Self-care is often looked at as pampering activities which focus on your physical wellbeing. Actually, all parts of us, be it physical, spiritual, emotional and mental needs good habits to better cope with stress.
Stress has become a way of life for many of us. We glorify our “busyness” and wear our stressful hustle as a badge of honor.
But, we also give stress an undeserved bad name.
Research shows us that we need a certain level of stress to perform at our best, but it also shows that when those levels become too high it decreases our performance
It’s a fine balance. Without any stress,
In addition, there is a growing amount of research focusing on the mindset aspect of stress management.
What happens when we have too much stress
When you are constantly stressed, your body goes into fight or flight mode.
This is a likely aftermath of our early survival days when we had to deal with the hungry salivating sabretooth tiger. (Is this 100% accurate? Probably not, but work with me here…)
You can imagine all the blood leaving your brain and going into your muscles to take action. And while there might not be any sabretooth tigers around today, we still respond in the same way to any stressful situations.
We lose our ability to think clearly. We go into survival mode, which doesn’t leave much space for creativity or growth.
Being in a constant state of survival then becomes a habit which prevents us to cope with stress effectively. We create all kinds of unhelpful behaviors, like sabotaging ourselves and being unable to finish the things we start.
Add to that, when you are in this constant state of survival, you become reactive. You find yourself feeling stuck, overwhelmed and anxious.
Self-care habits build resilience in us. We can make better decisions when under stress. We can proactively handle all the little things that life throws at us.
Healthy self-care habits improve our focus and ability to think clearly. You will find you have more energy when it comes to completing tasks. And as an added bonus you will discover that you start to enjoy your life on a whole new level!
How to build new habits to help you cope with stress
Ah, building new habits. It sounds like hard work and let me tell you straight out, it can be.
Popular media loves to tell you about all the good habits you SHOULD have, which include habits which will help you cope with stress.
What most of them neglect to tell you, is that in order for a habit to really stick and for change to happen, you need to buy into this habit MENTALLY, as a first step.
Here’s why: Bying into it mentally anchors the habit and makes it easier to take the actions required that will eventually make this new behavior a habit.
Self-care as a habit works like that. Until you really see the benefit that it brings to you, you will not very likely make it a habit.
We can take this a step further. What if one of the reasons we don’t make self-care the habit we
You can be in survival mode for various reasons.
Some of the most stressful events in life are things like getting married, losing a loved one, starting a new job (or business), moving to a new place and having a baby.
Or, you could have been exposed to stressful situations over a long period of time. Maybe you struggle with your own sense self-worth. You might have negative self-thoughts and limiting beliefs, believing unconsciously that you not good enough.
The truth is, as long you don’t believe that you deserve to take care of yourself, for whatever reason, this is a habit that you will most likely not include in your life.
I’m not telling you this to discourage you to build good habits! The opposite actually.
There are a lot of well-meaning articles and blog posts out there, which preach being positive all the time and insinuate that you can make your worries go away by going for a nice massage.
But if you are reading this, you probably are one of those people for who it doesn’t work.
The ones who, try as they might, still let themselves down and neglect their own physical, spiritual, mental and emotional wellbeing.
The path to real growth
Real growth happens when you look that sabretooth in the eye, even while you are struggling, and you conquer it.
As soon as you start to bring into your awareness some of the reasons why you don’t have self-care as a habit, you can begin to change it.
7 Self-care habits to help you cope with stress
Here are some practical things you can do, that will help you make self-care a regular behavior.
1. Bring yourself into the present moment
It is not so much our world which creates stress for us, it is our thoughts about our world that does.
We can often remain stuck in the past, either nursing hurts or trying to recreate things the way they used to be. Or on the other side, we are living a future of worrying about things that haven’t happened yet.
I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that life is not happening there! It is taking place in the present moment, here and now.
The fastest way to bring yourself into the present moment is by focusing your attention on your breath.
You can also experiment to grow your awareness by paying attention to how are you holding your body. Where are your feet? How does your body feel? Are you holding tension anywhere, like your shoulders or jaw for example?
