Self-Care and Positive Psychology Techniques

azalea and stacked rocksYou might have heard the term self-care before but you might be unsure of what it means. Self-care activities are things you can do to help yourself achieve a better life balance. Achieving this balance can help you when times get stressful because your system is in a more optimal state before the high-stress time starts.

Ways to Practise Self-Care

Self-care and distraction techniques can help you relax and feel restored for the next term ahead. There are a variety of different ways you can you can practice self-care, including self-soothing, being creative, connecting with others, changing the scene, and getting some exercise. Let’s take a look at each of these categories and explore some examples.

Self-soothing. Self-soothing techniques are skills that help you relieve stress and calm your mind and body. There are a variety of self-soothing activities you can try, including:

  • Watching a relaxation or guided meditation video on YouTube
  • Listen to music you love
  • Eat a comfort food
  • Take a nap or a shower
  • Cuddle with a pet
  • Cook your favourite meal
  • Paint your nails or have a bubble bath
  • Read a comic book
  • Watch a good bad movie or a comedy
  • Open your window and breathe in the fresh air
  • Do something goofy

Engage your brain or create something. Doing things that engage your brain or encourage your creative side can help you turn your thoughts away from anything you are worried about. Some examples include:

  • Do a puzzle
  • Play solitaire with physical cards
  • Sing something
  • Draw
  • Watch a cooking show
  • Knit, crochet, or sew
  • Read a book by an author you love
  • Write in a journal
  • Plant a garden
  • Write a poem
  • Take photographs or make a video
  • Play a musical instrument
  • Scrapbook

Connect with others. Doing something with others can decrease any loneliness you might feel and can boost your spirits. Here are some ways to connect with others:

  • Talk to or text a friend
  • Meet up with a friend for coffee
  • Volunteer for a great cause
  • Do a random act of kindness
  • Buy a coffee for the person behind you
  • Bake muffins for someone
  • Talk with a family member in person or on the phone

Change the scene. This strategy can help if you are feeling restless in your current surroundings. Try one of these ways to change the scene:

  • Go for a drive
  • Take a bus ride
  • People watch at the mall
  • Go to a movie
  • Go to the library
  • Sit by a stream and listen to the water
  • Go to a place of worship
  • Go to a café
  • Watch the sunrise or sunset

Exercise. Physical activity is a great way to relieve stress and keep your body healthy. It doesn’t have to be complicated or mean a trip to the gym either. Here are some easy and free ways to get some exercise:

  • Go for a walk in nature
  • Dance
  • Ride your bike
  • Do yoga
  • Go for a jog or run
  • Play outside with a younger sibling or cousin
  • Hop on a swing
  • Stretch your muscles
  • Clean up your room

Ways to Schedule Your Self-Care

It’s easy to let healthy living take a back seat when your life gets busy. But studies show that taking care of yourself by eating well, sleeping, being physically active, and participating in activities that bring you happiness and joy, is actually extremely important during stressful times to help you manage stress and feel energized. So how can you find time for all these other things when you’ve got important deadlines to hit or competing priorities?

Change your mindset.
Don’t look at your self-care activities as just another thing on your growing list of things to do. Try to change the way you look at these activities to view them as investments in refreshing your mind, fueling your body, and energizing yourself to tackle the to-do list.

Use the Pomodoro Technique.
This technique involves setting a timer when you sit down to start work and, after the timer goes off, taking a short break to refresh your mind and make it easier to carry on with the task at hand. Basically, you decide on a task to complete, set a timer for your decided work interval time, stop working when the timer goes off, and then take a break. The Pomodoro Technique or variants of it is used in software development.

Schedule your self-care time into your day using a paper layout.
Use your bullet journal, if you are already into journaling, to put your self-care activities into the calendar and to plan out your healthy meals for the week. There are lots of great layouts for healthy habit tracking out there. Or if bullet journals aren’t your thing, print out a weekly timetable and plan out your self-care activities there.

Schedule your self-care time into your phone.
Use your phone’s calendar function to put time into your week for eating, exercising, sleep, and enjoyable activities. If you are the type to dismiss notifications, make those appointments have two different types of reminders and make a commitment to yourself to honour your needs.

It can be difficult to justify spending time on yourself when you are so busy. However, scheduling time into your life to take care of yourself will benefit you in the longer run, helping you to feel more energized, awake, and focused for the important tasks you have ahead of you.

Social Media Self-Care

student viewing a laptopThere are lots of studies out there that say that social media is bad for your mental health and can actually make people feel bad about themselves. There are also lots of benefits to social media, including helping people meet or stay in touch when they aren’t geographically proximate to each other, helping social movements organize, and bringing attention to important news.

So how can you use your favourite apps for connectivity, collaboration, and information without feeling the effects of negativity that can come with them? Read on for our tips.

