“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, practising 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 practise self-care after a stressful day.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
American author Elizabeth Gilbert wrote a short piece entitled “Go to the Water”:
"Dear Ones – Years ago, when I was going through a really hard time, a friend of mine who was a naturalist gave me some beautiful advice about how to best take care of myself.
He told me, “When an animal in the wild has been injured, it has only two strategies for how to heal itself: It can rest, or it can go to the water. Right now, try to do as much of both as possible.”
Rest. And then go to the water. Drink the water, submerge yourself in the water, touch the water, look at the water. Then go back to sleep. Repeat as necessary, until healing occurs.
Sometimes I forget these two magical principals—how to rest, and how to go to the water. Then I get overwhelmed by life’s challenges, and I trick myself into believing that I need a much more complicated cure than your average wounded animal. And sometimes I do need a more complicated cure, I guess.
But not usually. Usually sleep and water will do the trick.
It always reminds me of that Isak Dinesen quote: “The cure for everything is salt water: tears, sweat, or the sea."
(When the ocean isn’t available, a long hot bath will work. Or a cold shower. Or standing naked under the garden sprinkler, which has been known to change the energy of a day, as well! As a final resort: Just drink 8 ounces of the stuff...whatever it takes! Get thee to water, people.)
Just rest, and go to the water. It’s all gonna be alright. That’s what the water always tells me, anyhow. And I believe in the water."
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?
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.
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.
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 practise taking care of ourselves first. Everything else will naturally fall into place after.
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.
This article was first published on The Mindful Company.