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Caring Child

Five Strategies to Actually Engage in Self Care

January 2021

If you're like me, you might find yourself awake in the middle of the night with 100 different thoughts going through your head. This is what I like to call: Having too many tabs open. 
But how does one close these tabs effectively?

I have spent years literally losing sleep over issues that have come up -- something happening at work; a fight I had with my partner; fretting about details for an event I am hosting, and so many other things. 

The ironic part is, the less sleep you have, the worse you will feel the next day and the more likely you will feel miserable and be even more troubled by these thoughts.

So what is the solution? Allegedly, it's a magical term called *self care*.

I get it -- we have been saturated with the notion of mindfulness, meditation, and self care. We are told this is something we need to do -- but it often feels like there is no time to do it.

It easily becomes another thing on our "to do" list and when we don't find time to do it, we might even feel more disheartened than we did before.

As a therapist, it's all well and good that I talk to people and reiterate the importance of self care but I also know it's important to practice what I preach. By holding myself accountable to what I ask of my clients, it reminds me that such tasks or action plan items are not always easy to accomplish. 

Case in point: I have been thinking about how many people are experiencing more stress and angst in the midst of the global pandemic, and how part of the solution must be to take better care of oneself. 

So I asked myself: You've come to this realization, but how can you implement it for yourself, but more importantly for anyone else who finds themselves in need of re-charging.

May I present to you "Five Strategies to Actually Engage in Self Care":

1- Take a moment in your day to think about one think that you are thankful for.

There are many things which I take for granted, and I can quickly get swept up in the "poor me" vortex. But when I catch myself thinking this way, I stop myself and re-frame the context. For example, if it's a warm Saturday in the summer I might think "Ugh, I have to mow the lawn today" which makes me see the task as burdensome or negative. However, by simply reframing it to "I get to mow the lawn today" it reminds me to be thankful for the fact that I have a yard, and live in a warm climate, and have access to a lawn mower, and get to be outside without fearing for my safety. The grumpy view of this chore is gone!

2. Give someone a compliment (bonus points if it's a stranger).

Normally, I cringe when people give me compliments but I have begun to realize that it is nice to hear positive feedback from someone (even if it's something as simple as being told that I have nice shoes on). 

I started thinking "If I enjoy hearing a nice thing, surely other people do too!" So I now try to give someone a compliment each day. I will admit, I have had strangers give me a weird look and probably wondered why I am being friendly. But more often than not, I can see the person smile and I am left feeling hopeful that I have added a tiny bit of joy to their day.

3. Find 30 seconds during the day to breathe the air outside. 

You don't have to join a yoga studio to engage in the benefits of mindful breathing. There is a ton of research about how purposeful breathing (aka paying attention to your breath in terms of how long you breathe in for, and how long you exhale for) can lower your heart rate, and calm your mind.

I use this strategy when my toddler is in mid-tantrum and I ask her to take a breath, and then another, and then another. It's remarkable to see the anger get interrupted when she is focusing on her breathing. 

On the nights where I have trouble falling asleep, I take ten deep breaths in and use Box Breathing techniques -- this clears my head of the pesky thoughts that keep me awake, because I am forced to focus my attention on my breath.

Check out this link for step-by-step instructions if you want to try it out:

4. Accepting that we cannot control everything (even if we wish we could).

I've had many people talk to me about remorse or regret they have about things they did (or did not do) in their past. It is common for people to carry guilt with them and lament about things that could have been different. 

Imagine reframing your thought pattern from "what if?" to focus on what is. This would interrupt the brain from sliding down the rabbit hole of questioning if we did the right thing, said the wrong words, or made an awful decision. These types of questions are common, but don't actually provide us with any beneficial outcomes. For example, consider being stuck on the thought "What if I had turned down that job offer -- Maybe I wouldn't have such troubles in my marriage right now?" --

We can't know the answers to this, yet we often get fixated on asking them. What about saying "I can't change the decision I made about this new job. It's possible that the longer hours I work, and the more stressed out I am are contributing to a strain in my marriage. What are some things I can work on to address this?"

Can you see how the first example is an open-ended danger zone, which could lead to frustration, resentment, and feeling unsettled. Compared to the second example which acknowledges the decision you made, but redirects the focus to tangible problem solving. 

5. Tap into your inner child.

Ok, you're probably wondering what I am talking about with this one, but I can explain:

Historically, I never understood people who enjoyed playing make believe with kids, or those who permit themselves to act silly & without a care in the world. This seemed absurd as I always thought adults should behave in certain ways. However, giving yourself permission to let loose and drop all of the rigid social standards that often restrict us can actually be invigorating. 

If you have kids, you might know what I mean. If you don't, but know someone with kids, try asking them about a recent holiday or event and what toys were played with. I am willing to bet that many adults find themselves playing with the new race car or pool toy even more than the kids do!

Play-Doh can be used as a calming tool -- focus on the dough in your hands and practice a minute of Mindfulness -- What do you smell? What do you feel? How do you feel?

How about finding and reading your favourite book from childhood? It may bring back positive memories. How about colouring? Adult colouring books are all the rage now and there is evidence to support their ability to lower stress levels and promote calmness. You can even download an app on a phone or tablet and colour right on the device.


What have you got to lose? Try one (or all) and let me know how it worked out!

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