The COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything for San Franciscans this past year. Some of us live alone and now have a lot of time on our hands with little in-person interaction. Others are overwhelmed trying to work from home, take care of their families and keep their loved ones safe all at the same time. Many people are struggling with unemployment or reduced hours. One thing we all have in common though is the need to make time for self-care. The tools shared in this article are straightforward ways to prioritize our own health first so that we are able to take care of others next. I’ve shared 4 ways to approach self care below but there are many ways, find what works for you!
This is an easy, personal and meaningful way to count our blessings, no matter how small, every day. Actively focusing on what we are grateful for is a powerful yet simple tool to increase our overall mood and contentment, no matter how troubling the times are. Our thoughts are firing all day and taking a moment to organize those thoughts on a piece of paper is very therapeutic!
Studies show that writing down three things we are grateful for has a sizable impact on our overall happiness. Set aside 15 minutes per day 3 times a week to remember a good event, experience, person or thing in your life and physically write it down- don’t just do the exercise in your head.
Here are some tips on how to write what you are grateful for:
- Be specific: Writing “I am grateful for my partner who cleaned the house this week when I was overwhelmed at work” is more impactful than “I am grateful for my partner.”
- Don’t worry about creating a long list, 3 detailed and meaningful items is more helpful than a long list (I’m grateful for my job, pet, coworkers, friends, etc). Of course you are grateful for these people but thinking about why you are grateful is a fun way to understand how they impact your life.
- Consider including surprises, big or small, that happen in your life. Taking a moment to appreciate the unexpected helps us be in the moment. For example, “I am grateful that my coffee shop gave me a free bagel on the house today,” or “I am grateful my neighbor brought my Amazon package inside the lobby for me today.”
- Appreciate what is NOT in your life. Sometimes strength is saying no to something you do not want to do or is not good for you. An example could be, “I am grateful that I learned to say no at work when asked to take on an extra project that would mean working late.”
Why is gratitude journaling so effective? Humans tend to have a negative filter that they view the world through. We are always looking out for things that may harm us. When someone slights us, we remember it, but a compliment may be easily forgotten. Writing down things we are grateful for memorializes the good things in our lives and puts them front and center in our minds. Studies also show that journaling can improve sleep. Writing down blessings and focusing on positive moments in our day make it easier to fall asleep and make that sleep more restful.
Find the feeling of gratitude in your heart as well, not just the thought in your head. I know that I am grateful for my parents but I need to dig deeper. Instead of writing, “I am grateful that my parents love me,” consider, “I am grateful that my parents have supported my career decisions and encouraged me to take risks.”
Here are a few prompts to help you identify the gifts you receive in life:
- Relationships: What qualities do I appreciate in my work colleagues? Why am I grateful for my long time friend? What attributes do I admire in a mentor or role model?
- Opportunities: What new opportunities were presented to me this week? What options do I have that others may not?
- Challenges: What past experiences were hard at the time, but have benefited me today? What obstacles did I overcome recently that felt good? What struggles have my loved ones overcome recently that make me proud and happy for them?
Positive Self Talk
Practicing countering negative thoughts with positive thoughts is an important way to reset our outlook on our life, ourselves and others around us. Positive self talk is not easy but it is something you can practice every day. Like with any habit you are trying to build, it will get easier. This habit is no different to other health habits like drinking more water, going for more walks or cutting out soda from your diet. They are all about self care!
Negative self talk contributes to feeling stressed. During this pandemic, stressors are everywhere. People who are unemployed and applying for jobs may feel like they are not hireable. Others are caring for children and elderly or sick relatives while working full time. And still others live alone, feeling lonely and isolated. We can’t control what life throws at us during unusual times. But we CAN push back against the negativity in our thoughts. Will positive self talk solve the problems I listed above? Not directly. But it does give us control over our mindset and how we respond to problems.
My favorite exercise is to treat yourself as you would a friend. If my friend is having a hard time finding work and says, “I’m just not good enough. I’m not smart enough. No one wants to hire me,” I would tell them that those thoughts are not true- they are smart, good enough and will find a job. Why don’t I talk to myself that way? Become your own friend! When one of my friends calls themselves names like stupid, idiot or dummy I tell them, “Hey, don’t talk to my friend that way!” When I start berating myself during stressful times, I need to treat myself as a friend who I love and admire. Say out loud, “hey, don’t talk to my friend that way” to yourself!
Our internal self talk is a result of years of learned behavior. But guess what? Humans are resilient and can learn new behaviors with practice. It’s hard at first but gets easier, just like with any new skill.
