At this time in our lives, there are higher levels of depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses than ever. So, it is crucial that we remember to take care of ourselves to manage stress.
Self-care is important for your personal health and well-being. Consider your physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental health. Keeping these elements balanced requires some consistent self-love. Self-care is essential.
Although it’s sometimes viewed as a luxury — like trips to the spa, retreats, and getaways, it’s really made up of small, everyday steps you take to enhance your overall well-being. Remember that one of the best self-care strategies is sticking to a routine and making these actions part of your everyday life.
Here are 10 areas to focus on during these difficult times:
It can be tempting to turn to convenience food to save time, but in most cases, these are not healthy options. Take time to cook a meal, even if it is only something simple. This is helpful in relieving stress because it makes you feel better. Avoid stimulants as much as possible. Excess caffeine can make you feel anxious or on-edge. Eat a well-balanced diet that includes whole foods, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and protein.
Pay close attention to hunger cues, and only eat when you’re hungry. Eat slowly so you can savor each bite and give your body time to send signals of feeling satisfied. Recognize those signals and stop eating when you start feeling satisfied.
Try to do at least 30 minutes of exercise each day. Exercise makes the brain secrete chemicals that help keep neurons healthy. You can do something fun like go for a jog, walk your dog, ride a bike, gardening, lifting weights, -you name it! Moving your body is the key.
You also need to ensure that you get at least 7 hours every night. Don’t try to work or do things right up until you fall into bed. Instead, take half an hour or so before you go to bed to relax a bit. Without enough sleep, you face an increased risk of issues like depression, increased weight gain and inflammation, and decreased attention span.
4. Relax and Have Fun
Many people do not include relaxation or ‘fun’ time in their schedules, but both are extremely important for reducing stress. Taking in a full deep breath helps calm you down and helps control your stress levels. Get outside. Being outdoors boosts mood, eases anxiety, and reduces stress. Soak up the vitamin D. Spend time on a hobby you enjoy: painting, gardening, sewing, cooking, home improvement projects, whatever brings you joy. Play a good old board game with your family.
5. Focus on the Positive
Watch a funny movie or TV show. Laughter is good medicine! When we are stressed, it is tempting to focus on everything that is hard, or that is going wrong in our lives. However, thinking more positively—for example, by looking at what has gone well that day or week, or even over a longer period—can have positive effects on your mood. Your mind is a very powerful thing. It can drag you down, and it can also build you up.
6. Keep a Diary
Keeping a diary is an effective stress management tool as it will help you become more aware of the situations which cause you to become stressed. Note down the date, time and place of each stressful episode, and note what you were doing, who you were with, and how you felt both physically and emotionally. Give each stressful episode a stress rating (on, say, a 1-10 scale) and use the diary to understand what triggers your stress and how effective you are in stressful situations. This will enable you to avoid stressful situations and develop better coping mechanisms.
7. Keep in Contact with Friends/Family
Engaging in face-to-face interactions allows us to build positive, meaningful connections, however right now when we can’t necessarily physically be with someone, use video apps instead. Practice small acts of kindness with others. A little kindness goes a long way! Send notes of encouragement to others. Who doesn’t like to receive mail? Especially when it’s a note of encouragement from loved ones.
Do not feel that you have to cope with your problems alone. Asking for help is often hard, but it is a very good first step towards managing your stress better.
8. Keep Your Mind Active
Do crossword puzzles, word searches, Sudoku, and other brain-training activities.
9. Take a Break from the News, Social Media, and TV
The currency of ‘likes’ supplies external validation and releases various chemicals in our brains that make us feel good. The rapid changes in content and ability to just keep scrolling also discourage time-bound use. It is important for anyone using social media to understand that it is designed to be addictive. There is growing evidence that it is important to get into the habit of switching off your Smartphone periodically—and not just at night. Try taking time out from technology: spend time outside, or perhaps, reading a book instead.
And last but not least, actually, this is the most important one:
10. Spiritual Health
Listening to and singing worship songs can really uplift your spirits. Pray, taking time to talk with God can really help bring peace and wisdom not only during stressful times, but anytime! Praying is very powerful and has a positive impact on our mental and physical health.
Participate in online church services. One of the most positive things about the pandemic is that so many churches have put their services online via mediums such as: YouTube and Face book Live so you have a lot of options to stay connected and hear God’s Word, and participate in Worship.
Final Thoughts, when life gets chaotic and stressful, it can be easy to forget about the importance of self-care. Remember, Self-care isn’t a once-a-month trip to the spa, it involves taking care of yourself every day, without fail. Creating a self-care checklist is an easy way to outline your physical, social, mental, spiritual and health needs. I care about you and I hope these tips will help you to navigate these difficult times in a more positive, stress-reduced manner.
