“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Maya Angelou
From the time that written language was invented, people have been writing down their thoughts, experiences, hopes, and feelings as a way to document their experience, work through complicated emotions, and keep a record of daily events. It has been long documented that journaling can have a positive impact on both mental and physical health; specifically, journaling daily can reduce feelings of depression, anxiety, and anger as well as less doctor visits, better immune systems, and reduced symptoms of chronic disease (like arthritis)(1). Furthermore, journaling daily can lead to a greater sense of meaning and purpose in addition to increasing the ability to work through life stressors and leading to high levels of self-awareness(1). And journaling can take many forms, from traditional pen and paper to bullets written on a phone app: there are benefits in all of its many forms.
Below are some tips for getting started and increasing your comfort with journaling(2):
- Start small and have realistic expectations: you do not need to spend a lot of time (start with just five minutes) or write anything prolific (you are writing) to experience the positive effects.
- Write at the time of day that is best: some people prefer to write before starting their day, others make it the last thing before bed. Do what works best for you.
- There are no wrong topics: write what you want, whether that is a story about your day, things you would like to accomplish, or simply listing what you are grateful for. Again, make this experience your own.
- Be accountable: it is better to write for a short period of time on a busy day than to not write anything. Make the commitment each day to journal and stick with it.
- Make your journal private: this should be a space for you to discuss things that are deeply personal so your journal is not something that you have to share with others. Keep your journal in a private place.
Remember: if you get stuck or need some fresh ideas, a Google search will produce many different writing prompts and examples of what works for others.
Sleep. We all do it. We all know it is important. The average human spends about 230,000 hours over their lifetime sleeping, so why are many of us so bad at it? Best estimates show that, at any given time in the United States, about 40% of adults report not getting enough sleep(1). Infants need about 15 hours of sleep per day and the number of hours needed gradually decreases until adulthood, with experts recommending seven to eight hours per night(1). Getting the right amount of hours of quality sleep can provide a plethora of health benefits. Research has consistently shown that people who get enough sleep and feel restful are more likely to get sick less often, stay at a healthier weight, lower their risk for serious health problems (like heart disease), use alcohol at lower rates, feel less stressed, have better interpersonal relationships, are less likely to smoke cigarettes or use narcotics, perform better at school and work, and avoid injuries (like auto accidents)(1). Experts have also identified factors that can contribute to difficulty falling or staying asleep, such as stress, anxiety, pain, caffeine use (usually from coffee, tea, and soda), alcohol use, narcotics use, health conditions (like heartburn or asthma), and some medications(1). Additionally, there is the possibility of an undiagnosed or untreated sleep disorder, like sleep apnea or insomnia(1). In addition to having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, a sleep disorder could cause you to still feel tired after a good night’s sleep, feel sleepy during the day, or have a difficult time doing everyday activities (like driving a car), as well as possibly experiencing frequent loud snoring, pauses in breathing or gasping while sleeping, itchy feelings in legs or arms at night that feel better when you move or massage the area, and trouble moving your arms and legs when you wake up(1). If you feel like you may have a sleep disorder, please talk with your doctor about your concerns and if a medical sleep study may be beneficial for you.
Clearly getting enough quality sleep is important, so how do we learn to sleep better? Luckily, there are numerous suggestions by sleep experts that can help you have better sleep habits. First, make your bedroom a sleep-inducing environment by creating a quiet, dark, and cool environment equipped with a comfortable mattress(2). You can achieve this by using earplugs or a “white noise machine, using blackout shades/curtains or an eye mask, and a fan to keep your space well-ventilated and ideally between 60 and 75 degrees(2). Next, establish a relaxing pre-sleep routine and stick with that routine each day(2). About one before bed, take a bath, read a book, watch television, or practice relaxation exercises but make sure to avoid stressful, stimulating activities (such as doing work or discussing emotional issues), as this can cause the body to secrete the stress hormone cortisol, which is associated with increasing alertness(2). Another recommendation is to go to sleep when you are tired; if you are not asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed, go to another room, and do something relaxing, like reading or listening to music until you are tired enough to sleep(2). One other suggestion is to keep your internal clock set with a consistent sleep schedule, even on the weekends and during holidays; specifically, going to bed and waking up at the same time each day sets the body’s “internal clock” to expect sleep at a certain time night after night(2). Finally, it is recommended that you avoid naps during the day, limit the amount of food and beverage consumed in the evening, and exercise earlier in the day(2). Hopefully, some of these tips can help you get better sleep each night and feel fully rested each day. Sweet dreams!
