stressedoutEver feel burnt out, overwhelmed and just plain frustrated with your job or your life?  Well that happens to me from time to time.  It hits me really hard when I take on too much by saying “yes I can do that” “yes, of course I can do that too” “yes, no problem” and when I don’t take time for me. This is something that only in the past couple of years I have started to pay attention to and only because I got really sick.  In fact, I got sick a lot a couple years ago.  I would have allergies, that would turn into sinus infections and then turn into bronchitis.  It was bad, my family and friends were concerned and so was my supervisor.  As we started exploring things, I realized that it was because of my stress level and how I was taking care of myself.  My self-care sucked!!!  I barely worked out, I ate like shit and I was using alcohol to unwind and let loose.  Oh and I didn’t get much sleep and felt crappy all the time.  I had no energy level and I never really took time for myself.  I also spent a lot of time doing what other people wanted to do and didn’t have very good boundaries about what I wanted.  Some of you can probably relate.

Well it never really occurred to me that life could be different, that I didn’t have to take medication to manage my allergies, that I could say “NO,” that I could take time for myself and still be present with the ones I loved and wanted to be with.  How did I learn about self care then?  Well it all started for me when I decided to do a bikini competition, in fact my life completely changed when I decided to do this and much of the credit goes to the coach I found.  There are lots of wonderful coaches/trainers who can help you get in tip top shape for a bikini competition, but I found my lifestyle fitness coach, Jill Coleman, by chance.  I have no idea how her name came up when I was google searching a bikini coach, I had a hard time finding her the second time.  Luckily I read her blog, which I was engrossed by and was able to remember her name.  Anyways, Jill focuses a lot on mindset and shifting your mindset, as part of fitness training. She helped me understand that taking care of yourself and accepting yourself the way you are are important.  She also taught me that you have to be able to honestly communicate with people and set boundaries (something I still work on- but I am making progress). That in order to take care of others, it is important to take care of yourself FIRST, yes first!

Some of this stuff I know from my education and training as a social worker and therapist.  But I wasn’t very good about implementing it into my life.  Actually, I kinda sucked at it, especially in my personal relationship with my now husband.  It has been a long bumpy ride, but I wouldn’t change a thing, because it has brought me to where I am today.  And I am very thankful to my journey and what I have learned about taking care of myself.

Self-careFirst let me share 10 reasons why it is so important to practice self-care (daily if possible).  1) It helps improve the overall quality of your life 2) Lowers your stress level 3) Improves your health & increases your immunity 4) Lowers your stress hormones like cortisol 5) Increases your happiness 6) Increases your confidence 7) Increases your energy level 8) Better able to manage stress when it happens 9) Wards of burnout and fatigue 10) Helps you be a more compassionate, present and supportive person to the people in your life.

Don’t all those benefits sound awesome?! If so, now you are probably wondering how do you implement self-care or well I think I do this. Well there are many areas in life where we need to have self-care (physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, workplace/professional, social) and attending to them all is helpful.  If you want to take a self care assessment click here.  It goes over several areas of self care and you can see where you are strong and where you could improve.

Implementing self care is a daily practice.  So it isn’t a one time and I am done type of thing.  It is done best when you do something you love daily, that brings you joy and pleasure and helps relax you.  This is personal to everyone and what works for me may or may not appeal to you. Either way, here are my top 15 ways to practice self-care

1) Workout with weights, sprints, and plyometrics – helps keep me on my toes and give me a good workout.  When I start my day with an awesome workout, I am typically better able to manage little stresses.

2) Practice martial arts. I have been studying for more than 6 years and I love the art Kempo.  It helps ground and center me.

3) Going for a “leisure walk” with my dogs.  This is very relaxing for me and they love it.  We live close to a mountain so when it isn’t too hot we will hike up it for a change of scenery.

IMG_03574) Eating “real” healthy food (unprocessed food that grows in nature and not our of a production plant found in a box).  Since the competition I have been paying more attention to how food and drinks affect me.  I typically don’t drink often and when I do enjoy some I naturally limit it to 1-2 and sometimes I might have 3 but that is now an extremely rare occasion.  I also try not to eat greasy fast food, grains or limit dairy.  I have found that I do best on a paleo style diet.  Many times we don’t know how food affects us until we start paying attention to it. So I recommend just pay attention and start with slow changes if your diet could use some improvement.

5) Massages – typically my husband and I get one per month however at one point we were doing them twice a month.  I would love for us to get back to that because I feel so much better after a relaxing massage.  It help my muscles release tension.

6) Read.  I have two masters degrees and so I have done my fair share of reading.  After college I didn’t want to read anything.  However now I enjoy reading (in part because my coach assigned me monthly books to read on awesome mindset things).  Some of my favorites are Being Happy, Loving What Is, The Four Agreements, The Art of Non-Conformity, and How Successful People Think.  Right now I am reading The Gifts of Imperfection and I have to admit, it is life-changing.  This is one of the books I have written in the most (I like to write in the margins and I still highlight great passages).  It is really helped me reflect on who I am and how to embrace myself.  At some points in the book it felt like the author wrote the book just for me.

