As I expect is the case for many of my fellow bloggers, a lot of the posts I write are motivated by specific issues that I’m being challenged by in the current moment. If you’ve been following along for a while, you’ll probably remember me writing about things like struggling with anemia, the journey towards training for my first half Ironman, and overcoming running injuries. Depending on the situation, I might wait until I’ve overcome or made it through the worst before sharing – particularly for the more emotional things. For others, I like to take a more in-the-moment approach. In the case of today’s post, it’s the latter.
I talked in my last monthly intention check in about how January was full of tests, and the powers at be certainly seem to thing this is a good season of my life for testing! For context, about a month ago I was promoted to a manager role at work. I knew that with this exciting news, I’d have a ton of opportunities to develop myself as a leader and have a positive impact on others. I also knew it wouldn’t be without a lot of additional responsibility, accountability…. and time.
Last week was a wild one. Double-booked days, plenty of curve balls, an overflowing inbox and longing for some sort of cloning machine so that I could make 5 of myself to keep up with it all. I didn’t get a whole lot of sleep, went to bed thinking about work, dreamed about work, woke up thinking about work, and spent far longer than usual doing work. There were some high highs, some low lows.
By Friday, it was almost as though my body didn’t even detect the fatigue any more. Guys, this is NOT something I subject myself to often! I’m used to a very regular early-to-bed, early-to-rise sleep schedule, but the candle was burnt at both ends all week long. Anyone else know the feeling?
Thankfully, it’s a long weekend here in BC, and i’ve intentionally been spending the time getting myself back into a restored, rejuvenated state. Self care is a huge priority for me this year, and although the past week was one I don’t wish to experience again for a while, I feel I’ve developed a good little toolkit of self care practices to bring me back to feeling great when these life tests hit. If the year has been off to a fierce start for you as well, I hope you’ll use these ideas to inspire your own self care routine.
What makes these practices effective?
There are a few different things going on in each of the ideas I’ve provided, but for the most part, it’s all about stimulating the natural chemicals and hormones in our bodies that do things like:
- Lower cortisol and adrenaline – the stress hormones we release in ‘fight or flight mode’ which can lead to poor sleep, irritability, weight gain, belly fat storage, headaches, anxiety, low sex drive, food cravings, hair and skin irritation, weakened immune function and thyroid imbalances. All not fun issues to deal with!
- Boost feel-good hormones like oxytocin, serotonin, dopamine and endorphins
- Increase blood flow around the body, which can make us feel more energized
- Stimulate the pleasure centers in the brain, including the amygdala (regulates emotion), cerebellum (for muscle function), pituitary gland and VTA, which release some of the happy hormones I listed above. These are the same areas stimulated in people with substance addiction1, but in the case of self care practices, you’re doing it in a far more holistically helpful way!
20 ways to restore yourself after a crazy week
Listed as #1 and for good reason. Sleep is one of the most restorative, healing and impactful things you can do to improve everything from mood, energy levels and ability to focus, to biological health markers like cortisol levels and inflammation2. It’s kind of like an insurance policy in the sense that you don’t realize how important it is – until you don’t have it and something goes wrong. On the other hand, sleep is better than insurance because it’s free!
2. Take a bath or shower
Hydrotherapy (or the use of water to address a range of health conditions) is becoming a common alternative treatment for things like muscular pain, improving range of motion, strengthening weak muscles and improving circulation and sleep quality3. You don’t need any fancy pools to reap the benefits of water. Simply taking a hot shower or bath can reduce muscular tension, blood pressure and cortisol, and if you add some calming essential oils such as lavender, chamomile, bergamot and jasmine, you get bonus points!
3. Use aromatherapy
Speaking of essential oils, you probably know that different oils have different effects. The ones listed above are great for calming the mind, but I love using others in my own concoctions to serve different purposes. For example, citrus and peppermint scents can help to boost mood and energy, while lavender, arnica, eucalyptus, peppermint, wintergreen and ginger can help reduce muscle tension and pain.
4. Spend time with a friend
Especially a friend you won’t be tempted to talk a lot about work with. Trust me, I LOVE my work friends and some are among my closest friends. But if you’ve been doing nothing but work work work and just need a mental escape, try hanging out with non-work friends so that you’re not tempted to bring up the same subject during your precious weekend hours.
I think this is powerful for everyone, but especially those of us who do a lot of talking, presenting, meetings and phone calls during the week. Talk therapy is powerful and can help us express our emotions. At the same time (and speaking from personal experience), sometimes I just need to stop talking for a while and just be in my head.
If that sounds like you, journalling can be a great alternative way of getting your pent-up emotions expressed. I’ve kept a daily gratitude journal for over a year now which I feel has made a significant impact on my happiness, but you can journal about whatever you like. Here’s some prompts if you feel stuck.
6. Get a massage
Like the water therapy I mentioned above, physical touch is a powerful thing and sets off lots of feel-good hormones in our bodies. Massages are my favourite way to work out stress and muscular tension, and regardless of whether someone’s massaging you or you’re working on yourself, massage helps to open up energy pathways, increase blood flow and reduce the likelihood of headaches.
If you don’t have time to book a treatment, an at-home or at-your-desk session can still help. I like to roll a lacrosse ball under my feet when I’m sitting at my computer, and have a slightly larger ball that I roll my upper back around on to relieve stiffness. This is especially helpful in the winter when my neck tends to tense up more often due to the cold.
7. Breathe fresh air (outside!)
Let your eyes see shades of green and earthy hues – both of which are calming on the mind. I’m almost embarrassed to say that over the past week, I think I only managed spend a total of 1 hour outside. It was walking to and from my car and my gym. In the dark. In the rain. How sad and uninspiring is that!?
