When was the last time you were stressed out? Maybe when you were paying bills, watching the news, attempting to make sense of COVID-19 or processing paperwork as a result of the loss of your loved one. Your heart starts racing, your palms get sweaty, your stomach jumps into your throat. We experience these feelings so often we don’t even recognize that we are stressed, and that our physical and mental health is compromised. Stressful events and a stressful environment are quickly becoming the norm for most people, making it even more important to find ways to relax in order to take care of ourselves and others. Stress is known to contribute to other health issues, and the $10 billion self-care industry wants us to believe the myth that self-care can be purchased through a spa day, prosecco and pedicures or weekend- long Netflix binges. All these indulgences are great, but they are not self-care. You may be asking yourself “if that’s not self-care then what is?” Self-care is deliberately taking care of your well being through restorative activities. Practicing a daily self-care routine is the best antidote for stress reduction and enhanced emotional and physical well being. So, what does self-care actually look like?
From a mental health perspective, there are three important factors that contribute to a daily restorative self-care routine. They include moments of silent stillness, 10 minutes of movement and time in nature.
Each day we are bombarded with noise from the TV, traffic or our children yelling, but the loudest voice of all is that little voice inside our head that is shouting negative thoughts. Carving out time each day to sit comfortably for five minutes in silence allows us to create awareness around this internal voice. Increased awareness allows us to choose what thoughts we want to hang onto and which ones we are prepared to let go. It also allows us to adjust the volume on our internal voice. Try putting your to-do-list on hold for five minutes, find a quiet and comfortable place to sit and embrace the silence.
The second factor in a restorative self-care routine is including movement in your day. Just 10 minutes a day of walking, dancing, yoga, swimming, or biking can create endorphins that help us get a better sleep, which can reduce our stress level. Sharing this self-care activity with family by dancing in your kitchen to your favourite song can add some fun to your self-care routine.
The final factor in developing a restorative self-care routine is time in nature. Like our lives, nature is an ever-changing environment. Research completed in environmental psychology indicates that time spent in nature will improve your mood, reduce stress, and improve cognitive function. Simply by going outside and immersing ourselves in nature, we are able to improve our quality of life and reduce our stress level.
One of my favourite ways to incorporate all three of these restorative self-care routines is to take my camera, if I’m using my phone camera I turn off the sound so as not to be distracted by the beeps and rings, and go for a walk along a trail or on the sidewalk. Practicing self-care through the lens of a camera forces me to slow down, be still and silent, be aware by paying attention to my surroundings and mindfully choose what catches my attention. Photographing a plant, sun- rise, budding trees, empty streets, or architectural details that I typically rush past allows me to print my favourites and create a collage of the changing scenery in my environment. You may find that the more you practice this self-care activity, the more detailed your images become, and a pattern of interest may also surface as you record your work. For example, the day that you are on autopilot you may find nothing of interest to photograph in contrast to days when you are able to give yourself permission to embrace those 5 minutes of silence. Practicing restorative self-care isn’t about taking the best picture or having the coolest Instagram post. It’s about showing up for yourself everyday. What would be possible for you if you were able to show up for yourself everyday?
Barbara Collins is a registered psychotherapist and art therapist practicing in the Guelph area. Using the arts and various therapeutic modalities, Barbara’s focus is to help you take charge of your mental health by exploring your emotions and feelings in order to develop coping strategies, improve personal relationships and move through overwhelming situations. www.drawingfromwithin.ca
Source: Threads of Life