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Tips on Caring for Yourself by Dr. Lois Howland:

Some of the suggestions below may help you feel more relaxed and better able to cope with feelings of stress in your life.

The gift of time – Give yourself a few moments where you won’t be disturbed such as driving in the car with your favorite music or no music at all, a warm bath, or reading a favorite book). Sink into YOUR time realizing you need this respite to re-energize.

Exercise/play – Find a movement activity you ENJOY (walking, running, dancing) alone or with a friend, and try to make time for this activity as often as you can.

Rest – Getting enough rest is critical for good health. Give yourself permission to sleep or nap as much as you need. Each person needs a different amount of sleep. When coping with a major stress your body will probably need more sleep; try to listen carefully to what your body needs.

Joy – Dr. Rick Hansen coined the phrase “taking in the good” as a way to increase the amount of positive feelings we experience and lowering the stress response. Find moments of joy as often as you can whether it’s actually taking time to smell the roses (or whatever flower you like), listening to some music that just moves you, enjoying a delicious meal, or the feel of a soft blanket. Actively use your senses to bring joy into your day.

Quieting the mind – Spend 10-15 minutes each day just focusing on your breathing (notice the breath moving in and out of your body). If you find yourself thinking about other things, just gently bring your attention back to your breath. It may help to set a timer and know that even this short period of time is YOUR time for you.

S.T.O.P. – Stop, Take a breath, Observe, Proceed – Try to STOP when you are moving about your day. Over time this actually helps slow down the busy mind and stressful thinking.

Friends – Friends can help to carry the load of difficult times by sharing feelings and work that needs to be done. Give yourself permission to receive their care.

Eating and drinking – Try to eat as well as you can to help your body through stressful times. Limit intake of caffeine and alcohol as they can add stress to your body. When eating alone take the time to focus on what you are ACTUALLY eating; noticing smell, color, texture, and taste of the food. What part of the meal gave you the most satisfaction?

Body tension – As you move through your day notice if certain parts of your body such as your neck, back, shoulders, or stomach feel tight or constrained. See if you can consciously ask the muscles in this tight area to REST, if only for a moment…and noticing how this feels.

Restful body positions – Use some gentle yoga positions to give your body rest. In the “astronaut” pose you lie on your back on the floor with your legs on a chair (position looks like an astronaut taking off for a space flight) or you can lie on your back on the floor or bed with a cushion or pillow beneath your knees. These positions are especially good for relieving tension in our lower back and help with relaxation.

Cheerleading – Jot down two or more things about yourself that you really like and feel good about, and keep them close by. The next time you notice negative “self-talk”, pull out your list and remind yourself of the goodness that is you. Self-critical thoughts increase feelings of stress; being your own “cheerleader” can help you cope.

Enough for Today – At the end of the day list (on a piece of paper or in your mind) all you’ve done for yourself and others. Give yourself appreciation for doing what you could on THIS day. You may find it helpful to make a list of important things you couldn’t do today. This list is for TOMORROW….you’ve done enough today.

Aromatherapy – Some scents, such as lavender and rose, are associated with inducing feelings of relaxation. Consider using essential oils, scented candles, etc., to encourage relaxation and ease.

Creative activity you enjoy – Engage in a creative activity such as music, crafts, writing, painting, cooking or gardening….something that truly gives you pleasure…as often as you can.

Other stress-reducing activities

• Yoga
• Tai Chi or Qi Gong
• Acupuncture/acupressure
• Therapeutic massage

Above all, practicing self-kindness when stress comes up….being our own best friend can be life-saving and life-enhancing.

Adapted in part from: Saki Santorelli, “21 Ways to Reduce Stress During the Workday” (Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, MA) & National Mental Health Association, “Coping with Stress Check List” (www.nmha.org)