Self-Care Activities to Reduce Stress
Self-care is about doing the things that help you live well: physically and mentally. It helps you manage stress, lower your risk of disease, cope with illness and increase your energy. Small actions in your daily life such as taking a walk, calling a friend or practicing deep breathing can have a significant impact.
It’s important to note that self-care activities are unique to each individual. “It really needs to be whatever can bring one a more inner sense of peace,” says Dr. Allison Chase, clinical psychologist and regional clinical director at Eating Recovery Center in Austin, Texas.
Why is Self-Care Important?
“I now consider self-care to be an act of self-compassion, with no room for judgement,” says Eating Recover Center Clinical Assessment Specialist Katie Bendel, who explains that self-care, like self-compassion, means being kind and understanding towards oneself during times of distress.
For caregivers, such parents and healthcare workers, it can be difficult to put their own needs first -- but they need to take care of themselves in order to be useful to those in their care. It’s similar to when flight attendants tell us: “Put the oxygen mask on yourself before assisting others.” You have to be able to breathe to help someone else breathe.
It’s especially important for people in recovery to make time for self-care. Lack of self-care leaves a person vulnerable to negative feelings, saps their motivation and compromises the ability to cope with cravings and triggers.
What are the Benefits of Self-Care?
“Self-care is really an opportunity to prioritize yourself in a way to make you even more available to all that’s around you,” says Dr. Chase. By not prioritizing your needs, it becomes harder to fully engage with the world. Research indicates that self-care is vital for building resilience toward those stressors in life that you cannot eliminate. When you've taken steps to care for your mind and body, you'll be better equipped to live your best life.
In recovery, self-care helps you maintain a stable mood, leading to increased energy and motivation and better coping abilities. Just one small act of self-care can have a domino effect, activating other healthy decisions that give you self-confidence and improve your overall sense of health and well-being.
How to Prioritize Self-Care
Self-care doesn’t just happen; you have to set aside time for it -- and you are not being selfish when you do. It bears repeating that self-care means taking care of yourself so that you are healthy and productive each day. Creating a self-care checklist that you keep close by can help keep it a priority.
Allowing even 10 or 15 minutes a day to read, meditate, listen to music or whatever your chosen activities are, allows for a break in the day from job or familial responsibilities, and even serves as an escape from negative thoughts. In truth, it can help silence those thoughts once and for all.
Ideas for Self-Care Activities
Exercise, good nutrition and personal-hygiene are all considered self-care. Keep those in mind as you review the following ideas for self-care activities. Recognize how each activity you choose may sometimes be dependent on another: if you put meditation on your list but are getting inadequate sleep, you may doze off while trying to meditate.
Get a good night’s sleep
Sleep can have an enormous effect on how you feel both emotionally and physically, and not getting enough can cause major health issues. The brain needs sleep to function; without it, we are less patient and focused, make poor decisions, and become moodier, more irritable and emotional. Scientists know sleep is also one of the top ways we can help keep stress in check, as sleep deprivation can make us more sensitive to the effects of stress, ramping up our reactions to it.
Meditation is considered a type of mind-body complementary medicine. During meditation, you focus your attention and eliminate the stream of jumbled thoughts that often race through our minds and cause stress. This process may result in enhanced physical and emotional well-being.
Yoga is considered a form of movement meditation where the movement guides you into a deeper connection with your body and the present moment. Studies have shown that mind-body relaxation also plays numerous roles in recovery. Because stress and tension are common triggers of relapse, meditation can help individuals let go of negative thinking such as dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.
At ERC, our experts have created some guided meditation videos to help you:
Yoga Mindfulness Meditation
Spend time outside
Open your door and step outside. Studies have shown that getting fresh air can help overcome symptoms of depression or burnout. Spending time outside can also help reduce stress, lower blood pressure and lead to a better night sleep, especially if you do an outdoor physical activity like gardening, walking or playing with your dog.
In a study, researchers found that those with various medical conditions and anxiety who wrote for 15 minutes three days a week over a 12-week period had increased feelings of well-being and fewer depressive symptoms after one month.
ERC Recovery Advocate Lindsey Hall states, “When I can’t get out of my head: I’ll get out a piece of paper or open up a new Word doc in my computer and write down the first thing that comes to mind. Then, I’ll make a story out of it – wherever the story goes. It helps me move the narrative in my head to something I can move along on paper instead.”
Take time away from social media
Remove the apps from your phone or computer. Don’t worry; you can reload them later and not miss a beat. Alternatively, keep the apps but reduce the amount of time spent scrolling through them. According to one study, keeping social media use down to just 30 minutes a day can lead to increased mental health and well-being. Participants reported decreased depression and loneliness when they reduced their time spent on social media.
Listen to music, or don’t
While listening to your favorite playlist can be calming, sometimes just sitting in quiet is a more helpful way to lower stress. Lindsey says, “Music is so therapeutic to me but sometimes music can lead me into a dark hole of emotions and when I have a hard time moving through that, I’ll just turn it all off so I can be alone with my thoughts and have nothing [like music] dictating them.”
At first, this may sound like more of a stressor than a stress-reducer. But think about it: when you can’t find your game shirt or your passport, or forget the date of your next therapy appointment, your stress likely increases.
Getting organized can save time and reduce stress, and it can begin with small, incremental changes, like writing down your appointments on a calendar or creating an area to keep important documents. Doing these things may also be considered what Lindsey refers to as “adulting.” When feeling stressed, she says, “I try to do something that will help remind me I’m a capable adult, even if it’s just making my bed, washing the dishes or paying a bill.”
Take a deep breath and be creative
No matter what else you choose for your daily self-care activities, remember to take a few deep breaths along the way. Deep breaths restore important oxygen to our brains, helping us think more clearly. Once you’ve done that, perhaps draw a picture, make a clay sculpture or bang a drum. “I find it incredibly therapeutic to play around on my keyboard and steel tongue drum,” says Lindsey. “I’m not amazing at either, but to create something is meaningful and builds my self-esteem in the moment.” And that is, after all, the epitome of self-care.