Clean your room, go for a walk, breathe. Self-care is cheap and easy
You don’t need a vacation to relax — it’s the little things that make you feel good
To celebrate my 34th birthday, I cleaned my house.
It had been a hectic few months and a busy weekend celebrating the wedding of two dear friends, so for the first time in my adult life I wasn't in the mood to do anything.
After a quiet night on the couch with a best friend, pizza, and Bridget Jones' Baby, I woke up that Sunday morning feeling a little sorry for myself. My mid-30s had come and I was sooky about my life, navigating a dating world I don't understand, questioning my career path — the whole meal deal.
I thought about making a breakfast Caesar or staying in bed. But I got up, opened the curtains to let the sunshine in, and started cleaning. There was an underlying anxiety in the pile of clothes on my floor.
Then something incredible happened: I felt better. My whole outlook shifted back to its usual grateful, joyful place. And I had a wonderful day.
All I did was practise a little mindfulness and self-care — skills I learned the hard way after hitting a rough patch in my personal life a couple years ago.
I've always been active, have the privilege of being able to take down time, go on vacation, see a psychologist when needed. Until I really wasn't doing well, and realized I hadn't been managing stress — hadn't been mindful or truly practising self-care.
I was often tired and quick to snap at someone or get annoyed.
And I'm not alone.
Take time to check-in
"If we spend all of our time caught up in work and family and schedules, we don't take time to kind of monitor, 'How are we doing?" explained psychologist Janine Hubbard.
"Because there's only so much we can keep burning the candle at both ends before we need a bit of a break."
Hubbard said self-care "is fundamental to our well-being," and taking a step back to ask yourself if anything is off or you're reacting differently will tell you it's time for simple changes.
"Mindfulness is taking the moment to just appreciate all of your senses and the space that you're in," said Hubbard.
"So that literally could be just while you're sitting waiting for something, becoming mindful — what am I hearing? What am I seeing? What am I tasting? What am I touching? And it helps to ground us."
It can be as easy as taking a minute to notice the water falling on you in the shower instead of zipping through your to-do list in your head.
All it costs is time and focus.
Sunshine and lollipops are everywhere
"Don't get me wrong, spa days and vacations are wonderful and if that's something that helps you to disengage and helps you to relax, and that's something that is a financial reality for you that's fantastic," Hubbard laughed.
"But what we're talking about here are far more small, daily activities that you can engage in. So it could be something like taking the dog for a walk around the block and pausing to look at some of the footprints in the snow, or look at the trees, or notice that there's birds up there," she said. "Embrace some of the nature that is around us."
That was the thing I learned — instead of plowing through the woods on a hike with my dog stressing about what I had to do next, I savoured the moment. Which made it really relaxing, instead of just another thing I had to get done.
Healthy food, good sleep, exercise
Yes, Hubbard said eating well, taking the time to prepare a meal, "setting a really good bedtime routine with some time to wind down," and exercising are all vital to your well-being.
I'm a huge fan of intense workouts with my rowing crew, and quickly noticed how easily the day goes by when I go to the gym in the morning compared with those I don't.
But Hubbard said every little bit helps.
"Just the fresh air, getting out of the buildings — even if it's just for a few minutes, can really do wonders."
Incorporating self-care and mindfulness into your daily routine won't give you the instant gratification we all crave, but you will notice changes — as will those around you.
Plus, as Hubbard puts it, we know that not engaging in good self-care makes you far more likely to engage in "maladaptive behaviours" with negative consequences, like drinking more alcohol or unhealthy eating.
"So if we're looking for both short-term and long-term health benefits, that's where self-care comes in."