Here are some suggestions on ways to change your self talk:
- Thought stopping: When you realize you are negative self talking, say the word STOP as soon as you notice. Try saying it out loud when appropriate. Take a moment to counter that thought stream. If I start thinking “I am never going to figure this out…” STOP! “Actually, I will figure this out eventually.”
- Replace negative statements: use milder words. Instead of “I hate my new haircut and look ugly” try “I am not happy with this haircut and I don't think it suits me.”
- Self limiting statements: “I can’t fix this, its broken” becomes “How can I fix this? What are some options?” Direct your thoughts towards brainstorming instead of giving up right away.
Scheduling time for self care:
It is easy to put self care on the back burner when we are busy with family, work and a million other things that seem more important. But taking care of yourself is necessary in order to take care of others. Burnout is real and just as exhausting as it sounds.
Work culture pushes the idea that working hard will result in something positive later. But we don’t always have an end goal in mind. Is your plan to work hard until retirement? Work hard until a promotion? Then work hard for the next promotion? Taking regular breaks to focus on nice things for ourselves is important to recharge.
One saying that I really hate is “I will sleep when I’m dead.” No! Sleep now, sleep regularly, sleep well. Why? Because our brains need sleep to turn short term memories (something we learned at work today) into long term memories (internalizing something we learned into a new habit). Sleeping too little night after night means that our brains are sacrificing their full power in an effort to stay awake. When we don’t take care of sleep, our bodies and our minds suffer. Exhaustion, forgetfulness, stress related anxiety, lack of passion in our day to day activities are all side effects of chronic poor sleep.
Here are some tips for self care:
- Gratitude journaling: re-read the section above on writing down 3 things you are grateful for. Book 15 minutes in your schedule 3 times a week.
- Meditation apps: There are a lot out there. Two popular ones are Headspace and Calm but find whichever app works best for you. All of these apps will offer short sessions: 10 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour, etc. Again, book time in your calendar each day (between calls, while the kids are napping) to take a mental break and meditate, following the guided sessions in your app.
- Engage in solo activities you enjoy: when you have 30 minutes or an hour, prioritize these activities. Some ideas include: listen to your favorite music, stretch, play with your pet, take a hot shower and have an at-home facial, read a book, paint your nails, shoot some hoops, dance!
- Schedule time for things that you NEED that also make you feel good. Don’t put off that haircut that makes you feel great. Put time in your calendar to take a short walk during work and stretch your legs. You don’t need to justify your me-time. If a coworker tries to schedule a meeting at the same time as your meditation break, decline, just like you would for any other important meeting. Of course this may not always be possible but it is a very realistic goal.
Strong Body, Strong Mind:
Exercise is important. Some people struggle with it more than others. Ideally we would all wake up at 6 am, go for a 5 mile run, eat a healthy breakfast and go to work. When we have to do our job, take care of family and pets, pay bills and maintain our home, exercise seems like a nice-to-have.
But when we are frequently sick and tired, these tasks take a lot of willpower to complete. This is why we need to take care of our bodies, in order to take care of our minds. A strong body supports a strong mind. Take a look at your daily habits. Do you sit at a desk all day while working? Do you find yourself not leaving the house for days at a time? Do you put off eating lunch when work is too busy?
Being present in our body means we can take a break from some of the mental stress we often feel. Exercising is, in its own way, a form of mindfulness. When counting how many pushups you can do or trying to reach 10 miles on a stationary bike, your mind becomes focused on the task at hand. It’s hard to think about other things when you are following the choreography in an online Zumba class!
When we exercise, we experience improved mood, better sleep and less aches and pains. And we also learn that: yes! You can do 10 pushups! What a great confidence boost. Ask yourself what you want out of exercising and workout with intention. If you are looking to alleviate back pain, then strength training may be the right fit for you. If you want to lose weight but have joint pain, swimming may be the right type of cardio for you.
Accepting small failures during your workout also helps build resilience. Even the most disciplined athletes have days where they are sluggish, tired and not at full strength. Maybe they don’t get as many pushups in or run as fast today but that's ok. After another workout session or two, they get back on track and are stronger for it.
Self care is important; only we can prioritize that for ourselves, no one else. Getting started can be daunting, especially when we are already feeling stressed and overwhelmed. But small steps like enjoying a hot shower before bed, playing fetch with your dog, and writing down your blessings are great ways to prioritize yourself and practice mindfulness!
Looking for additional support or recommendations? Let us help you. Contact SF Upper Cervical Chiropractic at (415) 823-9707 today to learn more about how an Upper Cervical chiropractor can help improve your health and wellness and live pain free. Also, call us to book an appointment. We are here to help and we look forward to hearing from you.