Although it may seem counterintuitive, Christine Carter, PhD, a sociologist and senior fellow at the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California in Berkeley, explains that self-care is not selfish. She says that focusing on what makes us feel nourished and what gives us meaning is part of easing feelings of stress and anxiety and giving us a more solid foundation.
It has been over a year and a half since the COVID-19 pandemic started and it is clear that it has changed our lives forever. Things we do every day, like work, recreation, and socializing, are all different now. This new reality creates challenges for everyone.
According to Carter, it is more important than ever to take care of our emotional health and well-being by practicing self-care.
Need some self-care inspiration?
Below are a few self-care tips to help with stress and resilience.
- Prioritize Sleep — Your Mood and Immune System Are Counting on It
When it comes to taking care of your health and well-being, sleep is pretty much always part of the answer. Getting enough good-quality sleep keeps your immune system running at its best to fight off infections, like the one caused by the new coronavirus. Indeed: There are parts of the body’s immune response that happen only during sleep. Scientists know sleep is also one of the top ways we can help keep stress in check, as sleep deprivation can make us more sensitive to the effects of stress, ramping up our reactions (or overreactions). Finally, the brain needs sleep to function; without it, you’ll be less patient and focused, make poor decisions, and be more moody, irritable, and emotional.
- Know Your Personal Signs of Stress
Ackrill says that micro habits are small changes that you can make in order to prevent burnout. She gives the example of taking a few moments to yourself in order to relax and recharge when you start to feel overwhelmed.
She says that if you’re starting to withdraw from friends, sitting in traffic swearing, or getting more headaches and stomachaches, you’re probably overwhelmed. She says that everyone has an “emoji” key that tells them when they’re overwhelmed and that when you feel the need to text that emoji to everyone on your list, you should ask yourself what you need. Maybe you just need to take a short walk.
- Work. It. Out.
If you are spending more time at home, that does not mean you have to become a couch potato. Staying active will keep your body healthy and lower your risk of developing chronic health issues or acute illnesses like COVID-19. Exercise releases endorphins, which make you feel good, and also sharpen your focus, and aid in sleep. Staying physically active also lessens the risk of mood disorders, increases your energy, and improves your mood overall.
- Test-Drive a Workout You’ve Never Done Before
Kourtney Thomas, a strength and conditioning trainer from St. Louis, says that people tend to stick to what they know when it comes to fitness. However, she suggests that this might be the perfect time to try something new from the comfort of your home. There are many benefits to joining a new online class, and you may feel less awkward or like a newbie, if you do it from home. Some options to consider are Zumba, boxing, or dance workouts. You can also download apps that have a range of options, like Openfit or Sworkit.
- Downward Dog Like You Mean It
Would you like to try practicing yoga? Yoga has many benefits for your health, including reducing stress, improving flexibility, and increasing strength. Yoga could be especially helpful for coping with difficult times because it incorporates movement and breathing. These two elements can have a positive impact on the body’s stress response.
- Skip, Jump, Hop, and Get Silly
If an activity makes you feel happy and silly, it is likely to be a mood booster. According to Loretta Graziano Breuning, author of “Habits of a Happy Brain,” play can cause the release of positive neurochemicals such as serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine. Even just a minute of childlike activity can lead to a surge of these happy chemicals, especially if you are feeling stressed.
- Take a Forest Bath
The Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku is simply walking in an area with trees and deeply inhaling the air. Trees release chemicals, like terpenes, that have been associated with the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, which sends your body into “chill-out” mode. The practice has been shown to decrease measures of depression, according to research.
- Play a Game
A recent survey by game developer RealNetworks found that 64 percent of respondents cited game playing as a way to relax, while 53 percent played for stress relief. The survey suggests that playing games, either with friends and family in person or through virtual platforms, can be an effective way to reduce stress levels.
- Avoid Mindless Snacking; Eat Intuitively Instead
Do you spend your days near your snack drawer? Rather than have strict rules on what foods are off-limits, try intuitive eating. It’s not a diet so much as a way of eating that’s all about giving your body what it needs when it needs it. Intuitive eating doesn’t restrict any specific foods or have you counting calories. It’s a practice in which you listen to your body and pay attention to what you need at the moment. Are you hungry or just wanting a snack? You eat when you feel hungry and stop eating when you feel full. For inspiration, look on Instagram.
- Swap Out One Coffee for Decaf
Caffeine has been the subject of more than 10,000 studies to date, according to a review published in November 2017 in Food and Chemical Toxicology. The conclusion that is most consistent from these studies is that having too much caffeine can lead to less-than-ideal effects. The researchers note that getting more than 400 milligrams of caffeine daily can affect your central nervous system, gastrointestinal system, and sleep quality. Too much caffeine can even increase anxiety and stress. Therefore, try to limit your daily amount of caffeine.
