Using your Senses to Care for Yourself
Rather than tell you what steps you should take to take care of yourself, I’m going to help you craft your own self-care plan. This approach allows your wisdom and expertise in the topic of you to shine through. With my approach you can engage your wisdom, resources, friends and mentors, body and spirit, to manage your well-being. Pick a calm day to do this activity. When you’re calm and centered you can think more clearly. The goal is to plan for a bad day when you’re having a good day, so you can prepare the path.
We don’t always have friends available to support us through our difficult moments in life. That doesn’t mean you can’t get some urgent relief when you’re feeling stressed or anxious.
Use your Senses
First step, do an inventory of ways you can use your senses to bring you joy, calm or comfort. It can be very helpful to know that there are many ways you can comfort yourself, on your own, when you need a little break, or some extra support as you go through your day.
- Touch: List three things you like to touch. Maybe that’s a favorite blanket, a comfortable sweater, fuzzy slippers, a leather jacket or pajamas. Maybe it’s a silky garment. Make a plan to put one of these items on when you get home. If someone you trust is present, ask for a long hug. If you can, schedule a massage, or some acupuncture–or any other bodywork practice that helps you.
- Taste: List three things you like to taste. Enjoy a spoonful of Nutella, or a square of your favorite chocolate. I like olive oil and salt on a piece of toast.
- Smell: List three things you like to smell. It might be the smell of soil, the smell of grass, your favorite lotion, or the smell of books. I like the smell of Earl Grey Tea. Make an appointment with yourself to smell something nice.
- Sight: Think about things you enjoy seeing. List at least three. Do you enjoy videos with puppies or kittens in them? Do you have a favorite movie that makes you laugh? Look at picture albums or favorite photos on your phone. Pick up a favorite book, or lookup famous quotes spoken by your heroes.
- Hearing: Make a list of friends, mentors, or family members who are particularly kind and nurturing. Call one of them. Make a “calm playlist” and “joyful playlist” on your phone or computer. Make time to listen to your favorite song or soundtrack. Sing along.
Take time every day to give yourself a few moments of physical joy and comfort.
Use your Imagination
Wherever you go, your brain goes. Your mind is one of the most powerful tools at your disposal. Think back to a time and place in your life where you felt particularly safe and cared for. Where were you? If you can’t think of a particular memory that creates that safe, loved or joyful feeling, consider your dream vacation. Look up pictures of your dream destination. Take some time to imagine the following in detail. Really linger on each aspect of the picture you draw in your mind:
- Where are you? Are you indoors or outdoors?
- Are you alone? If not, who is there with you?
- How much light is there? Is it a sunny day, are there any clouds in the sky? or nighttime?
- Are you standing or sitting or doing something else?
- What outfit are you wearing?
- What can you hear?
- What are you looking at?
- What are you doing?
- What is the feeling in your heart?
- Does your body feel joyful or calm and settled?
- Is there a particular smell in the air?
Take time every day to go on this mini vacation in your mind. (This practice is a type of meditation called guided imagery, the benefits of which are covered in this Mayo Clinic article. Guided imagery’s helpful impact on heart rate was tested in spaceflight simulations according to an article in BioMed Research International.)
Use your Breath
The breath is one of the more powerful and immediately accessible tools at our disposal. Just three to five minutes of deliberate breathing can make a huge difference in calming down your nervous system and helping you feel more grounded and calm, and able to think more clearly, and feel less fear or anxiety.
First, either sit down comfortably, and let your body sink into the chair, and your feet sink into the ground. If you’re feeling too much energy in your body to sit, stand up and feel the energy flow down through your legs and feet and into the ground that is supporting the weight of your body.
Second, follow this breathing practice: Inhale through your nose for a count of four or five, letting your lower belly expand. Pause your breathing for a second or two. Then exhale slowly through your mouth, pretending you are breathing through a small stirring straw, and trying to lengthen your breath and exhale for as long as you can. Try doing this for at least 10 breaths. You should feel some level of increased relaxation in your body.
(The journal Science published preliminary research in mice that starts to validate what a lot of traditions have been saying for a long time: breathing really helps. Other scientists have gathered proof of the technique’s power reports NPR. Here’s more info on the science of breath as reported by The New York Times and Psychology Today.)
Put the Plan to Use
Daily practice is your best option (doing two or three of these). The more ingrained these behaviors become, the stronger they are as tools in your coping tool belt, and the more effective they will be the day when you must call upon them. In a period where you’re feeling more stressed or fragile than usual, acknowledge that you’re slightly more vulnerable and carve our more time for self-care. If you can, do five of these techniques a day.
(I also really like this comprehensive article on self-care written by the UN Refugee Agency for its staffers.)