Why is it when life gets stressful we cut out the very things that energize us, leaving us feeling more depleted than before? It seems to ring true that self-care is shelved when stress is high and we are facing the laundry list of tasks in front of us. Living in a society that is consistently on the go, it is impossible to avoid stress.
The symptoms of our stress can have profound implications on our physical and mental health including: increased fatigue, restlessness, muscle tension, racing thoughts, impatience or irritability, changes in eating and sleeping habits, lowered immune system functioning, social withdrawal, etc. Our tendency is to ignore these signs of stress and work harder at accomplishing our tasks at hand.
The question is, how do we minimize the physical, emotional and mental toll it takes on us? How do we avoid the trap of simply working harder when stressed? Though stress is inevitable, here are steps to decrease its impact on your life by focusing on self-care:
- Recognize Stress: respond by taking time to slow down, prioritize tasks, take short breaks and implement relaxation through engaging in something you enjoy, practicing deep breathing, and alleviating muscle tension.
- Maintain a Healthy Diet: food has effects on mood, energy and concentration; set aside time to eat and incorporate foods with natural energizing properties into your diet, rather than depending on caffeine and fast food restaurants.
- Prioritize Sleep: neurologists have acknowledged the importance of maintaining healthy sleeping and eating habits. Resist the urge to add more hours to your day by cutting back on sleep; this actually leads to decreased productivity and clarity of thinking.
- Focus on the Here-and-Now: practice mindfulness by staying attentive to the present moment; take time to notice your surroundings by engaging your five senses.
- Schedule Time for Energizing Activities: think of ways you recharge; are you an introvert and need alone time or an extrovert who needs social stimulation? Make a list of things you enjoy such as reading, taking a long shower/bath, going for a walk, exercising, watching a movie, etc. and create a space for those activities.
- Stay Connected with Others: prioritize spending time with family and friends, there is a natural therapeutic component when we share our experiences with others.
- Plan Ahead and Work Ahead: make ‘time’ your ally instead of your enemy. We all have a tendency to procrastinate, instead stay ahead of the game by breaking projects into manageable parts over several days.