No one is a stranger to stress. Everyone has difficult days, weeks, and sometimes months. Just reading that last sentence has probably brought a few personal examples to mind. Most of us can deal with that kind of temporary interruption. But 2020 was a difficult year. Think about that: a whole year of stress! And the stressors have been extraordinary: a global pandemic, civil unrest, and economic instability. All of that leads to more strains that hit closer to home: a lot of companies (maybe yours) are facing budget constraints, reducing benefits, and freezing new hires and promotions. On top of that, we’re still dealing with the normal stresses of everyday life! Making meals, cleaning, relationships, and so on. Difficult bosses and employees are still difficult. Stubborn family members are still stubborn. My three- and five-year-old have not started putting on their shoes when asked, no matter how hard the rest of the year has been.
Having a year like this has given all of us a level of post-traumatic stress. If you had recently been laid off, had an accident, or lost a loved one, you wouldn’t be expected to just keep going as if nothing had happened. And none of us should! Right now, self-care is at a premium, and we all need to be practicing it regularly.
I don’t know about your personal situation and what you might need to rise above it. But I can offer a few ideas that might help.
1. Offer some ease to your future self.
Do something simple like doubling a couple of recipes and throwing the extra dinners in the freezer. In a few days or a few weeks when you’re exhausted and don’t feel like cooking, you’ll be glad to have something easy you can just heat up. If you know that doing your favorite workout will help you de-stress after work, put your exercise clothes somewhere you’ll see them at the end of the day, easily be able to change into them, and get moving for that endorphin release. Think of a few simple things you can prepare now that will pay off at the end of the day or the week, making it easy for you to do something for yourself.
2. Celebrate personal appreciation days!
Sometimes when I’m feeling overwhelmed, discouraged, or down, it helps to have a day off. Years ago I started celebrating “Jenn Appreciation Day”—a designated day when I only did what I wanted to do the whole day. I select the day in advance, block it off, and arrange to have no responsibilities (e.g., get a babysitter, move a meeting to another day). Next—and this is KEY—I run errands, pay bills, and get the “adulting” out of my system in the days prior to Jenn Appreciation Day. Then I have a blissful day of recharging–going for a hike, staying in pajamas all day and reading a good book, getting a massage, having lunch with a friend . . . you get the idea!
3. Put a new “frame” on some everyday activities.
My favorite example of this is walking my dog, Brutus. Like most dogs, Brutus lives through his nose—he wants to smell everything! Taking a walk with him can feel a little tedious when he stops every five feet to inspect every new smell. But thinking about the walk differently gives me new perspectives—and benefits! As Brutus and I weave through the neighborhood, I like to watch him, look at what he’s looking at, think about what he’s smelling—why is it interesting? What sounds make his ears perk up? What inspires him to wag his tail? For a few minutes every day, I get to experience the world the way Brutus does. It gives my brain a break from my usual worries and stresses, gives it a little healthy exercise, and helps me bond with Brutus. I recommend doing mental exercises like this often. If you don’t have a dog, don’t worry! You can reframe anything you do regularly: your morning routine, your commute, cooking a meal—pick something and find a way to experience it differently!
4. Go easy on yourself.
It’s so easy to be self-critical when you’re making efforts to practice self-care. You might think it’s silly to do something simple for yourself, or you might feel weak for having to take time out for your mental health. Don’t feel guilty for needing a little extra help—we all need it! Instead, think about the benefits of your self-care—it makes a difference very quickly. Talk to a friend or coworker about some things you’ve done for yourself that have helped. Find out what they’re doing for their own self-care.
Ultimately, you need to find your own ways to take care of yourself. You also have to prioritize and make time for it. No one is going to do it for you. What are some of the things you do for yourself when you feel overwhelmed or stressed? How do you prioritize self-care activities on top of your work and other responsibilities?