Did you know that when we have unforgiveness it can lead to major health problems? I think so many of us believe that we can't forgive someone because they wronged us and they don't deserve forgiveness. However, when we have that attitude, we are only hurting ourselves, physically and emotionally. We need to forgive others because when you harbor unforgiveness it leads to resentment and bitterness which, in turn, wreaks havoc on our bodies. As it is stated within our Life Skills course, “When we choose not to forgive someone for their wrong, it is like taking poison and hoping the other person will die”. In most cases, the person with whom you have not been able to forgive doesn’t even know that you are still holding a grudge. In fact, they have probably long forgotten about the incident, if they even knew in the first place that there was an issue. Pretty amazing isn’t it? So much energy spent on “hating” someone and it only hurts you, not them.
From a Biblical standpoint, God’s Word tells us that “He will forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. So, not only is it a mandate given to us by our Father in Heaven, it is the best thing to do for our own well being.
One of the things we recommend in Life Skills is to write a letter to the person you are having a hard time forgiving telling them how much they have hurt you, using as many specific feeling words as possible, as this really helps to pinpoint exactly how you feel. Next, tell them you are ready to forgive them and move on with your life. However, you DO NOT give the letter to the person! This is meant to help you process through your feelings and release yourself from the bondage that comes with unforgiveness. Many times, the person you need to forgive is not a safe person to talk to about your hurt or to share a letter with and then you put yourself into a position of just being hurt again. This is for your own health and well-being. Try it and see how much better you feel! You will be amazed at how much this helps you to heal and move on.
What is integrity? As defined in the dictionary it is: The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness. The state of being whole and undivided.
Integrity is the qualifications of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness. It is generally a personal choice to hold oneself to consistent moral and ethical standards. In ethics, integrity is regarded by many as the honesty and truthfulness or accuracy of one's actions.
Some synonyms are: honesty, honor, good character, principle(s), ethics, morals, righteousness, morality, virtue, decency, fairness, scrupulousness, sincerity, truthfulness, trustworthiness
Interestingly enough, I only found one antonym: dishonesty
One of my favorite ways people have described integrity is “Your personal integrity or moral character is defined by who you are when no one is looking.” Another words, are you who you are to impress someone else or are you the same in all circumstances?
Through the Life Skills curriculum, the biggest goal is for students to become more like the character of Christ. This becomes evident through words and actions. It becomes evident when we say what we mean and mean what we say. It is also evident when we treat others the way we want to be treated. It is further evident when we make moral and ethical choices based on what God's Word teaches us to do, no matter who is listening or seeing.
Two life commandments I have tried to live by are: “Never hesitate to do that which is right” and “Do what is right and the feelings will follow”. I am not sure when, why, or who, specifically, instilled them in me because I don’t remember ever not trying to live by these standards, but I am sure my parents were a big influence in that area.
I am definitely not saying that I have always made the right choice in every circumstance. Not by a long shot. This is part of our sinful, human nature. In fact, as a teenager I made plenty of mistakes and poor choices. However, I remember very clearly, my dad saying to me after making some bad choices that he didn’t need to punish me because he knew that I would punish myself more than he ever could through my guilty conscience. He knew me so well! I guess he knew that he (and my mom) and, of course, the Holy Spirit had instilled a strong moral compass within me.
You may be wondering what I meant when I said “Do what is right and the feelings will follow”. What do feelings have to do with it? Well, one thing I know is that our feelings will lie to us all of the time. If we only do what is right when we “feel like it” then how do know we aren’t being influenced by our own selfish desires and ambitions? We all have a moral compass that helps guide us as to what we believe is right or wrong. We need to strive to do the right thing, make the right choice, and treat others right, whether we “feel like it” or not. We need to set our “feelings” or emotions aside when making choices and be men and women of good, upstanding character, or, in other words, strive to become more like the character of Christ.
Dr Paul Hegstrom, founder of Life Skills International, describes Life Skills as a self-parenting course. In other words, it teaches us the things we should have, or would have been taught if we were raised in a completely healthy and functional home. Our parents only knew what they were taught so they passed down to us what they knew.
When we strive to “do what is right” it helps us to avoid making decisions that we regret. The following is a poem that I wrote about regret:
Regret has no boundaries
It comes when you least expect it
It causes such heartbreak in its wake
The results can be unbearable
Sometimes we need to give up control and just have faith
God is in control
He is our provider
We are nothing without Him
No matter how hard you try, regret cannot be masked
Believe, trust, have faith
You can decide today to live without regrets. You can decide today to strive to be more like the character of Christ. You can decide to live a life of integrity. You can decide to make positive changes in your life. Decide to “never hesitate to do that which is right”.
