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8 simple self-care tips


8 simple self-care tips you must start today. Read more

Credit: Jeremy Bishop

Self-care is taking care of oneself with the aim of improving mental health. When you engage in self-care, you are more likely to feel positive and less likely to suffer from stress. Self-care can strengthen your relationships with others, such as friends and family, because when you feel positive, others feel positive around you due to the contagious nature of emotions.

Effective self-care also means you have more energy and more compassion to put into support for your loved ones. Self-care can also help lower your risk of unmanaged stress, as well as mood and anxiety disorders. While we can all benefit from self-care measures, it’s especially important for people who work in high stress environments or environments with exposure to trauma.

Here are some helpful self-care tips to get you started.

Filter your social media

It’s estimated that Facebook-using Australians spend an average of 8.5 hours a day on Facebook. According to the Australian Psychological Society, 37 per cent of people who use social media access it within the first 15 minutes of waking up.

Music is an important tool in regulating thoughts and emotions.

If you are a regular social media user, consider what you have included on your feeds. Is your feed filled with images and words that lead to negativity, jealousy and resentment? If so, delete them. Un-follow news media outlets as these are designed to make money based on shock value, not to give a realistic view of the world. Delete those contacts you constantly compare yourself with in terms of attractiveness, wealth and other measures.

Replace deleted threads with threads that include images and words you find enriching and inspiring. Try pages based on things of interest to you (eg, humour, food, animals etc).

Consider taking regular breaks from your phone and other screens such as tablets and TVs. Replacing screens with books for your commute to and from work can positively impact on your health and wellbeing. If possible, pretend it’s 1990 and opt to leave your mobile phone at home for the day.

Declutter your life

A minimalist lifestyle means living without clutter and possessing only the essential items. This lifestyle has been recently championed by some websites such as minimalists.com and becomingminimalist.com. Minimalist design, sometimes referred to as Scandi style given its popularity in Scandinavian countries, is currently omnipresent in both interior design and fashion circles.

While there is limited direct scientific evidence of the effect of this lifestyle on psychological wellbeing, the principles of minimalism are grounded in scientific findings. For example, there is research to suggest that social experiences tend to bring us higher levels of happiness than material possessions (Van Boven & Gilovich, 2003). Similarly, a recent study nominated the Danes as the happiest people in the world, suggesting the Scandanavian lifestyle must have some merit.

Why do people follow this approach? It’s believed that a clean physical environment creates a clean state of mind and helps you to re-evaluate your priorities and lead a functional and simplistic lifestyle free of unnecessary stress. There’s also research to suggest that, as humans, we don’t really like having too much choice.

To adopt a minimalist lifestyle, try donating any clothes you don’t wear to charity and start investing in well-made clothes that are designed to last. Keep in mind key pieces such as a raincoat, a warm woollen coat, pants that can be worn for both work and casually and a clean-lined shirt. When you have fewer clothes to choose from, the “what-to-wear” morning stress can be minimised.

Regularly rotate your fridge and cupboard to clean out any food items that are not used. This will help create a visual picture of the food you currently have and can make meal planning easier. Consider other environments such as your work desk and car. Declutter these environments as much as possible on a regular basis.

Move your body

The benefits of exercise are well known to the scientific community. Regular exercise can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and obesity. These benefits are also seen in mental health. For example, recent wide-scale research suggests that regular exercise can be just as effective as therapy in reducing levels of depression.

Don’t bring work home with you and try to take work calls on a different phone from your personal phone.

Make exercise a regular routine. Find the exercise that works for you and regularly rotate your exercise activities to avoid boredom. For example, try swapping running for swimming or dancing. It’s always great to exercise outdoors for the added benefits of the natural environment on your wellbeing. So get to know your local walking/cycling/running tracks. This also helps avoid the costs associated with gyms and personal trainers. Consider whether you prefer exercising with a buddy or training group (which can help create accountability and motivation) or if you prefer exercising alone (which can be helpful if you are introverted).

Try adopting a mindfulness-based approach to exercise. This is exercise with awareness and without judgment. You can mindfully exercise by focusing your awareness on sensations and perceptions (eg, thoughts in your head, the feeling of the ground beneath your feet or your breathing rate). Mindful exercise also involves placing less emphasis on things that can attach judgment to exercise such as calories burned, kilometres run and personal bests, so try leaving tracking devices at home. 

Set the soundtrack for your day

Music is an important tool in regulating thoughts and emotions. Upbeat music has been shown to make us feel upbeat while music with violent content has been shown to lead to aggressive thoughts. Big businesses have long been utilising music’s strong influence on humans. Research in consumer psychology has found that variances in music such as tempo and genre can influence what products people buy, how quickly they move and how long they stay in a shop.

Next time you find yourself feeling like you are missing out, take 10 slow, deep breaths.

Use this knowledge to help set the mood you want to create for yourself. If you want to feel relaxed try playing soft rock or R&B music that emphasises melody and lyrics. If you want to feel energised, try rock, punk, pop or electronica (think AC/DC or Daft Punk). If you want to feel inspired, play contemporary or classical music (eg, Talking Heads or Mozart). If you are playing music while studying or working (and your work involves writing), play instrumental music as the brain can’t process different types of verbal information at once.

Creating a playlist can influence how you feel first thing in the morning, so have one ready for your commute to work. If you’ve had a stressful day at work, choose music that’s relaxing and creates positive associations (such as music you’ve heard around family or friends). If you are short of time, try using music streaming services that can generate playlists based on moods.

