stress

6 Easy Ways to Do Something Kind for Yourself Today

Kindness

1. Compliment a Friend

I really do believe that most of us suffer from some degree of impostor syndrome.

We all have skills, talents, and unique ways of contributing to the world, but acknowledging and valuing them can feel immodest — like there’s something inherently sinful about acknowledging your worth.

So cut through the self-depricating voices in your friends’ heads, if even just for a second. They’re your loved ones for a reason. It doesn’t hurt to remind them why.

I’m still riding the high of a compliment I received this afternoon at the exact moment I needed it. And knowing you have the power to give someone else that feeling of value and importance is something to cherish — and something to be proud of.

2. Drink Some Water

Trust me. As a person prone to migraines — and a person who constantly forgets to drink water unless there’s a bottle directly in front of me at all times — this is a little thing that can make all the difference.

Stay hydrated, y’all.

3. Get One Thing Done

Not everything on your to-do list, mind. It can be overwhelming, looking at the list of personal, professional, interpersonal, financial, and whatever-else-have-you responsibilities piling up. And you don’t need to tackle everything at once. In fact, I’d argue you probably shouldn’t.

But the satisfaction of knocking one thing off your list can create a strong sense of agency. No matter how overwhelmed or stressed I feel, at least I got that one thing done today.

It can be the laundry you’ve been putting off for weeks. Calling a friend or family member. Scheduling a doctor’s appointment. Confirming your next session with a therapist. Actually doing the damned dishes for once.

(Why can’t I do my dishes in a reasonable span of time? The world may never know. *sheepishly sneaks off to do the dishes*)

4. Take 30 Minutes to Be

In our hundred-mile-an-hour society, productivity is king. And while there’s something to be said for activity to break through depression, it’s also important to remember that you don’t always have to be doing.

You can just be. It’s all right.

Whenever I can — and I admit, I’m not great at this yet — I try to set myself a 30-minute span to just do whatever my heart and brain want.

Sometimes it’s taking a shower, even though I already took one that morning.

Sometimes it’s calling a friend just to check in.

Sometimes it’s reading Game of Thrones fanfiction. (I make no apologies for my life or my choices.)

None of this means that you’re wasting time. You’re taking a moment to care for yourself mentally. And what’s more valuable than that?

5. Turn Daily Moments into Escapes

I’ve mentioned it before, but I swear by podcasts. I have a 2-hour roundtrip commute (hey, worst city for traffic in the continental United States), so I use podcasts to transform my commute into an escape from the world.

I’m not worrying about work or anything that’s gone wrong in my life. I’m catching up on the news, listening to stories from people I’ve never met, enjoying improv comedy. It’s a built-in time every day for me to get in touch with things I enjoy.

(Is this an opportunity for me to shamelessly plug my favorite podcasts? Absolutely. Try Welcome to Night Vale, the Thrilling Adventure Hour, Another Round, Snap Judgment, Judge John Hodgman, or The Bugle.)

Even if you don’t have a similar situation in your life, there are ways to turn your routines into daily moments of escape. Turn on your favorite music while you do household chores. Walk your dog a different route every day and enjoy getting out in nature. If you work from home, convert your workspace into a calming area of your house with scented candles, pictures of places that inspire you, or whatever makes you happy.

(Also, I’m fighting really hard not to make “Scented Candles” item number six on this list. You might not understand my thing for scented candles, but Buzzfeed does.)

6. Sleep

If you haven’t noticed, here’s the theme I’m harping on here: Productivity is great, but it should never come at the expense of your own personal welfare.

There will always be one more thing you could get done tonight. You could write two more pages. You could study for 30 more minutes. You could research for tomorrow’s presentation at the office for another hour.

Or you could curl up in bed, close your eyes, and give your body the rest it desperately needs.

The rest of the world will be there in the morning. But your body can’t be running on 11 all the time. Dial it back. Turn off the lights.

And don’t forget to breathe.

