Contributed by: Dr. Stacey Leibowitz-Levy
For many of us, stress is a constant reality of our lives, a feature of our day to day existence. Leaving stress unchecked has very real implications for our mental and physical health. There are many strategies for managing stress and our response to it that largely rely on self-awareness, a take-charge approach and a positive attitude. An additional key element in reducing stress is the capacity for self-care and self-nurturance – the ability to notice and appropriately respond to your needs. This article explores some practical self-nurturance strategies for reducing stress.
There are three key steps to incorporating self-nurturance strategies. The first step in building your capacity for self-nurturance is building your self-awareness. By tuning in and noticing your energy levels and general wellbeing, you put yourself in a position to potentially respond to your needs in an appropriate manner. The next step is of course to notice what helps you relax and recharge. What are the activities, pastimes and/or hobbies that help you feel more able to cope with life’s challenges? The final step involves incorporating self-nurturance into your lifestyle – ideally making it a part of how you live your life on a day to day basis. Ensure that self-care is a part of your daily routine and make sure that you set aside time for a range of activities that work for you. Safeguard this time; don’t allow other obligations to encroach on it. It’s essential to reflect on what works specifically for you and recognize that taking care of yourself is not a luxury but rather a necessity. This is sacred time for you, an opportunity to take a break from responsibilities and recharge your batteries.
A useful way to think about self-care is in terms of defining activities that are relaxing and calming versus those that energise and invigorate. A balanced program for self-nurturance should include a combination of both these approaches and often self-care activities combine both of these needs. For instance, a long bath may primarily be calming, a vigorous run may have energising properties and gardening may combine both these effects.
Keeping the above guideline in mind, let’s take a look at a few practical and alternative strategies you could incorporate into your life on a daily basis:
Take relaxation seriously. Incorporate activities with the sole purpose of upping the amount of time you spend relaxing every day. Even if it’s just an extra five minutes of doing deep breathing exercises, meditation, spending time in the bath or curling up with a good book, set aside time dedicated to relaxation.
Take the time out to enjoy yourself. Make time for the leisure activities that bring you joy. Choose activities purely for enjoyment that have nothing to do with work or a sense of duty and responsibility. Activities such as play wrestling with your kids, sipping an ice-cold smoothie or simply stargazing allow you to simply enjoy the pleasures of life.
Keep creativity alive. Creativity is a powerful antidote to stress. Try out something new, take up a new hobby or challenge yourself to step out of your routine. Nurturing and/or expressing your creative self is remarkably energising. So, wander around an art museum, listen to your favourite piece of music or strum on your guitar and imbibe the positive impact of these creative initiatives.
Connect with others. Spend quality time with positive people who enrich your life. Take the time to connect with and share special times with your loved ones. Read a story to your child as she cuddles into you or go on a stroll hand in hand with your partner. Nurturing your connections is ultimately self-nurturing. A strong support system is an excellent buffer against the impact of stress.
Cultivate mindfulness. Take the time out to smell the roses. Slow down and notice your environment focusing on the aspects that bring you pleasure. For example, when sitting down for a cup of coffee, bring your mind into the present and focus on what you are doing in the moment. Notice the aroma, the heaviness of the mug in your hand and linger on the taste and sensation of the warm coffee as you drink it. Building your capacity for mindfulness is a powerful stress reliever.
Laugh! Laughter is an amazing stress release that impacts on our physical and emotional wellbeing. Nurture your capacity to see the humour in things including your capacity to laugh at yourself. You can generate lightness and positivity by, for instance, watching a comedy or having a good laugh with an old friend. The impact on your general wellbeing will be felt for hours after.
So, ask yourself what forms of relaxation work for you, do you feel you relax enough and think of ways of incorporating one additional relaxation strategy into your daily routine. By noticing and responding to your needs for self-nurturance, you will be in a much better position to respond to and handle life’s stressors when you inevitably encounter them.
Author Bio: Dr. Stacey Leibowitz-Levy is a highly experienced psychologist with a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology (Cum Laude) and a PhD in the area of stress and its relation to goals and emotion. She works with adults, teens and children within her areas of expertise. In addition to her private practice, Stacey contributes to several mental health blogs online, in addition to operating E-counseling.com, in the hopes of providing valuable information to people with mental health issues.