There are times in each of our lives when we feel rubbish. We can't be bothered with anything, even if we have to be. Everything weighs us down or seems hard or heavy. The phrase 'walking through treacle' sums life up for many people. For others it may be stress, depression, too much work, not enough work, relationship problems.
So the question here is ...
Are You Looking After Yourself?
What follows is a simple list of ways each of us can simply look after ourselves. As you read it, be honest. Which things do you think you need to build into your life in order to look after yourself better?
None of it is revolutionary or new. To be honest, you probably already know most of it. But the real question is still ... Are you doing it? Are you looking after yourself?
Decide today to do it (maybe not all at once). Decide to make your own life just that little bit better, not by waiting for someone else to change or to suddenly come in and support you, but by being your own strongest support.
It won't solve all your problems. It probably wont even take most problems away. But lets be honest, it really can't hurt can it. Be your own strongest support by helping yourself today....
1. Learn to say no to anything that is not important to you
It is easy to become overwhelmed with things other people want you to do, with meeting other people's needs; but we need to balance this with meeting our own needs. If you don't want to do something, or feel pressured to do something you would rather not do, now is the time to practice saying NO! This is your life, not anybody else's.
2. Get Support from family and friends
There are times when every one of us needs practical help and support, but people can't help you if they don't know. Build good friendships that endure over time. Support each other and don't be afraid to ask for help. This can be very practical help, such as shopping, watching the kids while you sleep; or emotional support, someone to chat to, someone to be honest with. If you can't do that yet with family and friends, then maybe now is the time to work on making those relationships more honest and supportive. Know who your Support Group is (and if you don't have one, make one).
3. Get enough sleep
An oldie, but a goodie. This old advice is not only essential when it comes to self-care, it is also absolutely essential when it comes to being able to do your best. Particularly important when it comes to exam periods and work stress, sleep will help you achieve. It’s easy to think that a few extra hours of work will do you more good, but it won’t. Sleep will.
4. Drink tea
Coffee will only get you that far, before it sends you down into tiredness again. While still being hot and comforting, tea (and especially the herbal kind) won’t make you dehydrated and shaky. If you’re feeling tired and think you need a caffeine boost, go for cold water (or iced tea) instead. Cold water will help wake you up!
5. Listen to your favourite music
Calm music will help you calm down and upbeat music will help you up your game. Pick music that won’t distract you (like music without lyrics or in a foreign language). Your favourite music will boost your mood and keep you happy, no matter how tired you are. As much as you might want to pick music that fits your mood, don't. Sad and depressing music, sad and depressing lyrics ... they will only drag you down. Do yourself a favour and make the switch.
6. Eat healthy and good food
I know it’s tempting to order pizza, but it really pays off to take your time to cook and eat nutritious and healthy food, and the best food is always natural, non-processed food. Not only will it help you achieve better, it will also boost your mood! If you can't cook stuff that doesn't come ready made, then learn ... it will make you feel good about yourself, learn a new skill, eat better and healthier. You already know this. Junk food is called junk food for a reason. Also, eat more fruit and fresh vegetables (and no, tomato sauce doesn't count).
7. Take 5 minutes in the morning to wake up, breathe and decide how good your day is going to be:
If you start your day in a stressful way, you’ll probably feel stressed for the rest of the day as well. Make sure your morning starts with 5 minutes of silence and ease. Stand up and stretch. Try to just feel your body and pay attention to your breathing. Think about your day ahead with gentleness (stress really won't help make anything better). Believe it or not, it's a conscious choice ... what kind of day are you going to have?
8. Walk more (or cycle, that's good too):
Not only will the exercise be good for you, you also get some important fresh air and daylight. Before or after work, go for a walk. Take time to look around, see what there is to see. It is an amazing world, and as Ferris Beuller says, it's easy to miss it by being to busy. Walking helps us to be more aware of what's around us, more aware of ourselves, fitter and healthier, and actually helps us to feel more positive, and it's free!
9. Take 5-minute breaks
You can’t stay focused all the time. No matter how efficient you work, you’ll always get distracted, let your mind wander or end up spending time reading e-mail (and blogs) instead. A better way to spend this time is to take a 5-minute break. A change of place or pace, the change of physical posture and the movement will make it easier to start again when your break is over. You’ll also give your brain a chance to relax and process information, which is essential for your well-being.
10. Look After Yourself:
It may seem obvious, but if you're not very good at looking after yourself, get into a self care routine. Go have a wash every morning (not just because of the hygiene but it also actually makes you feel better). Shave your legs or face or whatever you need to shave. Put on some smelly stuff. Dress well. These things will all actually make you feel better about yourself, and will also make others feel better about you. (Yes, they probably should accept you just the way you are, but lets be honest, it's not gonna happen!)