2. Do a check-in with yourself
Find a quiet place and do a check-in. What emotions are you feeling? What thoughts are running through your mind? What do you need right now?
One way of building a new habit is to link an action to something which you are already doing. For example, do a check-in every morning while you are brushing your teeth.
This is helpful in many ways. When you link your new habit to an existing activity, it makes it easier to remember to do it (until you do it enough times so that it becomes a habit).
3. Develop healthy sleep habits
Nobody can function well without enough sleep. Each person has his or her own requirement in terms of how much sleep is enough.
I need a good 8 hours of sleep a night to be at my best. With a toddler and preschooler at home, this is not always possible! They are mostly good sleepers. But there are times when they struggle to settle.
Many entrepreneurs (myself included) are keen learners. We always want to know more about a topic. When the kids go to bed, the temptation is always there for me to go online.
Part of building a healthy sleep habit is to not do any biz related activities before you go to bed. Don’t read your emails. Stay off social media.
Think of your unconscious mind as a magic soup pot. All the things that you put into it before you go to sleep, simmers and bubbles until you wake up.
That is why it is important to learn how to switch off.
Yes. It really is good for you!
Now, if you’re not a marathon runner I understand. I don’t run either. But if you sit in front of your laptop all day, you will go braindead. I mean it.
With regular exercise your posture improves, your digestion is better. Your creativity increases. You get more oxygen to your brain
5. Eat healthier food
It’s the easiest thing to skip meals when you’re under pressure. And then to grab some comfort food straight out of a box which causes your blood sugar to crash a few hours later.
If you make sure that most of your meals are balanced and nutrient-rich, it will help with that 3pm slump you might feel at times.
Make a point of not eating while you are working. You can practice some mindful eating by paying attention to each bite of food. Notice the texture on your tongue. Really “taste” each flavor.
6. Try these 31 self-care activities to help you relax
If you are stuck for ideas on what things you can do to relieve stress, here are a few things that you can try. You can download it so that you can refer to it easily.
There are many more things that can be added to this list, but it is a good place to start. These activities cover physical, mental, spiritual and emotional self-care.
- Listen to music
- Take a bubble bath
- Go for a walk
- Do some stretches
- Light a candle
- Read a chapter from a fiction book
- Go out for a meal
- Jump up and down and shake your booty (try it!)
- Do some gardening
- Go for a swim
- Walk barefoot on the lawn
- Think of 5 things you are grateful for
- Get a massage
- Make a cup of tea
- Read a poem
- Close your eyes and listen to the sound of your breath
- Drink a glass of water
- Make art
- Spend time in nature (and leave your headphones at home)
- Lie outside and look for shapes in the clouds (super entertaining for preschoolers too!)
- Dance (with or without music)
- Bake something
- Take a shower
- Take a nap
- Decide on Just.One.Thing.To.Do.Today
- Do yoga
- Phone a friend
- Hit a pillow and scream a bit. Then get up, lift your chin, and get on with it.
7. Learn how to say no
Perhaps a good point to start with is – do you ever say no to yourself?
When you are building a business, or raising a family or saving a relationship, do you ever say no? Or do you just push through to the next level, just trying to survive?
You are so busy surviving that you don’t even have time to think. And then when you do have the opportunity to reflect, you drown out your own thoughts with podcasts or music or the television.
You will hear many people preach the value of saying no to others. I agree with that.
A lack of clear boundaries increases our stress levels. Take some time to look at the different areas in your life that need stronger boundaries, and start to say no.
And, what about saying no to yourself?
No for when you work too much. No for when you don’t make time for your friends or family because you hide behind “building your business”. No for social media instead of interacting with the real people in your life.
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The secret to sticky habits
I wish I could tell you there is a magic pill to make habits stick easily. Building new habits and making them permanent is a process and requires a strategy, commitment, and discipline.
However, by choosing to start developing good habits to help you cope with
- Are You Too Stressed to Be Productive? Or Not Stressed Enough?, Francesca Gino, Harvard Business Review