What do you think? Did I miss your No. 1 self-kindness tip? Let me know in the comments — I’m always on the lookout for new tips!

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Four Ways to Put Body Image Issues in Their Place

Trying to live a body-positive life can feel like a full-time job. Add the demands of daily life, from your day job to stressors like friends, family, and relationships, and sometimes it can feel like you’re pulling 90-hour weeks. No wonder recovery isn’t linear. No wonder sometimes we feel burned out. No wonder some days are better than others.

If we were allowed to take a break from life and focus exclusively on coming to terms with our bodies and our selves, maybe the process would be faster and less painful. We’d all hike into the woods, climb a mountain, and look out over a beautiful valley into a clear lake, where we would think about those things that need thinking. After a time of self-reflection, we would all discover peace.

Yeah. That’d be excellent.

Life never chooses one thing to toss at us. It’s a juggler, not a MLB pitcher. Weight or body discomfort come simultaneously with fights with friends, family illnesses, financial worries, or unemployment on a longer term than you’d planned on. (*quietly raises hand*) All too often, these added stressors only make body discomfort worse.

Not that I’ve figured out a foolproof way to separate external stressors from internal body-image problems, but here are four tips that might help get through a rough patch.

1. Compartmentalize

Easier said than done, I know. But on a day when you’ve shouted at your significant other for thirty minutes, totaled your car, or discovered you didn’t get that promotion you totally deserve, realize that negative thoughts about the way you look can be a reflexive reaction. It’s what you’ve been doing, possibly for years, without thinking. Getting angry with yourself because you’ve gained/lost/maintained/[insert verb]ed a few pounds is easier and more familiar than trying to manage new, external problems.

Realizing that you’re deploying a destructive reflex isn’t going to make those feelings go away instantly. But it helps take the edge off if you can think rationally about what’s going on. Feel your feelings, but realize where they’re coming from and why.

2. Find the Distractions You Love

On bad days where body image is a symptom of another problem, I like to shine a spotlight somewhere else. Hopefully that spotlight lands on a piece of aluminum foil or a disco ball or something. Because the point of a distraction is basically to find a shiny object to look at instead.

To stop thinking about body discomfort or job-search stress or whatever else, I like to have a long-term project on hand. If it’s large enough, there’s always something there to occupy me for an hour. I don’t need to think about it. It’s the go-to that replaces destructive behaviors or brooding with the door closed. I’ll open up the draft of my novel and hack away at revisions of Chapter 14, again. (Why must you resist me, Chapter 14? *shakes fist*) I’ll curl up on the couch and watch the beginning of season 4 of Game of Thrones. Anything to turn my focus somewhere else.

Does this solve the underlying problem? In a way, kind of. Running away from your problems sounds like the cheater’s way out, but if your problem has dissolved a little or feels less manageable from four miles away, isn’t that a solution?

3. Find Something You Can Change

It’s been said probably a million times before, but the idea that eating disorders are an effort to assert control has something to it. When your boss gives you a scathing performance review or your best friend betrays you in a way straight out of a soap opera, you want to know that the world isn’t spiraling totally out of control. There’s something you can do. There’s something you are good at. For me, that something was food. Or rather, not food. I was really good at not-food.

But we all know where that kind of controlling behavior gets us. Nowhere good. That’s not a place we want to be. So how can you get the feeling of being back in control without damaging your health, physically or mentally?

It doesn’t have to be huge. So what if you can’t stop climate change or create world peace before 5pm? Start small. Empty out your email inbox. (If you’re like me, an out-of-control inbox is like walking around all day with a sharp rock in your shoe. The worst.) Cook a few days’ worth of delicious, recovery-approved meals and put them in your freezer, so you don’t have to think about it for a week. Finish up that homework assignment that’s been nagging you. Call your mother/father/grandparents. They miss you.

However crazy life might seem, remind yourself that you took charge of and accomplished one valuable thing today. Sometimes, one is enough.