11. Have a Plan:
Is your head and your life so busy you just don't want to think about it? There is so much to do, you can't actually make decisions? Then just start by having a plan? Don't start everything. Don't try to fix everything. Take one thing, and have a plan. (Chances are, you probably already know what you need to do!). If it helps, write stuff down, plans, pro's, con's, etc. One of the surest ways to manage stress is to take control.
12. Make sure you keep in touch with your friends
Just a few text messages, a phone conversation or the occasional coffee invitation will make sure your friendships don’t suffer. You will feel much better when you focus on something else entirely, and it will prevent you from becoming all reclusive and feeling rubbish. You don’t have to keep in touch with everybody all the time, Just try and stay in touch with the people that make you happy and inspired. Make a list of who you really want to keep in touch with, along with their numbers or details. A night out, a coffee, snooker, pampering, whatever works, even just watching tv together.
This one’s important. Make sure that whenever you plan to rest – really rest. That means that you will have to make a conscious effort to push all work-related thoughts and worries away. It’s also important that you rest your mind as well as your body. 5 minutes of stillness is better than 30 minutes in front of the TV! Go and sit in the garden (or local park). Have a cuppa. Relax. The world is not going to end because you stopped for fifteen minutes.
14. Surround yourself with your favourite photos
Put up some of your favourite photos where you can see them when you work and at home. Whenever you get unfocused, you will feel much better if you can rest your eyes on something you like, rather than everything that reminds you of how busy you are. If you can’t put up photos at work or in a study hall, bring a scrapbook or use Pinterest on your computer. Remind yourself of the important people in your life and what they mean to you. Take time to reflect on the photo's, the memories, the people.
15. Start a Positive Journal:
We choose what we focus on. It's true. We can choose to focus on things that make us feel bad or we can choose to focus on things that make us feel better (maybe not 100% of the time, but certainly alot more than most of us do). Get a decent notebook and make a list of good things. There are no set rules about what to include: people you have known; places you have been to; the most influential people in your life; good decisions you have made; what you like about yourself; things you want to do you've never done before; quotes and pictures you've seen on Facebook or Tumblr that make you think or feel good; photo's you've taken. The list is endless. When you feel low, look at your journal and smile.
16. Spend your lunchtime as sacred you-time…
and enjoy your lunch time the way you want to enjoy it. It's a break, not a time to be busy doing other stuff you can't fit in anywhere else. See it as a way to nourish your soul on several levels. It’s important to eat, but it’s equally important to be inspired, creative, fun and happy. Spend the time on your own if you want to, or with people who make you feel good. Don't work or be busy.
17. Postpone your Worries Until Later:
Stress makes us more vulnerable, and worry can be a nasty side-effect of a busy period. If you find yourself worrying a lot, it’s a good idea to write a daily worry-list. Whenever you catch a worrying thought, write it down, put it away and save it for later. Spend 5 minutes in the morning and 5-minutes in the evening taking out your list and looking at whatever you put on your list. It may sound simple, but postponing your worry will actually make it less worrying whenever you sit down and actually think about it in peace and quiet.
18. Practice Mindfulness, Spirituality, Something?
Believe it or not, we are spiritual beings, and we neglect that part of our lives at our own risk. We need to take time from our lives to think, to feel, to explore what our lives are about and what we believe (and why?). For some that means faith, for others compassion. Whatever it means for each of us, there is more to this life than the material possessions we buy and the busy lives we lead. Maybe it is time to explore what this means for you?
19. Take a hot bath
Nothing helps you relax like a hot bath. Use your favourite toiletries, turn off the light, light some candles and you’re good to go. One hour in the bath in the evening may be the best way to relax because of this simple fact – you can’t take your work and your computer with you, not even your I-pad!
20. Write a list of Positive Realistic Affirmations
Start a list of things that you like about yourself and your life, including achievements skills, character, anything positive. You can add to it over time. If you can't think of anything look up 'affirmations' on the internet and copy the ones that are true for you. Include also your 'rights' ... the right to be happy, the right to be heard, the right to a break, etc. Put the list up on the inside of your wardrobe door or bathroom door, and look at it often. Amend it as needed.
21. Craft an emotional emergency plan
Ideally, you should have this written down before you enter a crisis period. If everything goes wrong, and you’re maxed out, panicky or just plain exhausted – who do you call? what do you do? Where do you go? Planning this in advance is self-care on a high level. Discuss it with your closest friends. They might want to make one as well and you can support each other.