Separate your life domains

A topic commonly discussed among psychologists is the boundaries between professional and private life. Stress can often arise when one area creeps into another: for example, frequently taking work calls during meal times or discussing personal difficulties with clients or customers.

To avoid blurring boundaries, look for work that offers a 0.8 EFT (32 hours/week) role where possible. Don’t bring work home with you and try to take work calls on a different phone from your personal phone. Set out-of-office auto replies on your email so you don’t have pressure to respond to emails outside business hours. Don’t rush home and try to end your work day with a to-do list for the next morning. Be sure to leave work on time and always change out of your work attire when home to avoiding feeling like you’re still in work mode. If you freelance or own your own business, keep your work contained within work hours. Avoid working late into the evening as this can lead to feeling fatigued and a loss of motivation the following day. Try using a mantra such as “This work will still be here tomorrow”.

Clear communication is really important in setting boundaries within the workplace. If your boss makes an unreasonable request, avoid statements such as “I have too much to do at the moment” or “I’m really stressed”. Instead, explain the concrete consequences of what will happen if you take on the request, such as losing time on something that’s important. Set your own boundaries and don’t wait for someone to do it for you.

Know your FoMO

FoMO is defined as a form of social anxiety in which one is concerned about missing an opportunity for social interaction, a novel experience, a profitable investment or some other satisfying event. FoMO has a habit of arising through interactions with social media because users are frequently given opportunities to view others’ social activities.

... there is no one-size-fits-all approach to self-care ... Find what works for you and continually review your self-care strategies.

However, FoMO is not a new phenomenon. Evolutionary psychologists believe our aversion to missing out has evolved over centuries to help us survive. Given that humans have evolved in tribes, which were once required to work together to obtain food, missing out may have one day meant the difference between life and death. Food availability may no longer be as sparse as it once was, but FoMO doesn’t seem to have faded out.

Because FoMO is grounded in a hyperactive central nervous system, lowering your breathing rate is integral in minimising FoMO. Next time you find yourself feeling like you are missing out, take 10 slow, deep breaths. Asking yourself questions such as “How much will I care about missing out on this event in 10 years time?” can be helpful, as well as taking regular breaks from social media.

Embrace time by yourself and spend time developing hobbies and interests that bring you a sense of accomplishment. When you are with others, keep your phone somewhere hard to access (eg, deep in a handbag) so you can practise being in the present moment and minimise your time on social media.

Sleep

It’s estimated that around 20 per cent of Australians are experiencing sleep difficulties such as insomnia at any given time. Although a commonly reported affliction, insomnia can be managed very easily without any clinical intervention.

Here are some helpful strategies to deal with insomnia:

  • Implement a regular sleep-wake routine so your body knows when it’s supposed to sleep and when it’s supposed to be active. Set your alarm for the same time each morning and try to avoid snoozing. Keep your alarm far enough away from your bed that you are forced to stand up when turning it off.
  • Avoid too much stimulation before bedtime. This means minimising caffeine intake and not exercising directly before bedtime.
  • Avoid having screens such as TVs and laptops in the bedroom, along with any reading that has arousing content (eg, murder mysteries, etc). If this is not possible, switch your device to a night-light option so the light has a warmer feel. Keep your bedroom activities limited to sleep and sex.
  • Be sure that your sleeping environment is a comfortable temperature as the body tends to cool as it drifts off to sleep. Having a slightly cooler temperature with an extra blanket within arm’s reach is a good idea.
  • If you are having trouble sleeping, get out of bed and complete a routine task such as washing the dishes. Avoid intense light.
  • Avoid using substances to help you get to sleep. Alcohol can help get us to sleep initially, but it disrupts the quality of sleep and can leave you feeling tired the next day.

Give yourself a massage

When we feel stressed, anxious or angry there’s a huge number of changes that occur in both mind and body. This is because our brains send signals to our bodies via the flight-fight-freeze system to prepare us for whatever action is needed. During this process, adrenaline kicks in, heart rate pumps, breathing rate increases and muscles tense. By reversing some of these physical changes, we can start to send signals back to the brain to calm down. Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is an easy technique that can be practised anywhere.

There’s a lot of research to support PMR in reducing emotional distress, meaning it’s an evidence-based approach that can be used very easily and for free.

Here’s how PMR works:

  • Begin my tensing the muscles in your feet. Curl your toes in and hold the tension as tightly as possible for a count of 3. Slowly and carefully, release the tension, letting your toes drop to the ground.
  • Tense the muscles in your calves by pulling your feet back. Hold the tension as tightly as possible for the count of 3. Slowly and carefully, release the tension.
  • Repeat this tense-and-relax process for the following muscle groups: thighs, buttocks, stomach, fingers, hands, lower arms, biceps, shoulders and back, neck, mouth and jaw, eyes and cheeks, forehead.
  • Repeat as necessary, practising twice a day for a two-week period.

Keep in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to self-care. Points discussed here are merely a guide and may not work for everyone. Find what works for you and continually review your self-care strategies. If you are still having difficulties after adopting a thorough self-care plan, consult a GP for a referral to a mental health professional.



 

Tegan Bradilovic

Tegan Bradilovic is an AHPRAH registered psychologist who enjoys working in the area of health promotion. Her interests lie in improving mental health at a community level and minimising barriers to healthcare access. Tegan’s client base has ranged from young children with autism to offenders in correctional facilities.