- Enjoy the Healing Power of Baking
Self-care means taking care of yourself in every way possible. This includes doing things that make you feel good, like being creative. Being creative can help you feel better and promote a feeling of well-being. Something as simple as baking can make you feel better and help you reset.
She states that an additional benefit to baking is that it is a simple activity to do with other members of one’s family, like one’s spouse or children. This can provide quality time together as well as a delicious outcome.
- Reach for High-Protein Snacks When You Need an Energy Boost
Things like hard-boiled eggs, nuts, Greek yogurt, nut butter, and veggies are some high-protein snacks that will help you feel full longer.
- Keep Stress-Busting Foods on Hand
Certain foods can help to lower stress levels. These include warm foods such as soup or tea, as well as fatty fish which contain omega-3s. Both of these can improve mood. Avocados, which are packed with vitamins C and B6, can also help to reduce stress. Dark chocolate is another food that can help, due to its high antioxidant content. However, it should be eaten in moderation as it is also high in calories. Other stressing-reducing foods include whole-grain carbohydrates, bananas, oranges, water, and leafy greens.
- Leave Stress-Inducing Foods in Not-So-Convenient Places
If you’re stressed, you may be tempted to eat unhealthy foods or drink alcohol. However, this can make your stress worse. Foods that make stress worse include caffeine, alcohol, and refined sugars. Try to limit your intake of these foods and enjoy them in moderation.
- Add More Fruits and Veggies to Your Day
A diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables is linked to better mental health, according to a study published in April 2018 in the journal Frontiers in Psychology. A diet full of fresh produce supplies antioxidants, which protect against oxidative stress and help keep gut bacteria healthy. Both of these things have been linked to conditions like depression.
Although there are many possible snacks to choose from, some of the best options include bananas, apples, dark leafy greens, citrus fruits, and fresh berries.
- Whip Up a Mocktail With Health-Boosting Ingredients
Try making a healthy mocktail instead of drinking alcohol. Choose something without sugar like hibiscus tea, kombucha, sparkling water, or fresh fruit. You could also mix grapefruit and mint, or green tea and oranges.
- Cook Yourself a Nourishing Meal
Cooking can be incredibly beneficial for our mental health, providing us with a sense of agency, belongingness, and connectedness. It also allows us to express our creativity.
Choose a comforting recipe that reminds you of home or a healthier version of a comfort food that you love. Give yourself enough time to enjoy the cooking process and the final product.
- Declutter and Clean Your Space
Tidying up your space can apparently have a positive effect on your mood and mental state. The saying goes that a tidy room leads to a tidy mind. Although cleaning might not be your first thought when it comes to self-care, it can actually have a positive effect on your mood and mental state.
Experts say that getting rid of clutter and organizing your space will not only make you feel more productive but also help you relax. A neat and tidy room is a form of self-care.
- Reduce Screentime
You are all aware that spending too much time looking at screens is not good for mental health – a study from 2018 that was published in Prev Med Rep even found a direct link between improved mental health and reduced screen time.
You can use the iPhone’s screen time option to limit how long you spend on certain apps each day. This can help you avoid mindless scrolling through Instagram.
- Take Time With Your Skincare
Skincare can be a great way to improve your mood and your skin. However, not everyone enjoys skincare. The important thing is to find what makes you happy and do it regularly as part of your self-care routine.
You should try pampering yourself by putting on a face mask, using a Gua Sha tool on your face, and listening to some good music.
- Try Daily Affirmations
Daily affirmations are positive statements that you repeat to yourself each morning. They can be anything from “I am strong” to “Today, I will be productive” to “Gratitude is my main focus today.”
Although they may not be everyone’s cup of tea, like manifesting, two minutes each day of positive thinking could reframe negative thoughts and help create a more positive outlook.
If you want to believe in yourself more, experts say that you should repeat daily affirmations as part of your self-care routine.
- Go for a Picnic
Sometimes, it can be very soothing to immerse yourself in nature and enjoy some fresh air. You can take your book or some headphones and watch the world go by, or you can pack a picnic and invite some friends. Just remember to wear layers and gloves.
- Listen to a Podcast
If you’re looking for some guidance on where to start with podcasts that can improve your mental well-being, we recommend checking out Happy Place with Fearne Cotton, Radio Headspace, and Feel Better, Live More with Dr. Rangan Chatterjee.