It is okay to take a break

Social media apps give us a 24-hour news awareness that, while good for information purposes, can actually be quite damaging to your perception of the world. Instead of reading or watching a news story once and moving on to the rest of your day like in previous generations, we’re now provided multiple updates throughout the day about sometimes traumatizing and horrible news stories. If we keep reading these stories as they come in, our brains don’t have time to heal or process the information. And while the conversations that follow them are important, it is equally important to give yourself a break from them as well. It doesn’t make you any less passionate about a subject if you step away from it for an hour, a day, or even a week.

This is particularly true if the subject of the current news cycle is something that you’ve experienced yourself. If you are a survival of sexual assault, for example, the #MeToo movement could be extremely comforting and validating, but it could also cause you to feel drained or triggered as the weight of the trauma of others as well as your own is played out over and over again in your mind and on your screen.

Timing is important

Try not to check social media right before you go to bed. Seeing something upsetting can impact sleep quality or create upset or rapid thought processes right before bed. Similarly, it can be tempting to check your newsfeed during class, but not only is this practice bad for your focus, it can also lead to emotional reactions in an environment where it is not easy to leave.

Use the mute functionality strategically

If you can’t step away or stop yourself from using social media, it is perfectly okay to use the mute functionality of your app to turn off the stream of upsetting content. If the current news is causing you too much anxiety, mute the breaking news accounts that you follow and any journalists or bloggers that are focusing on the topic. This doesn’t mean you are weak, it just means you are human and you need a break.

The same applies to friends that you follow that are constantly posting things that upset you. Try to keep track of your mood after you view your newsfeed, is there someone who constantly raises your blood pressure after you read their posts but you don’t want to lose your connection with them? If yes, consider muting them for a while and see how you feel after taking a break from viewing their content. If you really want to stay up to date with them, you can go back to their page later and see what they’ve been posting, but do this once a week instead of every day or every hour. In most apps, your friends or accounts you follow aren’t aware that you’ve muted them, so it is an easy way to control the flow of information without alienating the people in your list.

Keep a balance in who you follow

While keeping engaged in current events is important, you can balance the flow of information you see by making sure you also follow accounts and people that bring you joy. This practice will be very personal to each individual, but some examples could include:

  • If you like animals, follow a couple of accounts that just post pictures of adorable creatures.
  • If you are inspired by beautiful landscapes, follow users or hashtags that post pictures of lovely views from around the world.
  • If you have an interest in history, sociology, or anthropology, follow accounts that post interesting digitizations of old manuscripts, new research in the field, or historical pictures.
  • If you need a boost, find some positivity accounts that post affirmations or motivational strategies.

Understand that what people share isn’t the whole reality of their lives

Sometimes social media can leave people feeling that their lives are not as exciting or full as the people they see in their newsfeeds. It is important to remember that what people share on social media doesn’t represent the entirety of their lives. Social media is like the highlight reel of life and that doesn’t usually include people’s low points.

Other resources

For more perspective on how to cope with the news or social media check out these posts:

How to Savour the Moment

Do you feel negative thoughts cloud your memories of big events in your life or even your day-to-day living? It could be that you did have a positive experience, but because of the way your thoughts have framed the memory, you can no longer remember the good things that happened. Building your savouring skills might be the answer for you. According to Miriam Akhtar, the author of Positive Psychology for Overcoming Depression, savouring “is the capacity to appreciate and enhance positive experiences in life.” Savouring something involves slowing down and appreciating everything that is going on during a positive experience.

What you choose to savour can be big (like special occasions, accomplishments, or a holiday) or small (like a hug, a time that you laughed so hard you couldn’t stop, a book you enjoyed, or a food you enjoy), the important part is that you concentrate on observing the positive aspects of your experience.

According to Akhtar, there are four steps to savouring:

  1. Slow down the experience as long as you can
  2. Pay full attention to the experience
  3. Take a full senses approach
  4. Take time to reflect on what you enjoyed

Here’s an example based on the experience of going to the gym:

man in gymClimb on to your favourite piece of gym equipment. Appreciate that you’ve taken a step towards both your physical and mental health. Feel gratitude that you are able to attend the gym, either because your membership is included in your student fees (if you are a student) or because you’ve made taking care of yourself a priority (if you pay for your membership). Feel the strength that you are building in your body and relish in the idea that with every work out you are getting mentally and physically stronger. Marvel at the fact that you can increase that strength over time. Remember a time when you were a child and you found joy in exercise, perhaps in a sport such as t-ball, or maybe just running through a field of milkweed as the fluff flew in the air around you.

It can be hard to introduce savouring into your life, as we're so often focused on doing multiple things at a time and quickly, but if you set aside time for savouring it can help increase your positive emotions. To increase your ability to savour take pictures of the moment and then go back to them later and remember how you were feeling at that time, or write down what was good about the experience soon after it happens to go back to later and remind yourself about how much you enjoyed it. You can find more information about savouring and other strategies in Akhtar's book, Positive Psychology for Overcoming Depression.

Source: Akhtar, Miriam. Positive Psychology for Overcoming Depression. London, 2012: Watkins Media Limited.

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