wellness

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5 Unexpected Ways to Practise Self Care

When you think about self-care you might think of pricey spa days, holidays, and the sort of indulgences that many of us either can’t afford or just don’t have time for in our busy lives. While there is certainly nothing wrong with a bit of pampering you may be surprised to read that relieving stress can be as simple, and inexpensive, as shrugging your shoulders.

Here are five ways you can practise self-care that might surprise you.

  1. Have a good cry – Cultural and societal attitudes towards crying often mean we gulp back our emotions when in fact you’d be better served by letting it all out, snots and all. As tears flow, adrenaline levels drop allowing the body to relax. Hormones build up to a high level when the body experiences emotional strain, so crying helps to ensure that these toxins don’t build up and weaken your immune system.
  2. Shrug your shoulders – Studies show that increased mental workload directly results in physical tension in the arm and shoulders. So, paying attention to easing the tension in your shoulders could help to combat emotional strain. What to do: with an inhale, lift your shoulders to your ears, exhale and draw your shoulders down and back, guiding the shoulder blades towards each other and downwards.
  3. Yawn – Emotions like anger and stress can cause clenching of the jaw and muscles around the mouth. By releasing the jaw with a big open-mouthed yawn or sigh, you enable the release of this built-up tension. If you’re in the privacy of your own home, or you don’t mind looking just a little bit batshit in the name of stress-busting, you could practise the yogic breath exercise, Lion’s Breath, which helps to relieve tension in both the face and chest.
  4. Express your anger – Anger is an emotion that many of us don’t feel entitled to express. As a result, the anger gets pushed down inside the body and turned in on ourselves. This can have a number of knock on effects for our health, from high blood pressure to depression and anxiety. Many people feel like anger is ‘bad’, whereas, in reality it is an important emotional reaction, signalling to ourselves that something is wrong and needs to be corrected. While this isn’t a green light to scream at everybody who tries your patience, acknowledging, accepting and communicating this emotion can help us to better understand ourselves, and be better understood by others.
  5. Eat dark chocolate – While most of us are aware that eating several bars of chocolate in one sitting isn’t always the best idea, there is some evidence that dark chocolate has a natural calming effect one to two hours after eating it. A Swiss study in 2009 found that people who ate 40g of dark chocolate a day over two weeks had reduced cortisol levels, our natural stress hormone. Prebiotic yogurt could be another stress-busting option. The jury is still out on this one, but some studies suggest that prebiotic bacteria can lower levels of stress and anxiety.

You can also find my blogs at huffingtonpost.co.uk/author/miriam-christie

7 Steps To Self Care

Eighteen months ago the term ‘self care’ was alien to me. It sounded like hospital euphemism for politely sending your patients home to die.

Giving yourself a break just wasn’t the done thing in my circles, particularly in the workplace. Stress knocked at the door constantly but I resolutely refused to answer. So – in an environment where crying seemed weak and admitting to stress was more a badge of honour than an explanation accompanying a sick note – stress found its escape routes in the form of unshakable colds, irritability, sleeplessness and an impromptu breakdown in the dairy isle of Sainsbury’s (I still day-dream about going back to explain that their lack of pineapple cottage cheese really wasn’t that much of a biggie).

Back then I would have confused ‘self-care’ with the sort of dogma you hear on American TV shows that tell you to ‘look out for number one’. It would have seemed somehow selfish. And that’s certainly one thing women are not supposed to be.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve discovered that in reality looking after yourself is far from a selfish act. It’s not about spa days, big holidays or pulling a sickie from work – although there is definitely a role for all of these things. It’s about slowing down, listening to what your body is telling you and trusting it to steer you right. It might sound easy, but, when your default reaction is to shut out your body’s cries for attention, believe me it can be a challenge.

Meeting my needs – and in fact taking some time out to actually explore what they were – has helped me to be a better friend, partner, sister, daughter, colleague, student, Sainsbury’s-shopper… you get the picture. So it’s a pleasure and a mini victory to be able to share with you some of my self care saviours to mark Self Care Week.

What this isn’t is a definitive ‘top ten’ list that everyone should follow. Everybody finds solace in different things. If meditation feels more like a ‘should’ than a joy, that’s okay. You don’t have to (and can’t) win at relaxing! These are just a few things that work for me. What works for you will be different, and I’d encourage you to take some time this week to create your own go-to self care practice.

Let me know what you think and share what works for you in the blog comments underneath or at my Facebook page.

  1. Practising Yoga – Fast paced, or slow and meditative depending on my mood. Yoga challenges me, brings focus and calm, and helps my mind to make better friends with my body.
  2. Getting a massage – There’s a reason massage is often referred to as physical therapy. For me, it’s a way to express care for my whole self. It helps me to be mindful of aches and pains, and being given the space to say nothing for an hour is utter heaven.
  3. Going for a walk – Being outside, especially in nature, blows the cobwebs away and helps me to get the day’s challenges in perspective.
  4. Talking to friends and family – Talking to someone who knows me warts and all, whether it’s to have a laugh, vent or cry, never fails to comfort me and lift my spirits.
  5. Trash TV – New Girl, Great British Bake Off, The Good Wife, Ru Paul’s Drag Race. Okay, I may have said too much already…
  6. Reading fiction – Now that I’ve gone back to study to retrain as a counsellor I sometimes find myself feeling guilty if I pick up a book that isn’t on the reading list, but reading for pleasure is something that both relaxes and renews me so is well worth making time for.
  7. Jogging – Slowly, badly and listening to 90s dance music.

This blog has also been published by the Huffington Post.

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