By Rhonda Collins, I Start Wondering Columnist
With the crazy state of our world today, we all – myself included – need some encouragement to be better advocates for more understanding, inclusion, tolerance and some old-fashioned kindness. So, I was planning to write an article about this, but after several weeks of false starts, I finally admitted I couldn’t pull it together.
While practicing more humanity toward our fellow humans is still a relevant virtue and an important message (and I will write about it someday), I finally realized why I was struggling to put my thoughts into written words. I was putting Step 2 before Step 1. Before we can focus on helping — or even being sympathetic to others — we need to focus inward on ourselves. That’s why the flight attendant instructs us, if need be, to put on our own oxygen mask before assisting others.
In the past few months, I have moved to a new city and home, had several family crises and deaths of people close to me, experienced career upheaval, had frustrations with interpersonal communications, received attacks on my integrity and capabilities, and got off my healthy eating and exercise routine. I suppose it’s enough to make even the best among us stress-out.
If you are struggling with some of the same issues, perhaps it’s time for a little more self-care and mindfulness. What follows are some ideas to focus on getting the metaphorical (and literal) oxygen flowing to ourselves before we focus outwardly.
How to De-Stress and Self-Nurture
Stress affects both our bodies and our minds. According to doctors, symptoms of physical stress include a racing heart, nausea, headaches, low energy and neck and back pains. Mental/emotional symptoms include anxiety, sadness, agitation, obsessive thoughts or feeling overwhelmed.
We know stress when we feel it, right? And, yes, we know eating right and meditation and exercise help keep us on the right track for a calmer lifestyle. But if you are like me, it’s hard to think about cooking a good meal or scheduling a workout (much less entering a meditation time), when you are already feeling overwhelmed with everything on the to-do list and agitated to wit’s end with all the stressors.
So, what do we do? Below are a few quick and easy de-stressing and self-nurturing ideas that experts say really work. Each of these can be done for 15 minutes or less with significant results.
- Breathe deeply. It’s become almost cliché for people to say “Breathe!” when someone is exhibiting anxiety. But research says it really works. Close your eyes and take 5-10 slow deep breaths. It slows your heart rate (which can reduce your anxiety level) and brings more oxygen into your system, which can help your brain focus and concentrate better.
- Take a fast 10-minute walk. Similar to the deep breathing, the increased oxygen level along with enhanced blood flow and endorphins can help improve cognition and relax your body.
- Focus on something neutral. Put your mind totally on something other than what’s stressing you out for a few minutes. Count something in the room where you sit or close your eyes and imagine something to count. Play a game of solitaire with a real card deck, color in an adult coloring book or work a puzzle. Wash dishes, sweep the floor or do some other housework; you’ll have the bonus of feeling good that you have a cleaner home when finished!
- Pet an animal. Research shows petting a beloved animal can increase hormones that reduce stress.
- Lightly scratch yourself. Moving a dry brush across your skin or lightly stroking your skin with your fingernails can stimulate the nerve-endings, which can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, resulting in a more relaxed state. I personally feel more relaxed when I run my fingernails across my scalp and through my hair.
- Listen to soothing music. Soft, slow music can lower your blood pressure, reduce stress hormones and increase dopamine, the “pleasure” chemical in our brains.
- Laugh. This is my favorite way to cope with stress. When I was caregiving for my Mom when she was dying, I always put on one of my favorite comedy shows right before I went to bed. Laughing out loud reduces stress hormones in your body.
- Eat. Although over-eating is often associated with being stressed out, choosing the right snack can actually help you relax. Potassium helps regulate blood pressure so eating a banana can lower your heart rate and improve your energy. A piece of dark chocolate can release endorphins, which make you feel relaxed and happy.
- Chew gum. According to a study, chewing gum can reduce Cortisol, a hormone associated with stress, as well as improve alertness, especially when multi-tasking.
- Pick up your favorite craft. Doctors say the motor skills used for various handwork and craft projects — along with the continuous repetition of the same steps — can set aside intrusive thoughts and calm an anxious mind.
Alright, let’s all try a few of these quick tricks for some self-nurturing this week. Also, see the links below for more ways to chill-out. By being kind to ourselves, maybe we will find it easier to be kind to others.
Spirituality and Health: https://spiritualityhealth.com/articles/2014/12/01/23-ways-de-stress-5-minutes-or-less
The Lung Institute: https://lunginstitute.com/blog/5-tips-to-increase-your-blood-oxygen-naturally-2/