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“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page” -Saint Augustine
For many people, taking a vacation or traveling to somewhere new is one of the best ways to relax and unwind for self-care. And it seems that it is healthy for us, as travel has been linked with increasing creativity and happiness while decreasing stress and depressive feelings1. With the current reality of travel restrictions, financial hardships, and temporary closures of many vacation destinations, a great way to experience the feeling of getting away without leaving your own home is through virtual experiences. There are hundreds of places all over the globe that are giving access, almost always for free, to their artwork, performances, and landmarks; some are simple cams that you can watch at your leisure whereas others are guided tours by some of the greatest experts in the world.
Below are some of my favorites:
The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
The British Museum
The Museum of Natural History
Monterey Bay Aquarium
San Diego Zoo
U.S. National Parks
Virtual Tours of Popular Tourist Attractions Around the World
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Submitted by: Danielle Smart
“If you want to fly, give up everything that weighs you down” Buddha
Mindfulness and meditation are terms that are often brought up when discussing self-care, but for many people can seem very intimidating to actually practice. Research has shown that benefits of practicing mindfulness on a regular basis include reducing cell damage, lengthening our lives, bolstering our immune system, improving our concentration, and reducing ruminative thinking that contributes to the high levels of stress which can help people understand, tolerate, and deal with their emotions in healthy ways(1). Practicing mindfulness, even for just five minutes a day, can be a great way to perform self-care. And remember: mindfulness is about practice, not mastery! Below are two simple exercises that you can practice anytime and anywhere to help increase your mindfulness(2):
- Our senses (sight, touch, smell, taste, sound) can be a powerful influence on our thoughts and feelings, but rarely do we consciously pay attention to them. In this exercise, simply take note of where you are through acknowledging what your sense are experiencing. Get as comfortable as you can (sitting or standing, whichever you prefer) then name four things you can see, three things you can hear, two things you can feel, and one thing you can smell. You can do this as many times as you would like. The goal of this exercise is to focus on what you are experiencing and being aware of your body, rather than your thoughts.
- Think about practicing stillness; this can be as simple as focusing on your breath, a mantra, or an image. You can do this for five minutes, twenty minutes, or however long you choose to be still. Don’t worry if you cannot keep your focus the whole time; whenever your mind wanders off, notice the activity and gently redirect the attention back toward the primary focus. If you need a little more guidance, there are great meditation apps and videos online that can be a great help when learning this practice.
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For most of us, everyday life finds includes juggling multiple responsibilities, from work to home to our communities, which can make us feel like we are always on the go from one task to another. Nine months into a global pandemic, now more than ever, many people are struggling to find a healthy balance between all the things they have to do and all the things they want to do in their lives while the line between professional and personal is more blurred than ever before. It is currently estimated that approximately 42% of people who are employed in the US are currently working full-time from home(1). And the people who are working from home are often working harder than ever, as these workers now account for more than two-thirds of all U.S. economic activity(1). There is no reason to think that these circumstances are going to change anytime soon, as a number of corporations are developing plans for more work-from-home options beyond the pandemic and working days spent at home is expected to increase fourfold from pre-COVID levels (from 5% to 20% of the workforce)(1). For children and teens, life is equally as stressful, as unprecedented numbers of students have started this school year as online or distance learners. It is currently estimated that 93% of households with school-age children reported their children engaged in some form of “distance learning” this school year(2).
A lack of balance between the different areas of your life has been linked to an increase in fatigue, which actually decreases your ability to work productively and think clearly, as well as poor overall health, including worsening symptoms related to many medical conditions and putting you at risk of substance misuse3. Another consequence of lack of life balance is lost time with friends and loved ones, including missing important family events or milestones, which can leave you feeling left out and might harm your relationships (3). Here are some helpful tips that can encourage you to create boundaries and find more balance between the different areas of your life for yourself and your family (3,4):
• Maintain a daily schedule (including breaks), with set start and finish times for work/school
• Have a designated space in your home for work/schoolwork
• Get dressed as you would if going to your office/classroom (shoes optional)
• Do not overschedule yourself and give yourself adequate time to complete tasks
• Do not respond to work/school emails afterhours; turn off any notifications
• Evaluate your priorities; try to shorten your to-do list and delegate tasks when possible
• Practice self-care: set aside time for relaxation and activities that you enjoy
• Eat nutritious foods and make sure you are getting enough water*
• If you are spending your work/school day online, take a technology time out (even if just for fifteen or thirty minutes) each day
• Develop a sleep routine and maintain with a sleep schedule, even on the weekends; aim for 7-9 hours each night*
*Daily diet, water intake, and hours of sleep needed can and will vary from person to person
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