4. Remember How Kick-Ass You Are

I used to think there was something about looking in the mirror and saying, “You’re smart and strong and gorgeous and clever and awesome” that belonged more in Zoolander than my daily life. And personally I’m still not big on mirror affirmations. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t try to pump myself up every so often.

Our minds have become wired to replace negative thoughts about things happening in our lives with negative thoughts about our bodies. Not much of a replacement. It’s not easy, but a real substitute would be a positive thought. And this takes practice.

My goal is that when a negative thought pops up, I’ll counter it with a positive one. My strategy while it’s still a new process is something like the improv technique of “Yes, but…” – that is, take what comes before it without questioning, but immediately counter it with another thought. Example:

Negative thought: I’ve gained so much weight, and now my pants don’t fit.

Response: Yes, but you had a really nice text conversation with a friend last night, which objectively is more meaningful than what your butt looks like.

Maybe someday I’ll advance to the point where instead of “yes, but…” I can counter with “nope, bullshit.” But for now, any movement towards a positive response counts.

***

Have you ever caught yourself on a body-negative day and known that those feelings were a symptom of a larger problem? How did you cope on that day? How do you cope going forward?

Vigilante Positivity: Coping Strategies and Relaxation

relax

I realized it’s been a little while since I took up a cheerful topic with you all… It’s easy enough to get caught up in negativity, especially with fantastic people like Abercrombie & Fitch running amok in society, or with every third commercial on TV advertising some pre-packaged diet plan that ships food to your doorstep (more on that later, I’m sure). Although it’s productive to focus on the negativity so that we can pinpoint things we’d like to see changed, it can be a little wearing.

And by “a little wearing,” I mean exhausting.

Whether it’s from reading the news headlines, being exposed to media that’s trying to make money off of your low self-esteem, or negativity that’s coming from within yourself, we all need strategies to pull back when things get too difficult. Taking a break from thinking about problems isn’t giving in, and it isn’t hiding. It’s so important to think about your mental health and give yourself some time to breathe, zone out, and do something you enjoy. Even President Obama still enjoys a game of pick-up basketball now and again, and if you think he doesn’t have enough to worry about…

But stepping back and relaxing is easier said than done. Sometimes negativity can seem so overwhelming that you don’t feel like you deserve to enjoy yourself, or you can’t even remember what you used to do that made you feel good. Trust me. I’ve been there. It’s a vicious cycle of feeling bad because you feel too bad to make yourself feel better.

That’s why this edition of Vigilante Positivity is about coping mechanisms.

Now, I’m sure many of you have read lists of ways to relax or to distract yourself from the urge to engage in behaviors. They’re not difficult to find: for example, you can check some out here, here, and here.

My problem was always that reading a list of ways to relax always felt disingenuous, like it was written for someone other than me. Write positive affirmations and put them in a shoebox? I was already tired of being treated like I was eight. Learn to garden? Okay, I wasn’t in a retirement home yet, and besides, my home state is notorious for being 80 degrees one day and snowing the next. I wasn’t ready to sign up to be a plant murderer.

What I’ve learned might seem like an unproductive topic for a blog post, but it’s true nonetheless: all the lists in the world won’t help you until you find what actually works for you. Sometimes you have to go out on a limb and try something that feels stupid or unimportant, but no one can tell you what strategies will work for you other than yourself.

Discovering ways to help you feel good about yourself and relax is a huge step in the recovery process. I’ve gotten to know myself better since I started actively searching for things I enjoyed and evaluating what I did and why I did it. It’s a way to explore what you can do, not what you look like. And it doesn’t have to be limited to coping with eating disordered behaviors. You can use the strategies that you discover for any stressful situation. (Hello, college exam week.)

