Ever since Calgon commercials promised to “take me away,” (and I don’t mean by a shady character in a windowless van), I have sought out ways to pamper myself.
I take a bath almost every night. And by every night, I mean my husband asks me, “What’s up?” when I don’t follow my evening ritual. For years, a bath has been a great source of stress relief (unless you count the times my toddler slipped through the perimeter and invaded my bathroom while his dad caught the end of a football game).
I typically hoard reading material in a nearby basket, bring in a cold drink (is red wine really cold?) and generously add aromatherapy oils to create an in-home spa experience.
But lately even my nightly ritual is just not cutting it when it comes to relieving my stress. Isn’t just doing something relaxing supposed to work?
It donned me in the midst of an over-scheduled week that I was unconsciously becoming a slave to my mental to-do list. At the end of the day, my undone items were following me into my sacred spa-like cocoon. Instead of honoring my bath as an electronic free zone, I had traded quiet reading and reflection time for lists, notebooks and electronics (bath water be damned!).
The gradual changes to my evening stress reduction ritual didn’t seem so bad at first, but it quickly became a habit that negated relaxation. It was then I considered just how we take care of ourselves. Stress relief is most effective when we do it with awareness and consistency. Simply engaging in an activity, even though it is categorized as a stress reliever, is not enough to have a long-term impact.
It is not just what we do, but how we do it that promotes stress relief.
So, what’s the difference between pampering and self-care? In my mind, an act of pampering is a momentary release. If I were running a marathon, it would be the part where I pause to walk or take a drink. The break wouldn’t be long, but it would be enough to restore resolve to cross the finish line.
Pampering allows us to breathe, regroup and gain strength to face one more meeting, one more toddler outburst, or make one more family meal. It is a fleeting break in the endless marathon of life. But, while these indulgences are temporarily delightful, their affects are short-lived.
When I leave for a spa weekend with friends, the countdown to Sunday night re-entry begins the minute we navigate the mini-van through a local gourmet coffee shop drive through. From the first sip of Carmel Macchiato, we spend the rest of our weekend trying to slow the hands of time like we try to control the homework habits of teenagers.
While pampering feels great and has benefits, self-care practices provide long-term effects known to impact our brains (if we still have one after helping Johnny learn “new” math). When we practice self-care, we begin acting differently – which positively impacts our co-workers, friends, and our family (please don’t tell my teenager). I think most would agree a 90-minute hot stone massage feels calming and releases feel-good hormones promoting relaxation. Those biological benefits wane the minute my little sniper hits me with a Nerf bullet at home. I instinctively react by fruitlessly throwing the Nerf bullet into the wind while yelling something incoherent and motherly. My adrenaline infused parent reactions erase massage bliss faster than a nude toddler on a sidewalk.
Self-care is more about gently shifting our thoughts and actions to avoid reactions based on momentary frustrations. Self-care is far more personal and introspective than simple pampering. You create internal calm without indulging in massages and dipping into a secret chocolate stash every 10 minutes. You want the secret to managing stress and increasing productivity? Read on. It’s all too easy to focus on the tasks at hand, forgetting that taking care of yourself is not indulgent nor is it narcissistic. Self-Care is the true core of your personal well-being.
Want to feel good about yourself and your life? Self Care. When you purposely and actively take time for yourself to do something that rejuvenates and energizes you, stress decreases, motivation increases, and tah-dah! Productivity occurs.
How to Create Self-Care in the Midst of Chaos:
Breathe – It’s a good thing breathing is an unconscious biological response or I’d probably forget to do it. Most often, we breathe shallowly, tensing our bodies and holding stress in our muscles. By taking one to three deep breaths when you feel tense, you relax and counteract the fight, flight or freeze mechanism (which contributes to those spontaneous outbursts in the Express line at your local discount store).
Be in Nature – Taking that Nerf War or your daily lunch break outside is actually good for your health! (Again, don’t tell your kids or co-workers). Running around, laughing and being outside has been proven to reduce depression, anxiety and general malaise. Nature is highly underrated.
Yoga – I used to avoid yoga like a mom with a toddler avoids the candy aisle. It seemed impossible to quiet my mind and be still. I had secret visions of getting up and running over my yoga neighbor for entertainment. And the pretzel poses? I don’t think so!
Who knew this was the perfect attitude for beginning a yoga practice? The point of yoga is not to be still and flexible on the first try. It’s a place to learn and practice those things. Yoga has many documented benefits including stress reduction, increased flexibility, and pain reduction. It also keeps us calm when parenting, negotiating with spouses and dealing with snarled traffic by redefining the function and structures of our brains.
Meditation – Sorry, meditation is not napping (although there are benefits to that too!). Being in a quiet, reflective state without distraction can actually grow brain matter. Meditation is not about learning to control your thoughts; it’s about learning how not to let them control you! Start with three minutes – even if you have to lock yourself in the bathroom.
Be Mindful – As a parent working from home, I still wonder if I even have a mind. When you are overwhelmed, ask yourself how you can make it easier. Often, that means delegating or letting go of something you “have” to do (like make dinner or attend that one meeting). And ask yourself repeatedly if what’s happening will matter in five years? If not, take a deep breath and go for a walk outside. Your brain will shift and release some of the stress building up in your body.
Pampering can be a delicious compliment to the hustle of daily living. There is no question that our rituals for stress-relief are helpful, but consider taking your pampering to a new level. Self-care is about changing the way you interact with the world, your family and your friends. It goes far deeper and is longer lasting than fleeting moments of reprieve. Self-care is not optional. It recharges your internal battery, promotes better over-all well-being, decreases stress, and increases your energy and motivation.
What is self-care to you?