you manage stress and improve your mental health. Simply taking 10 minutes to write about your day, can help you to get a little clarity about what’s upsetting you and how to resolve issues you’re facing. If you’re stuck on what to write, start with writing down three things you are grateful for today.
Step Five: Meditate for Five Minutes
There is no other item on this list that is more researched and more effective than meditation. There are literally hundreds of studies out there about the effectiveness of mindfulness based stress reduction. You don’t have to have a guru or go to a class to get started with meditation. Just set a timer for 5 minutes and sit or lay down in a comfortable position. Close your eyes and focus on your breath. That’s it! If thoughts come up just be gentle with yourself. Acknowledge the thought and refocus on your breath. It’s a practice – so don’t expect to be perfect on your first try! Spending some time to clear your thoughts and be aware of your body and breath is enough.
Make it a practice
Now that you have a five step list for self-care, use it! As we mentioned before, this practice works best if it’s a daily or weekly practice. Taking time out of your day to take care of yourself is very important, and although it may seem selfish, it’s not! Taking care of yourself means you are in a better place to take care of others. Staying healthy, mentally and emotionally, is just as important as eating a balanced diet and exercising.