“Powerful avalanches begin with small shifts.” — Pamela McFarland Walsh
Self-care is hardest in the moments when we need it the most. When we are stressed, we often get frustrated and cling onto rigid expectations of how things should be instead of being kind to ourselves.
If you’ve had a particularly stressful day at work or school, practicing self-care can be the difference between recuperation and allowing a vicious cycle of frustration and stress to continue.
Everyone copes in different ways, so finding out what works for you is key. Here are 11 tips to help you practice self-care after a stressful day.
- Stop. Breathe. Acknowledge.
Pausing and pulling yourself out of that moment of stress is sometimes all you need to regroup and gain a new perspective.
Take a deep breath and tell yourself that you can choose to focus on what you can do instead of holding onto the past or what you can’t control.
Acknowledge that you are feeling stressed and anxious, but don’t focus on those emotions or judge them. It’s okay to feel this way. Once you’re aware of these emotions, you can then choose how you wish to deal with them.
- Give yourself plenty of time to process your emotions.
We often distract ourselves with other things or continue holding onto our problems. Both result in us feeling the same way the next day—stressed, tired and anxious.
Finding out the cause of your stress allows you to take another perspective. If you’re stressed because something didn’t go according to plan that day, what is your underlying fear or need? If you realise that it’s your need for perfection and certainty at all times, then you know what to work with.
Not finding out the underlying fear or need results in you working against it, instead of with it. For example, instead of learning to work with uncertainty, you stress yourself out further by finding new ways to attain that certainty you so crave, which leads to further stress.
- Accept and let go.
Let go of the day’s events once you’ve processed your emotions. Accept the day for what it was, especially the things you are unable to control. For things within your control, remind yourself that change is a process. Things take time and so do you. Be patient and understanding towards yourself.
Remind yourself that you can start again tomorrow. If you want to do something today that will help you better deal with tomorrow, take care of yourself.
- If making a to-do list in advance helps, do that.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work you need to complete the next day, planning it in advance may help. However, do this only for five to ten minutes, and then put it away. Remind yourself that clearing your mind of the day’s stresses will prepare you better to begin again the next day.
- Trust yourself and the process.
Give yourself the credit you deserve and don’t underestimate your abilities. You’ve courageously made it this far (you did get through today despite everything!) and you will be able to deal with whatever comes tomorrow, as you always have. The goal isn’t to get through each day perfectly, but to get through it one step at a time and healthily.
- Nature helps.
Find a place in Nature where you can just ‘be’. Notice sounds, smells, touch, taste (is possible) and sights. If being in Nature is not possible then try a warm, soothing bath. Recent research has shown that bathing reduces stress and helps prevent colds and viruses, improves sleep, strengthens blood circulation, boosts the immune system and detoxifies the body.
- Relax and be present.
Do whatever relaxes you. Take a walk outside. Sit on a rocking chair. Watch a TV show. While doing these things, focus on your surroundings and how your body feels instead of letting your mind wander back to the workday.
To find out what relaxes you best, observe how you feel after an activity. Does 5 minutes of stillness make you feel calmer compared to 30 minutes of TV?
- Practice gratitude.
For a mood lift, shift your perspective just a little. The day had huge challenges, but what went well? That nice lunch conversation you had with your colleague? Coming home to a loving family? Think about these things and remind yourself about what matters most to you.
- Find support.
Sometimes nothing feels better than talking it out with someone. (Pick this person wisely—someone who listens to understand, not respond.) It can help relieve the tension in you tremendously when someone is processing things with you and offering support. You’re reminded that you’re the sum of the people who love you rather than what you did or didn’t do at work.
- Say no.
If you need time to yourself to rest after a stressful day, or if you prefer to just be with your close friends or family, say no to other people or things crowding your evening. Don’t feel guilty about it. We all have numerous obligations, but we need to practice taking care of ourselves first. Everything else will naturally fall into place after.
- Get enough sleep.
This is the most important step. You need enough physical rest in order to feel and function well the next day. If you have trouble sleeping, try relaxation exercises such as simple ‘yoga for bedtime’ poses, listen to soothing music or meditate. Or maybe try a Yoga Nidra Meditation great for soothing the sympathetic nervous system.
Good Luck with finding your way through.