Do I need to say more? When stress builds up, take sixty seconds off and just breathe. Deep. Also, read my page and blog on Mindfulness ... it is an excellent habit to help us to stop, breathe, calm down and look at life afresh. Practice Mindfulness, it really will help to put life into focus and slow everything down.
23. Have Fun
Don’t forget to have fun! Who said you can’t laugh, even though you’re busy! Make jokes, engage with you co-workers, read comics and just allow yourself to be silly for a little while. I promise it will boost your mood, your co-workers’ moods and a little laughter every day will help you through a really challenging time. Kick leaves and splash in puddles. Play crazy golf. Go on a paddle boat at the local park. Walk on a brick wall (but don't fall). Smile, just because you can.
24. Take the last evening off
The last night before your big Deadline (exam, job interview, whatever) is the night to relax. Panicking at the last minute isn’t a very good way of taking care of yourself. And you don’t want to oversleep, wake up shattered and feel like rubbish. Take the last evening (or even the last day) off and relax. You’ve done your best, there’s nothing more you can do.
25. Keep a tidy place
Strangely, we make our environment to match our moods and lifestyle, and then our environment makes us feel that way. It's a vicious circle. We shouldn't always be cleaning (I'm biased against cleaning as it happens), however we are very likely to feel better and more positive emotionally if our environment is positive, uncluttered, not stressful, busy or chaotic.
26. Create some memories
When life just seems to be the same, maybe it's time to create some new memories, some new good times. Get friends together for a pizza, or a cheap holiday. Get family together for a party. Take lots of photos. Have crazy games, or a quiz, or competition. Have a regular night out, like a pub quiz with your best friends. Do something!
27. Deal with your past and don't suppress your feelings
If you’re tired and sad, cry it all out. If you’re stressed, don’t try to put on a mask and hide it. Get it all out, all the frustration, the overwhelm, the anger and the fear. You’ll feel much better after. If you need to, get professional help from a therapist. We all have baggage and most of it wasn't created by us. Those things that happened to us can't be changed, but how we live now, how we react because of those things ... that can be changed.
28. Know your boundaries, strengths and weaknesses
Let's be honest ... we all know our weaknesses really, even if we hide them from others. Whether it is in relationships, vices, work related issues, know what you can and can't do, and what you should and shouldn't do. From procrastination to alcohol, from sex to workloads, know your limitations and keep to them. Don't make more problems for yourself. Make wise decisions instead, and make them well ahead of time. Don't wait until you are staring at an unwritten report at the last minute to decide to get it done sooner; and especially, don't wait until your half naked with another person to decide whether to cheat on your partner or not. Make your decisions sooner, years sooner, and stick to them.
29. Take the weekends completely off
If you’re under constant pressure over an extended period of time, it’s good practice to keep the weekends completely sacred. This means no work e-mail or calls, no appointments or catching up. If you have to work shifts and weekends, then make sure your days off really are days off. Don't take work home. Rob Parsons once wrote 'No-one on his death bed ever said 'I wish I had spent more time at work'.
30. Consider The Media Impact upon your Life:
TV, Magazines, Internet ... it all has an incredible influence on the way we think about ourselves, others and the world, and we don't even realise it most of the time. Savage Garden (the band) once said 'Don't read beauty magazines, they will only make you feel ugly.' Be honest ... Is all the stuff you read and watch improving your view of yourself or making you feel like you have to live up to someone else's idea of 'perfection'. What would be different in your life if you accepted yourself for who you really are?
31. Compliment yourself
What you say to yourself about yourself can seriously impact your mood and your life. Instead of telling yourself that you are not good enough, that others are better, that you are useless, can't do it, will never be successful, can't think, isn't clever, etc ... try telling yourself that you are beautiful (and believe it), that you can succeed, that no-one else has skills that you can't learn, that your life is what you decide to make it, no-one else. Build yourself up or knock yourself down ... yes there are reasons, yes there is baggage, but right now, the choice is yours.
32. Accept yourself as you are
Let yourself off the hook and accept that you are only human. You are doing your absolute best, and you are doing exactly what you need to do. Trust your instincts and keep doing whatever you’re doing. You don’t need to change everything about yourself – trust that you are good enough. You have strengths and weaknesses (and so does everyone else). This is your life. These are your choices.
Some of these will take a lifetime to practice. Others you can do now and for free. Life is a journey and that journey is different for each one of us.
But this I truly believe, as a person and as a therapist ... You have choices.
Regards, as always,