7) Learning to say “No.”  A great woman has taught me (my mother) that every time you say yes to something, so say no to something else in your life.  So although learning to say “No” can be a challenge and may cause great anxiety at times, once I started doing it and being honest with myself and others about what I was capable of doing and what I wanted to do, I felt better.  I am still learning to practice this but saying no and establishing boundaries has brought me great relief after my initial anxiety and worry.  I feel better saying “no” to the things I don’t want to or are nor capable of doing and say “yes” to feeling good.

8) Watching funny movies.  I love watching comedies however that is something that has changed over the years.  When I was younger in college I was always an action flick or suspense thriller kinda girl and although I still enjoy them from time to time, I will pick a good comedy over action.  Laughter is a critical stress reliever and helps use feel better.  Smiling in general changes our mood, try it next time you are kinda frustrated think of something funny and smile.  It reminds me of one of the Harry Potter movies where the dark arts teacher was helping the students master their fears with turning it into something humorous.  I believe the same could be said for anger or frustration.  Try your own “ridiculous” spell and start laughing.

9) Express Gratitude – I started a gratitude journal and every morning I would write down as many things as I could on one page that I was grateful for in my life, even the negative things that had happened.  Then every night I would write down as many things as I could about what I was grateful for that day.  This might seem like it would be redundant or maybe hard to identify just one especially some days, but the practice gets easier.  Just start with trying to find one, then try to get 3.  I promise if you can get to 3, you can find more, you just have to be open to looking.  Remember what you focus on, you get more of, so why not focus on what you love about your life and what you are grateful for.

10) Be creative – I love knitting and crocheting.  It helps me destress and has helped me cope with some really difficult times.  Creating beautiful can happen in many forms, photography, art, sewing, scrapbooking, etc.  Find something you love to do and create beautiful things.

11) Play and dance – sometimes as adults we forget the importance of play.  When was the last time you were on a swing or went down a waterslide or played a game of tag?  Somehow some of us forgot to have fun and play.  Why not try playing a game that you enjoyed playing when you were 8 and really knew how to have fun?

12) aromatherapy – our sense of smell has been linked to memories in our minds.  Have you ever walked into a place and been put at ease by the smell or been somewhere and all the sudden you smell something and it reminds you of a time you were with your grandparents?  Smell is powerful and imprints on our brain.  Use smells when you are stressed.  A friend gave me an awesome very potent smelling candle that I have at my desk and every time I am stressed, I take of the lid and draw in a deep breathe.  It really helps reduce my blood pressure and physiological stress reactions.  Try getting some essential oils of smells you like, maybe try lavender (known as the calming smell) and carry it with you. When you get in a stressful situation pull out your bottle and sniff

13) Practice Yoga.  I am such an active person that taking time to slow down and quiet my mind is extremely important.  I prefer restorative yoga or yin yoga because you stay in stretches for long periods of time and work on breathing and relaxing your mind.  It takes time and can be challenging but yoga is a great way to practice self-care.

Japanese Friendship Garden14) Meditation, visualization and deep breathing – I love visualization because it can take me on vacation in 5 minutes.  My favorite place to visualize is the beach.  What is important about visualization is that you take all your senses there – you can hear, smell, taste, touch and see it and you also use deep breathing with it.  I usually do a breath in for 4 count, hold 4, breath out for 4.  Deep breathing helps increase oxygen flow so don’t be surprised if you get a little light-headed when you start.

15) Good quality sleep – my goal is to get no less than 7 hours of quality sleep every night.  Preferably I would rather have between 8-9 but 7 is my minimum.  My body works better when I get good sleep.  I don’t allow the t.v. to be on in the bedroom (something that is a constant struggle with me and my husband) because I know that t.v. interrupts your sleep due to the simulation in the eyes.  If you struggle with falling asleep try – Yogi Bedtime tea (one of my favorites), avoid sugar because it increases your blood sugar which causes you not to be able to sleep, try reading a good book to quiet your mind, try eating a little more “healthy” carbs at night with dinner, use your gratitude journal to write down what you are thankful for or us meditation/visualization and deep breathing along with progressive muscle relaxation.  Sleep is critical in managing hormones, increasing energy level and repairing/restoring your body.

IMAG0123-300x17916) Mini-breaks or vacations – These are great getaways where you can experience new things and take a break from your everyday life.  Sometimes we just truly need a good getaway from the normal everyday things we do.  So make sure it is somewhere fun and somewhere you enjoy like, the beach (my personal favorite)

Look at your life and see how you are doing with self-care.  Remember it is important to find things that work for you.  I found this great blog 70 Ways for Self Care  so feel feel to visit it for additional ideas.  Whatever you do remember to take care of yourself first, so you can take care of others.  Plus is you are a parent, you are a role model to your children.  They learn how to handle stress, anxiety as well as how practice self-care by watching you.  And if you are not a parent, you could still be a role model for other people, you never know who could see you as their role model. But most importantly do it because you deserve to take care of yourself and it is one of the best ways to express self-love.

Remember this is about making lifestyle changes and it’s best done when it can be practiced daily.

“Give yourself permission to focus on yourself, because you deserve it.” ~ Amanda oxox