Self-care is key. We can’t be available for our children if we don’t have the energy or bandwidth ourselves. For this reason we’ve pulled together our resources at Morningside Center for you to have at your fingertips: 11 ways to best take care of yourself.
Tip #1: Pay attention to how you’re feeling
Check in and recognize what’s going on for you. Whatever you’re experiencing, whether anxiety, sadness, worry, or fear, remember it’s okay not to be okay. This is a normal response to stress-inducing conditions. Rather than trying to make yourself and others “feel better,” it’s often more helpful to tune in and actually experience your feelings—uncomfortable though that might be. Pushing feelings down and ignoring them doesn’t serve anyone, least of all you. It may help to let go of the notion that when you’re feeling pain, sadness, or fear of any kind, you’re weak. Recognize feelings, instead, as a natural part of being human. Try to be present with them. And if people sincerely ask how you are, you may want to let them know how you’re feeling, for real.
Tip #2: Limit your news intake
It’s understandable that you want to stay informed, but consuming news all day long, especially during tumultuous times, tends to increase stress and anxiety levels. Do stay abreast by tuning in to reputable news sources at set times but don’t get caught up in the endless news cycle, especially not right before bed. Remember that your thoughts produce your feelings and that those thoughts can be shaped by an overexposure to negative media stories. So be intentional about the information you consume. As Mr. Rogers said: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” Paying attention to this kind of news may help generate a different set of feelings.
Tip #3: Be forgiving, embrace do-overs
Though continued high expectations, no matter the setting, are important for the sake of ourselves and our children, we also need to recognize that we do not necessarily have all the tools or supports we need to ensure that everything goes smoothly. So remember to be gentle and kind with yourself. Forgive yourself when things aren’t going the way you’d hoped or planned. Do-overs are part of learning for us as well as our children. They can be an opportunity to model what do-overs look like—with grace, if you can! When conditions are challenging, we can all be learners together, making mistakes and being patient with one another as we all adapt, adjust, and make mistakes.
Tip #4: Practice kindness, generosity & compassion with others
In times of high stress, living and working in close quarters with others can be especially trying. Try to see the best in others and the situation you find yourself in. Practice kindness, compassion, and generosity with others as best you can, while having realistic expectations of who they are and what they’re capable of. And if you live by yourself, practice that same kindness, compassion, and generosity with yourself. Consciously choose to see the best in yourself and others.
Tip #5: Remember to breathe
Throughout it all, remember to breathe. Simple though it may sound, breathing deeply from your stomach is not something that comes naturally to many of us. Natural, deep breathing involves the large muscle in your abdomen known as the diaphragm. It causes your stomach to expand on the in-breath and fall on the out-breath. Try it by placing your hand on your stomach as you slow down and deepen your breath. By breathing this way from your stomach, you signal your nervous system to calm down, which can help to combat your stress and anxiety.
Tip #6: Focus on gratitude
Practicing gratitude on a regular basis has been associated with lower levels anxiety, stress, and depression. First thing in the morning (or at any point in the day), think of some things you’re grateful for. It could be anything, large or small, like feeling gratitude for waking up in a warm bed, having hot water for your morning shower, or having a good cup of coffee to start your day. You might feel gratitude for your family, supportive colleagues, your children, or your health. Whatever it is, direct your mind to go there. Then check into how it makes you feel. Take a few minutes to sit with that feeling before moving on to the rest of your day. Actually practicing gratitude can brighten our day. Take a minute to spread some of the joy you experience. Who in your life are you grateful for? Reach out to let them know.
Tip #7: Keep a journal
Some people like to keep a gratitude journal, or use journaling in general to help them slow down, daily. Morningside Center Senior Program Manager Daniel Coles shares a variation on journaling called morning pages, a free-write journaling practice for right after you wake up. It is about committing to paper (yes this is about old-fashioned longhand!) whatever it is that crosses your mind first thing in the morning. Free writing in this way can help us clarify for ourselves what is happening and how we are feeling, and can sometimes lead to helpful problem-solving.
Tip #8: Maintain a contemplative practice
There is a range of contemplative practices that you may already be using to be more intentionally present, in the moment, full of curiosity, and without judgment. These are important to keep us grounded and connected. Research shows that a regular mindful practice can trigger hormones that relieve stress and anxiety, while improving our mood, self-awareness, mental concentration, and emotional self-regulation. They can also help us regulate psychological and emotional swings. A few minutes of mindful breathing, prayer, or practices such as yoga and tai chi, several times a week, can make a noticeable difference.
Tip #9: Move & exercise daily, if you are able
As much research has established, staying active helps us to stay fit not only physically, but mentally. It can help lift our mood, improve our cholesterol, lower our blood pressure, improve the quality of our sleep at night and manage our stress. So build some movement into your daily schedule, with or without your children.
Tip #10: Seek out nature, fresh air, & sunlight
Studies indicate that it’s good for us to spend time in nature. Being in nature lowers stress, combats depression, and promotes positivity. It is good self-care practice to spend time outdoors. Of course, this is easier for some of us than others, depending on where we live. But whether you are able to go for a hike outdoors, head into the yard or simply open your windows to hear the birds, seek out your own slice of nature. And if you’re looking for things to do with kids, you might want to do some planting, in the yard or on your windowsill.
Tip #11: Nourish your body and soul
Remember to eat as healthily as you can, and drink plenty of water. If cooking is something you enjoy, consider cooking as a contemplative practice—fully present and with intentionality, you can chop, sauté, stir, taste, season, cook, or bake. It’s a great way to slow down. And if you do not have that association with food or its preparation, think about what does bring a smile to your face. Is it music, poetry, scented baths, hot showers, petting a dog or cat, listening to birds outside your window, gatherings with friends or family, virtual dance parties? Then build that into your daily schedule.