Taking good care of yourself is challenging enough when you have adequate time, resources, and energy, but the thought of staying on top of things during stressful times like the Thanksgiving-New Year stretch can seem laughable. It’s easy to resort to a block of cheddar over a bowl of kale when you feel like you are at your wits’ end, but you know it’ll only send you deeper into the black hole of regret, indigestion, and shame (I am not saying eating cheese=shame. I am saying there is a time for cheese eating and there is a time to put it back in its proper drawer.)
Though I like to approach self-care as a holistic practice, it can really help to break things down into more manageable chunks. Many of these suggestions are obviously beneficial to your body, mind, and spirit, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s break it down:
For your body:
1. Get enough sleep. This is the golden rule of good health (along with #2). Sleepytime is when your body renews itself and works so hard to help you manage the stress of your waking hours. Mindy Lahiri and her hilarious staff will be waiting for you the next day; shut that shit down.
2. Drink more water. The trick is to find a water bottle you like to hold and look at (those guys at CamelBak really understand oral fixation) and keep it on your person at all times.
3. Relax in hot water. Water is incredibly therapeutic. Draw a bath so hot you can barely handle it, sink in gingerly, and close your eyes for 20 minutes. Don’t drown. Don’t have access to a bathtub? Next time you shower, really relish the calming feeling it creates deep in your body. Feel the gratitude bubble up.
4. Supplement your diet with vitamins. Vitamins are no replacement for a balanced diet but when you just aren’t getting enough fresh foods or hours of sleep at night, they can be a wonderful way to temporarily help your immune system from going down an ugly spiral.
Honorable mentions: Get a friend/lover/cat to massage you, lotion your hands and feet before bed, wear supportive shoes, check in with your posture, floss daily, walk whenever you can, don’t ignore pain.
For your mind:
1. Prioritize. Stay organized with lists. Sticky notes are your friend. Include tasks you can easily check off, but do the dreaded task first.
2. Postpone all major decisions. You’re running on fumes. Now’s the time to remember to eat dinner and brush your teeth before bed, not quit your job or break up with your partner.
3. Write down your worries, anxieties, and fears. Not necessarily I’m deathly terrified of sharks or What if a monster comes out of the toilet when I’m pooping and pokes my butt” but worries that pertain to your current stressed-out, overextended, undernourished state. By writing them out, you create some release (even if it’s tiny and only lasts several seconds) and give yourself the opportunity to examine them for validity and relevance. If the thought of listing your worries spikes your anxiety, then just journal about whatever comes to mind, even if that means writing about butt-poking toilet monsters.
4. Limit time spent on social media. This includes your phone: turn it off for thirty minutes at a time. If you are wasting mind numbing hours on networking sites, deactivate until the particular stressful period in your life has passed. Spend these intermissions alone: on a walk, reading, taking a nap, listening to music with your eyes closed, brewing and drinking a cup of tea.
Honorable mentions: do a calming, repetitive task before bed like folding laundry, knitting, decrease your caffeine intake and switch to herbal tea, seek support from someone you trust like a close friend or family member, talk to a therapist, remember all of the things that are going right.
For your spirit:
1. Take two. When you wake up, take just two minutes to breathe into your belly. Take a hand to your navel to feel it rise and fall. Fill your lungs to capacity and then empty them out like somebody’s vacuuming away yesterdays’ stale air.
2. Express your emotions. If you feel like you’re going to cry when you are confronted about something, just let it flow. If it is absolutely inappropriate, then do it as soon as you are able to be alone. Lack of sleep and stress will wreak absolute havoc on your emotions, and instead of allowing yourself to be buffeted about by them, let them rise to the surface, and let them go.
3. Make time for yoga. One class a week. You can do it. Find a studio where you dig the vibes and spend 90 minutes matching your breath to your movement, feeling your body grow strong, your mind less scattered, and your “spirit” no longer something completely remote and intangible. If you don’t have the time or resources to attend a yoga class, put your legs up the wall for 10 minutes before bed. Even a restorative inversion like this calms the mind, lowers blood pressure, and relieves your feet and legs from the pressure they feel all the livelong day.
4. Focus on yourself first. This is counterintuitive for so many, myself included. However, if you’re not listening to your own needs, you will have absolutely no resources to offer to loved ones and/or strangers. Check in with yourself daily, asking yourself: what do I need? Find a way to make it happen. (The quality of) your life depends on it.
Honorable mentions: take breathing breaks throughout the day, remain open to new experiences, be around people who inspire you and make you feel good and limit time around those who do not, sit in a spot of sunshine, bake something, write a thank you note.