“Self-care” has become a trending catchphrase that has been discussed on all forms of media. While we have long seen this as a popular topic in self-help books, we are increasingly seeing this trend adopted by companies to market esthetically pleasing and gimmicky products with a “wellness” branding. As enjoyable as a Goop face mask, a jade face roller and a yoga retreat is, these products or activities are certainly not the foundation of a good self-care regime.
To me self-care is about assessing my current needs, reflecting on where there might be an imbalance in my life, and then finding ways to return to balance.
For a lot of us, there is a pressure to balance:
1) Current work/school demands
2) Striving for the next step in our educational/professional future
3) Romantic relationships & caregiving to dependents
4) Social lives
Often we allow one of these domains to be under-supported, while generally prioritizing the work/school domain. This is completely understandable, however, this can leave us feeling burnt out, overwhelmed, anxious, stressed, and irritable. This balance will never be perfect, and certain domains will have to be prioritized over others at specific times. However, we need to more frequently assess our prioritization, if its sustainable and if it is aligned with our values.
Self care needs to be something that is practiced, with time for oneself each day to reflect on these imbalances and practice gratitude. If we don’t take 5 minutes a day to assess this balance how will we know? Each day I try to pick three out of the eight options to prioritize, but mix them up throughout the week.
Trying to be perfect and attend to all eight domains will leave you feeling like a failure, but always choosing to prioritize work and caregiving will leave you drained of energy. It’s important that we stop guilting ourselves from prioritizing our mental and physical well-being out of fear of being selfish. We need to refuel our emotional tank so that we can continue to give to others.
Real change involves baby steps and not leaps. I recognize that I have said that before, but also that some of the small steps I shared may not always seem that small when someone is really struggling with strong emotions. So let’s get even smaller!
You would be amazed at how even a tiny action can have a significant impact on our emotional experience in the moment. These steps may not change your outlook permanently, but they can provide a moment of relief or can compound to help lead to bigger change. Here are five little things you can try today:
While summer has just arrived, it is not too late to do a bit of “mental spring cleaning” to declutter your mind and set the foundation to grow some new wellness routines and habits in the summer ahead. Winters in Canada can be long and the winter blues can set in and still hang around even when the weather has turned. So why not make a commitment to healthier and better habits that the new season can support.
Choose a new routine or habit you would like to implement. We all have old habits we would like to target or something new we have been meaning to implement into our daily wellness routine. Try not to change too much at once, as juggling too many routines increases the likelihood that one will fail and you will abandon all the work you have been putting in to yourself. Instead, choose one action or activity that you have wanted to implement and follow the steps below. Once that new routine becomes a habit, try the process again with a new routine, then repeat.
Be realistic. Is this a goal you are motivated to follow through with? Have you tried to make this new routine happen before? Take some time to evaluate if this is achievable for you given your current life priorities. If it has failed in the past, ask yourself why that happened.
Do some research. Make sure you really understand how to prepare yourself to take on this challenge. You don’t need to spend hours at the library, but a google search and a few youtube videos should help you feel more prepared with information to get started.
Write it down. Write down the new routine you want to implement. Be clear and specific about your intentions. Think about how it would look if you were implementing that routine right now. Is it something you can easily visualize and do in a single step? If not, try simplifying it and making it a single activity you can see yourself doing routinely throughout your week. End your note with some thoughts on why this new routine is a commitment that is meaningful to you.
Give yourself reminders. Let’s face it, we’re all pretty busy and distracted. Set a reminder or alarm on your phone if you find you tend to forget. Be mindful when choosing your alarm or reminders. When could it alert you so you can take action right away?
Positive reinforcement. Try to keep a record of when you have successfully accomplished your new routine. There are many apps that will help track this (e.g. Streaks) or you can create a habit tracker in a bullet journal. Often seeing your progress is in itself reinforcing. If you miss a day, look at this as an opportunity to congratulate yourself for getting back at it. If it is helpful, consider providing yourself with some sort of reward for successfully completing a routine “streak”.
Find a buddy. Try to find a partner to join you in implementing this routine or at least tell someone in your life about this commitment. The support of your partner will help you get through the tough times and may help you feel more obliged to stick to your plan.
Forgive yourself. We all fall into old habits or lose new ones. Breaking the routine is not a failure, it is an opportunity to assess why your intentions broke down and re-engage with the new information you’ve learned.
We all think we have ADHD these days. There is a lot of external draws on our attention. Whether it’s notifications on our phones, new social media accounts to check throughout the day, or the latest show we’re tempted to binge instead of getting a few smaller things out of our way, the number of distractions we need to filter out at any moment seems to only increase year over year. Internally, we can also be drawn to distracting thoughts like worry or even pleasure seeking daydreaming that can draw us away from the here and now.
Whether or not you actually have ADHD, attention is a finite resource. By understanding the demands our attention span is facing we can give it a helping hand and assist ourselves in staying on task a little bit longer.
Fortunately, there is a lot you can do and it’s amazing how some really small steps can make big differences when it comes to staying focused. Why not pick one or two of these this week and give them a try?
Know your best times for focus, and plan your day around that window.