Not only does breathing fresh (non-air-conditioned, non-heated) air have an invigorating and refreshing effect, but assuming you’re outside during the day, you’ll also get some vitamin D through sun exposure which we also need for optimal health. If that’s not possible, or if it seems to be all rain, all the time where you are like it is here in Vancouver, try bringing some greenery into your home.
8. Move your body
I’m not necessarily talking about HIIT sessions or crazy tough spin classes, because if you’ve had a ridiculous week fuelled by adrenaline (and probably caffeine too), you’ll already have plenty of the stress hormone cortisol coursing through your veins. The goal is to bring that back down to normal and help the central nervous system recover. Lower-intensity exercise can help because it stimulates production of feel-good endorphins in the brain, all while flushing toxins out of the body. Exercise also forces us to move out of the positions we fall into the habit of sitting in all week long, which takes strain off of the joints.
Nothing feels quite as good as a good belly-busting laugh, and if it’s enjoyed with other people, that human connection makes the impact even bigger. Whether it’s watching something funny on Netflix, spending time with funny people or a pet, or starting a Pinterest board of funny quotes, all of these things can help reduce cortisol and adrenaline.
10. Listen to music
Everyone has different tastes, but I like to resort to my personally-curated feel good tunes playlist on Spotify when I’m in a bad mood. I also like Spotify’s Ocean Escapes playlist (ambient ocean waves) when my brain just feels too full for anything else, aaannnnd I have a Guilty Pleasures playlist. If you guessed Hanson, Savage Garden, One Direction, Shania Twain, Mariah Carey (circa 1990s) and Justin Bieber, you guessed right. Dancing gets bonus points and looks after the ‘move your body’ box too!
11. Load up on fruits, veggies, quality proteins and healthy fats
It’s definitely not earth-shattering news that eating well will make you feel better. Plant-based foods help to reduce inflammation, provide our bodies with vitamins and minerals we need for everything from appetite regulation to energy production and inflammation control, and they’re delicious! Adding a source of fat to your meal helps your body to make better use of the fat-soluble vitamins in all that fresh produce, and has an overall calming, grounding effect. If you want to take things even further, try incorporating a few adaptogens to bring your body back to feeling like its fabulous self faster. You’ll find a whole bunch of delicious recipe ideas here!
12. Enjoy a meal with no distractions
No screen in front of your face, no books or magazines, no work – just you and your food. I’m willing to bet you’ll enjoy it a lot more this way, an probably feel fuller faster as well.
13. Take a digital detox
It might not be a total detox with zero electronics, and if the thought of going completely disconnected feels scary, even committing to only checking your email once during the day can be a great place to start. I did this on Saturday and it felt wonderful! Other ideas:
- Read a real book with real paper pages
- Write with a pen instead of typing
- Deactivate social media notifications
- Put your phone on silent so the noises don’t interrupt what you’re doing.
- Leave your phone at home when you go out to do errands
14. Volunteer or practice giving
It might sound counter-intuitive because this is supposed to be about bringing more energy to yourself, not giving it away. But the cool thing about giving to others is that the effects are reciprocated and both sides benefit. You could give something physical like a clothing donation, write a card to someone to express your gratitude, or give the gift of time which is something I feel is often more valuable than anything tangible.
You guys know I’m a big fan of this, and I can honestly say meditation has been making a huge impact – mostly on my ability to feel grounded and patient.
My favourite app (yes, I know app use would violate the whole digital detox thing) to date is Insight Timer because the sessions are free and you can choose to cater what you hear to needs like anxiety, leadership, sports performance, sleep quality, happiness, grounding etc. There’s even SOS meditations – 1-2 min sessions you can do when sh!t hits the fan and everything inside you is screaming “haaaaalllllllppppp meeeeee!”.
I think there’s a type of meditation for everyone, so if you’ve been frustrated by what feels like a lack of ability to concentrate in the past, don’t give up – just keep experimenting. I actually find cleaning quite meditative sometimes!
16. Give yourself a manicure, pedicure or facial
It kinda sounds like work, but all 3 of these things seem to help me feel more put together. Or, if you want to splurge, treat yourself and have a spa do the treatment for you. When you feel good about yourself, it shows in the way you walk, talk, and engage with other people.
17. Dry brush your skin
I didn’t think this was a big deal until I tried it, and now I believe the hype. Dry brushing helps to boost circulation, exfoliate the skin, may encourage detoxification of the lymph nodes, and just feels really good. It sounds weird to say my skin feels more awake afterwards, but it does! Dry brushes come in all shapes and sizes, but I like ones with long handles like this to make my back easier to reach.
18. Be inspired by a TEDtalk
I’ve been watching tons of these lately and never fail to learn something new. With such a diverse range of speakers, you’re bound to find at least a handful of videos that help you get through whatever challenging predicament you’re in. You can check out my roundup of TEDtalks on gratitude here.
19. Do whatever makes you lose track of time
Maybe it’s cooking, colouring, crafting, writing – anything that you absolutely love, even if it has no productive purpose. Our brains need a break, and even if you don’t consider yourself a creative person, I’m willing to bet that you are in some way.
20. Say “no” and be firm on your boundaries
I learned a while back that if I don’t allocate a significant amount of my weekends to solo time, I head into the next week still feeling a bit fatigued and not totally present. The idea of being able to see a whole bunch of people I love spending time with in one weekend is so tempting, but pacing is key. If you’ve signed up for things but just need a break to look after yourself, there’s no shame in saying no.
Lastly, I very recently came across Girls’ Night In, a website and community that encourages women to make taking care of ourselves a priority. Every Friday they send a newsletter packed with tips, inspiration, and real stories about real women crushing it in life. As someone who truly values my ‘me time’, and who for years felt guilty about not wanting to spend Friday nights out on the town, stumbling across this was like a breath of fresh air. You can sign up for free here .