We’ve reached that stretch of winter that seems to drag on. The holidays are over, and spring is still a couple of months away (more or less, depending on what part of the country you’re in). On top of that, we’re in the middle of a long stretch of uncertainty and isolation we’ve never seen before. It can be exhausting, especially if you’re caring for family and trying to keep things as normal as possible.
Take a moment and ask yourself this question: What are you doing to take care of you right now? Through the drudgery of this time of year and the unique circumstances we’re all working through right now, it’s more important than ever to show yourself some love with some of these self-care ideas.
If there’s one self-care practice that just about every expert can agree on, it’s sleep. We’ve shared the many benefits of getting adequate, quality sleep at night. Getting enough sleep is an important preventative care measure and a relatively easy way to take better care of yourself. If you’re struggling to get enough sleep at night, consider taking the occasional nap to help restore your energy. It doesn’t have to take up much time! According to the National Sleep Foundation, 10 to 20 minutes is the ideal length of time for a nap to be beneficial without increasing the risk of grogginess (also referred to as sleep inertia).
To get the most of your nap, the Sleep Foundation recommends setting an alarm, napping earlier in the day, creating a sleep-friendly environment (Flents ear plugs can help block out unwanted or distracting noise), and reflecting on what you hope to gain from your nap.
Physical activity has more benefits than simply keeping your weight in check. Getting your blood pumping with a walk, run, bike ride, fitness class, or other workout can release endorphins that relieve stress and balance your body’s adrenaline and serotonin levels. This can leave you feeling calmer and happier.
The best way to use exercise for self-care is to find a fitness routine you enjoy and can maintain consistently. Listen to your body and what it needs to feel better. Perhaps that means using a compression back wrap to improve mobility. Maybe it means dialing it back with a brisk walk or punching things up with a more intense sweat session. Give yourself the time and permission to move as much as you need today.
- ORGANIZE OR CLEAN
Many of us are spending a lot more time at home these days, and being surrounded by clutter can be overstimulating and overwhelming. One study even found a link between how we perceive our homes and our moods. Taking some time to clean or organize even one space within your home can be therapeutic.
The point of tidying your home is to “clear away clutter so you can live the life you want,” according to organizing guru Marie Kondo. Investing some time into clearing up the physical space around you can help clear up mental space and ease the to-do list we often have running through our minds.
- LAUGH & STAY CONNECTED
You might not be surprised to hear that laughing can improve your mood, but did you know it has demonstrated positive physical effects, too? In the short-term, laughter can stimulate your heart, lungs, and muscles through enhanced oxygen intake, increase and then decrease your blood pressure to leave you feeling relaxed, and stimulate circulation for decreased muscle tension.
Beyond the physiological effects, laughter can distract you from negative emotions like stress or frustration, shift your perspective of a situation to a more positive outlook, and reap social benefits by improving the moods of those around you.
Speaking of those around you, make sure to stay connected with friends and family, even if it’s virtually or over the phone for now. Research from the American Psychological Association suggests that close relationships and social connections are so beneficial that it should be considered a public health priority.
- TAKE A BREAK
Sometimes, the best self-care practice is to take a break. Recognizing you need some time to yourself and allowing yourself to take it can help avoid physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion, Self-Care Specialists say.
This doesn’t have to be a large, disruptive time commitment. Even taking a few minutes to step away from your responsibilities to brew a cup of tea, give yourself a hand massage or shoulder rub where you feel you’re holding tension, or relieve a tension headache with a Flents hot/cold eye mask can go a long way.
Do you ever find yourself longing for the carefree days of your childhood, when you could run free and play without thinking about bills, dinner, or home improvement projects? It turns out, allowing yourself to act a little silly and feel like a kid again can provide a surge of positive neurochemicals like serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine.
Any kind of game play can offer self-care. A 2006 survey found that 64% of respondents considered game playing relaxing, and 53% went so far as to say they played games for stress relief.
- LEARN SOMETHING NEW
One self-care idea that can help if you’re feeling stuck in a rut or bored (a real concern for many people in the last year) is to take up a new hobby. Learning a new skill or tackling a new project can improve your mental health and boost your confidence. It gives you the opportunity to flex your brain and change up your routine.
Learning new things can also help fortify your response to the world around you. One study found that people who learned new skills were better able to cope with stress.
- LISTEN TO MUSIC
People use music to “set the mood” in a number of settings. We use lullabies to promote sleep, we may set a calm, melodic playlist for a dinner party, and we likely pump loud, fast tunes at the gym or a party. Music is powerful and an excellent way to indulge in self-care.
Studies have found that not only can music boost your mood and fight depression, but it can also improve blood flow and lower stress hormones like cortisol. If you’re looking for an easy way to take better care of yourself, consider playing your favorite songs or finding a playlist that fits the mood you’re trying to create.
- DRINK WATER
There is a plethora of benefits to keeping well-hydrated. We typically talk about water in terms of physical health, but there’s an argument to be made for hydration as a form of self-care. Not only does water keep your body functioning properly, but it can also impact your well-being. A 2015 study found that participants who drank more water had better moods and less tension, depression, and confusion. Further, research shows dehydration can increase the risk of anxiety and depression.
- MAKE THE TIME
Perhaps the best way to take care of yourself is to make time to take care of yourself. Prioritize a few of the recommendations from this list, or assess what else you need to feel better, calmer, and happier. You deserve it!
National Sleep Foundation: Napping
Mayo Clinic: Exercise: 7 benefits of regular physical activity
Harvard Health Publishing: Exercising to relax
Healthline: Exercise, Depression, and the Brain
Livestrong: How to Find a Workout You’ll Actually Stick With
The Financial Diet: The Psychological Reason Cleaning Your Home Should Be Your Biggest Form Of Self-Care
KonMari: Why the KonMari Method Works
Mayo Clinic: Stress relief from laughter? It's no joke
VeryWell Mind: The Health Benefits of Laughter
Everyday Health: 53 Top Self-Care Tips for Taking Care of You During the Coronavirus Pandemic
Self-Care Specialists: Give Yourself a Break!
RealNetworks: Research Reveals Casual Games Provide Mental Balance, Stress Relief and Relaxation
Lifehacker: To Feel Better About Yourself, Learn A Small New Skill
Forbes: 5 Unexpected Self-Care Practices To Weave Into Your Work Day
Time: You Asked: Is Listening to Music Good For Your Health?
Medical News Today: Fifteen benefits of drinking water
HuffPost: Can Water Improve Your Mood?
Healthline: Dehydration and Anxiety: How to Keep Calm and Hydrate On