Even though I’ve just said that you need to find what works for you, I hope it might be helpful for me to share the strategies that I turn to on a regular basis when I’m stressed, sad, or overwhelmed. I’m not perfect at this; anyone who knows me will tell you that I have my days when I just want to sit around and feel sorry for myself. (I call them Wallowing Wednesdays, because I’m a sucker for alliteration.) But these strategies help. And I hope that you’ll find what you need to help you as well.

ultimate-relaxation-20100922-231210

Knitting

I know, I just said that I wasn’t in a retirement home yet. But there’s something oddly centering about having something to do with my hands but not with my mind. It’s the repetitive motion that I enjoy, and it makes it totally okay to zone out and think about nothing. I’m especially fond of knitting while watching terrible TV, because even if I am wasting three hours watching Real Housewives of New Jersey, at least I have a hat to show for it at the end.

And on a side note, I’ve been knitting relatively actively for the past three years, and last week I finished the first hat that I actually had any desire to wear myself. (I’ve been donating the rest to charity.) A sign that I’m improving? It’s fulfilling, anyway.

Netflix

This is a recent addition, because I just received a subscription for online streaming for my birthday, but this is just a more convenient rendition of a previous item: searching the Internet for free streaming of TV shows or movies. They don’t have to be of any good intellectual quality; actually, sometimes I find it’s more relaxing if they’re not. Taking an hour or two to escape from reality and enjoy someone else’s melodramatic life without being counted on to engage with the other person in any way is extremely satisfying for me.

If you’re at a loss for TV shows to lose yourself in, here are some of my personal recommendations (this is a no judgment zone, remember!): Downton Abbey, Sherlock, The Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother, The Tudors. (That last one is a recent love of mine… I’ve watched four episodes in the past two days. No judgment zone!!)

Music

I’m extremely lucky in that my mother signed me up for piano lessons when I was five and made me stick with it until I learned to love it (around age eight). Music doesn’t involve thinking in words, but it’s a completely engaging emotional experience. If you don’t play an instrument, it’s never too late to try and learn one! Listening to your favorite music is just as effective. Even if you don’t have time to really disengage and relax, listening to music during your commute or while at work, if possible, can really change your outlook. If you want to listen to something soothing, I’ve discovered fabulous hour-long YouTube mixes of classical music or instrumental world music that are great for getting rid of stress.

Sleep

Not going to lie, this is my go-to. My emotional fuse gets proportionally shorter along with how sleep-deprived I am. The less sleep I get, the smaller my personal space bubble gets, the less patience I have for anything, and the more cataclysmic the smallest setbacks seem. When I wasn’t getting nearly enough sleep between work and stress, I lost one sock in the dryer and it felt like the world was going to end.

It’s important that we take care of our bodies, and while that tends to get conflated with behaviors that, if taken to the extreme, can exacerbate eating disorders, that also means listening to our bodies and giving them what they need when they’re asking for it. If that means rest, make sure you rest.

Take a warm shower with nice-smelling body wash or shampoo (I have aromatherapy honey vanilla shower gel, and I credit that with the recent love I’ve developed for showering), put on comfortable clothes (you all already know about my love affair with sweatpants), and curl up in bed. It doesn’t really matter what time it is. If it’s in the afternoon, set an alarm to go off in an hour and a half. If it’s later, don’t worry about going to bed earlier than you usually do. One night of relaxing won’t kill you.

Coloring pages

I’m here to contradict myself, apparently. I’m tired of being treated like I’m eight years old, and yet one of my favorite coping strategies is coloring pages. I can’t really explain it. It’s just another mindless activity to do with my hands. A psychologist might analyze it as a way to regain control, in a world where everything turns out like I want it to and everything fits within the lines. I don’t really care what a psychologist would say, though. It works, and I’m keeping it. You can find some of my favorite sites for free black-and-white printouts here and here.

Animal Videos

I really don’t think I need to explain this. It works 85% of the time for me. Maybe it’s a mark of shallowness on my part, but seriously there’s something about a cat dressed as a shark chasing a duck or screaming goats dubbing pop songs that makes life seem less serious.

Those are just a few of my personal favorite ways to relax and step away from stress and negativity. What are yours? Share them in the comments!