You can do it! I believe in you!
One of the most important things we teach in Life Skills is the value of self talk. Research shows that it takes anywhere from 5 - 40 positive comments/acts/looks/gestures to undo the damage or negate 1 critical comment/act/look/gesture? Unfortunately, the critical comments/looks/gestures in our lives, most times, far outweigh the number of positive ones. So, do we go around looking for, fishing for, or trying to earn compliments or encouragement? No, that would be far too difficult and, in many cases, awkward. However, what we can do is positive self-talk. We have several different lists included in our curriculum of self-talk to use in order to help to negate all of the negative feedback we receive every day. Telling ourselves that we are valuable, worthy, etc... out loud has been proven to be very effective in helping to raise self-esteem. Don't believe it? Try it! As I mentioned, we have several lists of self-talk within our curriculum available to our students, however, you can make your own list. I would suggest making it as personal as possible. Some examples of what's included in our curriculum are:
I am a valuable person.
I can have a healthy self-image.
I can set specific goals for my future, and work confidently and diligently toward accomplishing them.
I can be a responsible, punctual, and dependable person.
The most effective way to do this is to look at yourself in the mirror and say the self- talk out loud to yourself. In our curriculum we teach that you do this for 30 days without missing a day or you have to start over. I always tell my students to do them until they believe it! For some, this can take quite a while.
So, if we really understand the impact our words & actions have on each other than imagine how much better our relationships with our spouse, teacher, friends, children, parents, etc... would be if we started saying and doing positive, encouraging things rather than always focusing on the negative.Try it today! You'll be amazed at the results!
What does it mean to validate? "Recognition or affirmation that a person or their feelings or opinions are valid or worthwhile." What a brilliant concept! If we could all just jump on board and try this we'd be amazed at the results. Validating costs nothing, but its rewards are immeasurable.
What does it look like? Validating looks something like this: Your friend/partner/child comes to you and tells you about a situation where someone treated them poorly and instead of defending the other person by saying something like "Oh, I am sure they didn't mean it that way or maybe they were just having a bad day, etc..." you would instead validate them by saying something like "I am so sorry that you were treated that way, that must have really hurt your feelings, etc..." Remember, this is your friend/partner/child, someone you care about, why are you defending the other person who will never even know that you did? Your friend/partner/child is just looking for a caring ear.
Another example would be: Your child falls down and skins their knee and instead of saying something like: "Oh, you're fine, stop crying, or shake it off." You would instead say something like: "Oh, honey, that must have really hurt. I am so sorry you got hurt. Let me kiss it, etc..." And then, give them a big hug. You will be amazed at how quickly they stop crying because they feel validated in their pain. I have done this time and time again with my own children, grandchildren, and many others and have been amazed how much it works... every time!
Also, they aren't looking for someone to solve their problems either. So, unless they say that they are looking for an answer to their problem, just listen! By listening, I mean put down your phone, turn off the TV, shut your laptop, and give your full attention and participate using active listening skills such as eye contact, nodding your head, saying uh-ha, replying to questions, etc... Nothing feels like invalidation more than trying to share something really important with someone and then realizing that you are having a one way conversation with a person who you thought really cared about you.
What does it cost you to validate? NOTHING! What are the rewards... immeasurable! People just want to know that you care. It's called empathy. Catch it!
New Year's Resolutions
Are you like many other people who start off their new year making resolutions that usually get forgotten about, sometimes as soon as morning hits on New Year's Day? I, too, have fallen into the trap of making resolutions without really making the decision to follow through on it. Resolutions, without goals, are destined to fail. If you are serious about making a change in your life you need to sit down and make a list of your long term goals and then follow up each long term goal with a list of short term goals that will help you to reach that goal. Many times our short term goals come in direct conflict with our long term goals and we don't even realize it. Having a plan in place will help you to recognize that you may have conflicting goals and allow for making the necessary adjustments.
I have a sign in my office that reads "Winners hate losing enough to change, and losers hate change enough to lose." When my husband first read that he cringed and said "Ouch!" I know that it can seem harsh but he knew the reality, as well I do, that change can be hard work. Sometimes we think it is easier to just stay in our comfort zone even though there may be great pain tied to it because we are afraid of change. If you are willing to get out of your comfort zone and do the work you will see positive changes throughout your life. For some, they have to get to the point where the pain of staying the same is greater than the process of facing it, processing it, and moving past it.
Make the decision to want to win enough to make a change. You can start simply by making the decision and then following it up by taking it one step at a time... one goal at a time.
Melinda Eck is the Executive Director of Life Skills of Wisconsin, mother of 5 and grandmother of 6. She has been leading Life Skills Classes for both women and teens since 2009.