I’m a mom with 5 dogs. My husband and I are responsible for numerous hapless street animals roaming our neighborhood. There is always somebody who needs or wants something from me. It is exhausting. I don’t get a lot of time to myself, but I desperately need self-care. Most of the time I have less than ten minutes to myself to de-stress, so I have to get creative. I’ve added simple habits and routine to my days, so I can re-center myself in stolen moments.
Some things may seem silly, like not looking at my phone when I first wake up or before bed, but framing your day and abiding by the body’s natural circadian rhythm is a quick and easy way to improve one’s well-being. I make a deliberate choice to center myself first thing in the morning by sitting up in bed, doing a couple neck rolls, and closing my eyes. I focus on my breath for a few minutes before I get on with my day. Starting the day with a clear mind makes a noticeable difference—even if I only get a minute or two of silence before I hear the pitter patter of tiny feet. When you consciously center yourself first thing in the morning, you ensure that no matter what happens the rest of the day, you took time out for yourself and your mental well-being. Carving out time for yourself and making it a routine is the key to setting yourself up for success when it comes to sticking to any habit you’d like to cultivate.
Vagus nerve exercises
On days that are extremely overwhelming or anxiety inducing, I do vagus nerve exercises. They only take about 30 seconds to 2 minutes, and actually make me feel so relaxed I often want to take a nap afterwards (which is great for sleepless nights!). I usually do two exercises, which are different variations of the same basic movement.
The first exercise: Lie flat on the floor with your knees bent and your hands interlaced under the base of your skull. Keep your neck straight and do not turn your head. Using only your eyes, look up and as far to the right as possible, until you feel a reflexive urge to swallow or yawn (if you don’t feel these things just stop at around a minute). Return to neutral, then repeat on the left side. Once you get comfortable doing this without moving your head or neck, you can do this while sitting or standing.
The second exercise: Position yourself in upward facing dog. Turn your neck, so you’re looking behind your right shoulder. Look up and to the right with your eyes until you feel a reflexive urge to swallow or yawn. Return to neutral. Repeat on the left side. This version of the vagus nerve exercise allows you to stretch and stimulate the entire nerve.
Do you have ten minutes and energy to spare? Want to send your endorphins through the roof? There is nothing better than jumping rope. It’s crazy effective—ten minutes of jumping rope is just as efficient in boosting your cardiovascular ability as thirty minutes of jogging. Not only does jumping rope engage muscles in your upper and lower body, it builds coordination and spatial awareness. If you’re not used to it, it can be extremely difficult to go more than a minute or two at a time without stopping, but it is so much more fun than struggling through another HIIT workout on Youtube. 😉
Learning a new skill
Not up for exercise but want to quiet your mind? Try learning a new skill. Engaging your brain in new ways improves cognitive function and builds confidence by giving you a sense of achievement. Plus, if you’re stressed about something, distracting yourself by focusing on learning a skill can ease your mental tension. I’ve been minimally practicing ukulele for a few years and though I’m still not great at it, it’s a wonderful feeling to have gone from barely knowing any chords to being able to play simple songs or learn new ones fairly quickly.
Spend time with house plants
By far the quietest and most subtle self-care in my repertoire is spending time with my house plants. Plants help reduce stress levels and create a sense of calm within. Watching something you planted grow brings gentle joy to one’s heart. My house is home to lots of little experiments—things I decided to plant just to see if they would grow. Lemons, ginger, onion, blue butterfly pea, money plants, and far too many lucky bamboo cuttings decorate my windowsills and cabinets. It feels like my world is a little brighter each time a new leaf appears or another seedling succeeds. All in all it just takes a handful of minutes here or there to keep them alive but they are a constant comfort. (Except the times when they die after being unceremoniously stolen from their dirt homes by a certain dog who will remain nameless. R.I.P. teeny little orange trees.)
Go for a walk
If all else fails, go outside. Take a five or ten minute walk. Sit on your porch and watch the clouds. Get familiar with your local birds. Simply being outdoors is a powerful way to change your inner experience. Going outside has been proven to reduce anxiety, decrease cortisol levels, and even boost your immune system. Don’t discount the simple joy of experiencing life in your corner of the world just because it is so effortless!
I know life can be overwhelming and scary at times, but if you start adding small and do-able healthy routines or habits to your day, you enhance your ability to cope with even the most difficult situation. Give yourself time—even if it’s a few quiet moments. Do a little bit here, a little bit there. Every effort you make, no matter how small will add up and you will surely reap the benefits.
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Photo: Anna Tarazevich via Unsplash