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Self-Care for the Winter Months

The first time I ever learned about the idea of "self-care" was in my first week of classes for my MSW program.

Our faculty advisors and professors hammered this message home early and often: "Carve out time in midst of your internships and class schedule to take care of yourself". They would often use the analogy of a cup: the more we have in our cup the more we are able to pour out to help someone else fill theirs. As social workers, and also just as human beings, much of our lives are spent in the act of "pouring" from our cup to give to our families, friends, communities, jobs, etc.

This year as we are about to embark on a long winter, while a global pandemic rages on around us, self-care is going to become especially important. Winter months are often a challenge for many people for a variety of reasons: cold weather and its harshness on the physical body, less hours of daylight, stress around the holidays and feeling more socially isolated due to less frequent gatherings with friends. This year, the pandemic only compounds these factors and will likely make it that much harder for all of us to take care of ourselves and fill our cups.

In the warm weather, self-care can be as simple as stepping out your front door! Taking a nice long walk outdoors, a last minute trip to the beach, or perhaps spending some time outside working in your garden or planting flowers. But once the cold sets in here in New England, time outdoors can become a challenge. And with the pandemic raging with higher transmission rates than ever before, going out into the community to find fun indoor things to do for yourself will be a bit more risky.

I am going to feature some of my tried and true self-care regimens that can be utilized any time of the year, but especially this winter as we all spend more time at home than ever before.

Exercise

It's no secret that regular exercise is good for our physical body. Improving blood pressure, lowering cholesterol and risk of cardiovascular disease, improved bone density and digestive health are just a few of the many physical benefits. But in addition to helping us care for our physical body, exercise has a plethora of mental and emotional benefits as well! Cardiovascular exercise such as walking, biking, running or dancing helps to release endorphins into the blood stream. Endorphins are our body's built in "feel good" medicine: they help to improve mood, relieve stress and also offer pain relieving benefits as well. While getting outside to exercise may not be as appealing or accessible during the winter months, there are lots of ways to exercise at home with little or no equipment. Turn on some jams and have a dance party by yourself- or make it a family affair if you have kids (our dance parties usually take place in the kitchen while mama makes dinner). Got stairs in your house? Go up and down them a dozen times at whatever speed works for your body. Do some old fashioned calisthenics (think jumping jacks, running in place, skipping, jumping rope) in the living room. Any way you can get your heart rate up for a little while, even if its only 10-15 minutes, is enough to help improve your mood and boost your energy.

Get Outside

Okay- I know I just said that being outdoors is harder in the winter...harder but not impossible. While it may not be a daily strategy depending on weather, anytime you can get outside, DO IT!! Even if its only for 5-10 minutes, the fresh air and sunshine will do your body and soul so much good. Bundle the kids up and go for a walk. Or take your dog for a quick jog around the block. (Truth be told- Ozzie is my most favorite outdoor buddy. He doesn't talk back or whine about his legs being tired). I've even been known to stand outside in my winter jacket, with a cuppa something hot in my hands, just to soak up a little bit of that fresh cold air. Nature is grounding; if you are able to enjoy your outdoor time near the woods or a body of water, you may notice increased positive results.

A Hot Bath

Does anyone remember those Calgon commercials in the 80s? "Calgon, take me away". Growing up, a hot bath was always my mom's favorite way to unwind. She would bring her favorite book and of course, sprinkle some trusty Calgon in the water and then lock herself away for a little bit of kid-free bliss. As a mom myself now, I get it. There is some kind of power in water. I identify as an empath, and it is a known fact that empaths gravitate towards water. Our bodies find it extremely grounding, as the human body itself is mostly comprised of water. Plus, if you use some scented bath salts or a great candle, you can also incorporate a little aromatherapy for added benefit. And the salts help to provide an even deeper sense of grounding and energy clearing. Grab a glass of wine, a book and your favorite Spotify playlist and take a little time to soak in bliss. (This time of year, the little window in my bathtub gives me the perfect view of the Christmas lights while I enjoy my hot bath)

Yoga and Meditation

Big shocker- the yoga teacher recommends yoga for self-care, right? But before I taught yoga, I was just another dedicated yogi who had unlocked the many amazing benefits of a regular practice. Yoga truly changed my life so much for the better (which is what ultimately led to wanting to learn to teach). It built the foundation for a deeper level of mind-body connection, as well as finding a depth of self-love that I had never known before. Yoga is my opportunity to re-connect with myself. It is my way of clearing energy when I'm having a really hard day. It's my way of getting quiet and turning inward. Want to try a free gentle yoga class On Demand? Send me an email to lotusandcompassinc@gmail.com and request a free class recording to try out at home!

Meditation is a newer form of self care for me. While I have been an avid yogi for many years, seated meditation is something I have always struggled with a bit. Quieting the mind is no simple task. But one of the most important things I have learned is that it's about practice, not perfection. There are lots of guided meditation videos online, as well as whole apps dedicated to meditation. Guided meditation can be a great starting point.

If you want to give meditation a try at home, here is how I recommend starting: find a comfortable seat either on the floor or seated on a pillow or cushion. You can also sit in a chair, with your feet planted on the floor. Close your eyes or begin to soften your gaze just past your nose. Begin to notice your breath; inhale slowly through your nose and then open your mouth and sigh it away. Sit up nice and tall and think about elongating your spine, all the way up and out the crown of your head. Relax your shoulders, neck and jaw. Begin to notice how your body feels in this seated position. Notice how your hips and your legs feel in this shape. Notice the points of contact with the floor or your chair. Soften in the places that feel a bit stiff or tight- invite the breath to flow there. And then begin to fully tune in to your breath. Notice the rise and fall of your belly as you take deep slow breaths all the way down to the pit of your belly- and then exhale fully and completely. As thoughts start to pop up in your mind, you can envision them as clouds floating by. Notice them, but allow them to float on by you. And continue to bring your attention back to your breath each time your mind wanders off. No chastisement or judgment...just return to the breath.

A Cup of Tea and Your Favorite Book

One of my personal favorites this time of year; curling up in the big chair in my office, covering my lap with a warm blanket and sipping a hot cup of tea while I dive into my latest read. I love this self-care regimen so much that I decided to start stocking one of my favorite tea brands Tea Guys Tea on our website. If tea isn't your thing maybe a mug of decaf coffee or some hot chocolate. Give yourself permission to lock yourself away for an hour or two. Turn your phone off and play some relaxing music in the background. My latest read was Glennon Doyle's Untamed. Each and every time I curled up to read that book for an hour or two it felt like a gift to myself. Highly recommend!!

Phone a Friend

Who talks on the phone anymore?! Not me! But during this pandemic, I have done way more video chatting than I ever thought I was capable of! There is just something magical about seeing your friend or loved one's face and hearing their voice. The last few months, knowing that winter is quickly approaching and also knowing my own introverted tendencies (believe it or not- outside of our business community group on Facebook, I am a pretty quiet gal), I have been deliberately setting aside time to connect with close friends. One app that has made this way easier is the Marco Polo app. It is essentially like video walkie talkies, where you can record messages for your friends and then they can watch and respond when they get time. Its been a great no-pressure option for staying connected with friends, and also getting to see and hear them on my screen!

 

Whatever routines or regimens work best for you are the ones you should begin to implement as often as possible. Self-care should be a daily practice. