Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Self Care Isn't Selfish

I'm getting much better at taking care of myself.

Today I told my boss that I needed to take the next few days off as mental health days. With pay, thank you very much. I have a great job (obviously, as you know from my posts about being addicted to it) but it is pretty darned stressful. My boss (new to us, but so far proving to be very supportive) has quite recently witnessed the evidence that I need some away from the office (picture one of us crying). She took the news that I was abandoning my post very well. So, good for her, good for me. A few days of investment in my self-care will yield positive results, for everybody in my life.

Truthfully, I am beginning to "get" this whole self-care thing. Fortunately, there is a lot of information out there about how to do it. The following is a shortened version of a list of ten self-care techniques for stress management, published by Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. I apologize, it's still a pretty long list. But you deserve it.

Throughout the day, take "mini-breaks". Sit down and get comfortable. Slowly take in a deep breath; hold it; and then exhale very slowly. At the same time, let your shoulder muscles droop, smile, and say something positive like, "I am r-e-l-a-x-e-d." Be sure to get sufficient rest at night.

Many people get distressed over things they won't let themselves accept. Often, these are things that can't be changed, for example someone else's feelings or beliefs. If something unjust bothers you, that is different.

Ask yourself what real impact the stressful situation will have on you in a day or in a week, and see if you can let the negative thoughts go. Think through whether the situation is your problem or the other person's. If it is yours, approach it calmly and firmly. If it is the other person's, there is not much you can do about it.

Develop a realistic schedule of daily activities that includes time for work, sleep, relationships, and recreation. Use a daily "things to do"  list. Improve your physical surroundings by cleaning your house and straightening up your office. Use your time and energy efficiently.

Physical activity has always provided relief from stress.

If you frequently check your watch or worry about what you do with your time, learn to take things a bit slower. Allow plenty of time to get things done. Plan your schedule ahead of time. Recognize that you can only do so much in a given period. Practice the notion of "pace, not race".

Every situation in life does not require you to be competitive. Adjust your approach to an event according to its demands. You don't have to raise your voice in a simple discussion. Playing tennis with a friend does not have to be an Olympic trial. Leave behind your "weapons" of shouting, having the last word, putting someone else down, and blaming.

Balance your family, social, and work demands with special private times. Hobbies are good antidotes for daily pressures. Unwind by taking a quiet stroll, soaking in a hot bath, watching a sunset, or listening to calming music.

Eat sensibly -- a balanced diet will provide all the necessary energy you will need during the day. Avoid non-prescription drugs and avoid alcohol use -- you need to be mentally and physically alert to deal with stress. Be mindful of the effects of excessive caffeine and sugar on nervousness.

Friends can be good medicine. Daily doses of conversation, regular social engagements, and occasional sharing of deep feelings and thoughts can reduce stress quite nicely.

I hope you get something out of the list.

Take care.

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