During times of stress, self-care is often the first to go. Ironically, self-care is what helps us to face each day with a foundation that keeps us focused, productive, and able to respond to external stressors with aplomb. Make sure you’re not skimping on these five self-care activities.
1) Eat Well And Regularly:
Most of my patients admit to skipping meals during times of high stress. We often will skip breakfast and/or lunch, and then fill up on a big dinner. Other days, we may find ourselves eating out for all three meals. Skipping meals influences our body to produce more cortisol to help us get through the pain of being awake without fuel. Cortisol spikes can last for hours. Cortisol lowers our immune system, negatively influences our ideal hormonal balance throughout the day, and can lead to us feeling more easily reactive in the face of stress. It also makes it easier to put on pounds, and makes it harder to lose weight. You can see why avoiding unnecessary spikes in cortisol is beneficial to our health.
Here is an guideline for an ideal amount of food for optimal health:
- breakfast: could be a wide range of things: oatmeal with nuts and berries, eggs with sautéed veggies, yoghurt with fresh fruit and granola, just make sure to have some protein at breakfast
- a mid-morning snack of something like half an apple with some nut butter, or an 8 ounce, homemade smoothie with protein in it
- lunch: ideally with a couple servings of vegetables, a serving of protein, and a grain/pseudo grain if you need grains. Please note: Chinese medicine firmly believes that different individuals have different dietary needs, some do well on a grain-free diet, while others need grains.
- a mid-afternoon snack: vegetable chips, a smoothie, some fruit with nut butter or cheese
- dinner: similar to lunch
Side note: if you struggle with weight loss, eating this amount of food made from whole foods, while avoiding sugar and limiting grains will actually aid in weight loss.
Eating this much can seem overwhelming, but it is imperative to keep your health strong. Here’s how to make it work when you’re busy:
On your days off: take an hour to meal plan, pick what meals and snacks you’ll eat for the following week, and make a shopping list. Decide if you’ll spend a day cooking everything up before the week starts, or map out 1-3 crockpot meals to make during the busy work week. We often make three crockpot meals on Sunday, divvy each meal up into tupperware for the week, and then we don’t have to worry about cooking for lunch or dinner during the work week. We’ll make smoothies in the evening for the following day’s snacks. The only meal we cook daily is breakfast.
2) Take Breaks Outside
It is well documented that getting fresh air, and exposure to sunlight helps us to feel more relaxed. Taking a quick walk outside every three -four hours of work on your 15 minute break, can help expose your eyes to sunlight which will help with vitamin D production, and reset your stress response. The brief time away from work often will help bring clarity to any challenging projects that you may be working on. There is a reason most people document their ‘ah-ha’ moments or break throughs when doing something completely unrelated to their job.
Exercise is definitely one of the first things skipped during high stress periods, and it is one of the top three self-care activities that is vital to helping your biochemistry stay ideal. I know you’ve heard a lot about the benefits of exercise, but remember it is crucial to feeling calm, relaxed, happy, and frankly sane.
It will also help you focus more effectively at work when done either in the morning or during your lunch break. The most effective exercises for calming the body and retraining your mind are yoga, Pilates, tai qi, or walking. But truly, any movement is good movement.
If you need a shorter work out, try finding a quick 12-15 minute interval training workout online. Work at your own pace- my goal in suggesting the interval training is to simply get people moving, stimulating muscles, and getting circulation going to break up the stress cycle. You can easily do 5 rotations of 30 seconds of squats, 30 seconds of planking, 30 seconds of high knees, 30 seconds of burpees, 30 seconds of sit ups, and 30 seconds of jumping jacks with 10 seconds rest between each exercise for a 15 minute workout without any gear. A thousand of these interval workout exist online, and most of us can find 15 minutes, no matter how many demands are being placed on our time.
*Side note: a colleague recently pointed out that interval training can increase spikes in cortisol release when done at a high intensity. If you are new to a workout routine, or if you have been diagnosed as having adrenal fatigue, then a walk or yoga will be a better exercise choice for you. Don’t know if you have adrenal fatigue? Ask your local naturopath or licensed acupuncturists to assess you for adrenal fatigue.
Aim for 8 hours of sleep a night. I’m confident that you know the importance of sleep. If sleep is challenging because of your to-do lists, try meditating or stretching for 10-15 minutes before going to bed at night. Simply doing an activity to help turn the brain ‘off’ before sleep, can help retrain your brain to move into sleep more readily over time. Consistency is key when trying to rewire the brain for sleep, so make it a nightly routine.
5) Find Community
Humans are social creatures regardless of whether you are an introvert or extrovert. Spending face to face time with friends helps us feel connected to other and the world around us. Especially when time becomes scarce, make sure to schedule a walk or a coffee date with a friend to make sure you remain connected to your community. You’re psyche will thank you for it. Social media does not have the same
Bonus: Massage Your Ears
The ears have over 150 acupuncture points and is a mini map of the entire body. Massaging your ears throughout the day when stressed can help to calm your nervous system and positively stimulate all aspects of your body.