Self-Care for Stressful Times

Try these easy ways to feel better

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In times of stress, it’s more important than ever to take care of ourselves. If you’re feeling anxious or scared about the current coronavirus situation, it can be helpful to ramp up your self-care.  

Much of the time, we’re fearful about a situation because it’s out of our control. Taking steps to feel more in control can help us calm the fear and anxiety. For example, if you’re concerned about possibly getting sick, be proactive in supporting your health. As you know, handwashing is vital—at least 20 seconds. Get plenty of sleep, do some exercise, drink lots of water, eat fruits and vegetables, and perhaps take some immune-boosting supplements (Dr. Oz recently recommended vitamin D, vitamin C, zinc, and elderberry).

Then, do your best to reduce stress and comfort yourself. Here are some ideas:

  • Minimize your exposure to the news. Maybe instead of watching it on TV, you just check a news source you trust—and maybe you only do that once or twice a day.  Spend less time on social media.
  • Be mindful of your thoughts. If you find yourself worrying, turn your attention to something positive and uplifting instead. Think of it like switching the channel on your TV: hmmm., that thought doesn’t feel good; let’s find one that does.
  • Exercise. Go for a walk or run, or do some yoga or other exercise that you enjoy.Movement helps your body process stress hormones, and it boosts endorphins, which will make you feel better.
  • Breathe slowly and deeply. This calms your nervous system by triggering the relaxation response. An easy breathing practice to try is “box” or “square” breathing. To do it, imagine a square. You’re going to breathe around the square: inhale through your nose for four counts, pause the breath for four counts, exhale for four counts, and pause the breath for four counts. Do that at least three times.
  • Meditate. Meditation is a proven anxiety-reducer. If you find it difficult, try a guided meditation. There are some great apps that can help, like Insight Timer, Calm, and Headspace.
  • Soothe your body. Soak in a warm bath with Epsom salts to release tension.Consider getting a massage or acupuncture; not only can this help you relax, it also stimulates your immune system.  
  • Spend time outside. Studies have shown that nature calms us and makes us happier. Find a grassy or tree-filled spot and walk through it slowly or sit in silence.  Also, exposure to sunshine triggers the production of vitamin D, as well as serotonin, which boosts your mood. (The increase in serotonin happens when sunlight enters your eyes, so don’t wear sunglasses; but obviously, avoid looking directly at the sun).
  • Do what makes you feel good. Do you love to read, or paint, or dance? Are there certain kinds of music that lift your spirits? Does baking always relax you? Make a list of things that make you happy or bring you comfort, and scatter them throughout your day.
  • Journal. Journaling has been shown to be effective at managing stress. Writing down your thoughts is like clearing clutter from your room; it gets rid of all the junk and leaves behind clarity and space. And when you put worries in writing, you can more easily evaluate them and come up with coping strategies. Try doing a stream-of-consciousness brain dump every day.  
  • Laugh! Laughter reduces anxiety, boosts your immune system, and stimulates the release of endorphins. It’s so powerful, people do laughter therapy and laughter yoga! Watch a funny video online, or a TV show or movie if you have more time. Some classic comedies are “The Inlaws,” “Airplane,” “Young Frankenstein,” “His Girl Friday,” “Best in Show,” “Some Like It Hot,” “The Producers,” “Raising Arizona,” and “The Princess Bride.” TV shows that are sure to get you laughing are “I Love Lucy,” “Seinfeld,” and old episodes of Monty Python’s Flying Circus or The Carol Burnett Show. What are your favorites? Make a list one day when you’re in a good mood and keep it handy for emergency laughter infusion as needed.
  • Pet a dog or cat. Studies show that stroking, cuddling, or even gazing into the eyes of a pet leads to a rise in oxytocin levels. Oxytocin is the “love hormone” that is also released during hugs, sex, and breastfeeding. It reduces stress and anxiety levels while increasing feelings of relaxation, trust, and bonding.
  • Hug someone. Hugging increases both oxytocin and serotonin—as little as 20 seconds of hugging someone will elevate those levels enough for a significant positive impact.

Remember that, while you may not be able to control external events, you do have control over your internal world. Taking care of yourself every day will keep you calm and centered.

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