Maybe you're a morning person, or maybe you're more alert in the late afternoons. Whatever time it is recognize when you are more alert and productive and try and schedule within that time so that you plan to get your work done then.
Clarify expectations for big projects before starting.
Make sure that before you start something you are completely clear on all assumed deadlines, formatting requirements, and questions that need to be addressed or answered. Feeling clear on what you have to do will help you feel confident in starting and progressing through the steps.
Break large tasks into small chunks, and then schedule it out.
You may be trying to do too much at once if you find that you often procrastinate because you get easily overwhelmed. Start tasks by taking a few minutes to really break down the task into baby steps.
Take small 5 minute active breaks.
The key words here are "small" and "active", a 20 minute break turns into a Netflix binge, but a five minute break where you grab a glass of water, step outside to stretch your legs and go to the bathroom will bring you back to your task feeling energized.
Clear your environment.
A messy room or cluttered desk is not going to help you focus. Eliminate some of your environments “noise” by starting with a quick clean up. Once you minimize the physical distractors on your desk or in your environment you will already feel more productive.
Turn off notifications or leave your phone in another room.
Phones and technology are our biggest distractors. Put your phone on Do Not Disturb, turn off notifications, or just turn it off completely and leave it in another room. Go back to the old fashioned clock or egg timer if you need to. Social media is a huge distractor, but even if you just block social media there will be other sources of distraction to find on your phone or computer so its best to just put it away.
Reward yourself only when you have completed a task.
A simple check mark on your daily planner or to-do list will give you the positive reinforcement that is needed to motivate you to continue being productive.
Find opportunities for movement within your day.
If your body can’t sit any longer start going for a run before work, taking the stairs, or getting fresh air during your lunch break. You can even include movement in to your workflow by adding a standing desk.
Stay hydrated and eat brain nourishing food.
Skip the Redbull and sugary granola bar and opt for a water and something wholesome and refreshing. Your body needs energy to focus, but the wrong type of energy will just lead to a crash that makes focusing even more challenging.
Be kind to yourself, no one can pay attention all day.
Be realistic with your attention and work goals. Aim for 30 minutes at a time. But have
some self compassion, getting mad at yourself is only going to distract you further.
One by one, try to incorporate as many of these tips into your daily routine and reflect on how they help you regain some focus.
Not all nights are as easy as hitting the pillow and passing out cold. Most of us tend to keep ourselves so busy or engaged from the moment we wake up that we distract ourselves from the stressors we have been accumulating throughout the day. Turn that distraction off and past or future oriented worries can quickly pop into our minds.
Our worries can take us on quite a journey. Maybe it's the worries about tomorrow's presentation or the to-do’s that didn’t get finished today. Other times our minds start to wander aimlessly towards big questions like “what if I’m alone forever?” which can easily lead to an hour or more of tossing and turning. We all know the next steps:
[√] Get frustrated
[√] Look at clock or phone
[√] Initiated anxiety about how late it is
[√] Begin feeling more restless and alert
Does any of that sound familiar? Be assured that you are not alone. While this is a completely normal and common experience it does not mean you are doomed to have trouble sleeping forever. Fortunately, we have a good understanding of why people fall in to this lack-of-sleep trap.
Make sure your bed is associated with sleep, not worry. Try to update your daily to-do list well before getting into bed or, if possible, even before entering the bedroom. Maintaining a to-do list helps you let go of the need to remember all of the errands or activities you have on your next day agenda. Also, try your best to talk to yourself with positivity and self compassion instead of repeating negative thoughts like “I’m not ready for tomorrow’s presentation”. We need to challenge ourselves to talk to ourselves with the same optimism and kindness we would convey to a friend. Completing these activities earlier in your evening routine also helps disconnect the thoughts of those future to-do's from the task at hand - sleeping.
Evaluate your routines. It is critical to evaluate the amount of time you spend in bed. If you find that you are someone who does a lot of “hanging out” in bed after you get home it probably isn’t helpful for your sleep. If your space allows it, try to remove all activities from the bed other than sex and sleep. That means cutting out TV, reading, and scrolling through social media in bed. Those are all things that can be done in another room or space. By disconnecting these activities from where we rest, our mind will better associate our bed with sleep rather than alertness.
When it comes to routines we also need to assess whether we are giving ourselves enough wind down time to help our body’s realize it’s time to get sleepy. Are you getting into bed too early, leading yourself to struggle to fall asleep? Do you go straight from your laptop / phone to your bed? It is very important that you give your body some wind down time, at least an hour without screens, work, or exercise where you can give yourself a shower and attend to your self care needs.
Start now. It's not too late to make meaningful change now, no matter how many nights it has been since you remember having restful and restorative sleep. Small changes can be made and with that commitment to change sleep can improve. There is no doubt that quality sleep is important and can have a large impact on both physical and mental health. So start with taking an inventory on your approach to sleep and your routines, and skip the pseudo-sleep schemes like that fancy lavender pillow spray.
Jessica is a member of the clinical wellness and learning support team at FLEX Psychology. Jessica started Wellness Wednesday out of a desire to provide further opportunities for her clients to extend their wellness journey to all avenues of their life. You can learn more about Jessica by clicking here or by learning more about her and the clinical team at FLEX Psychology by clicking here.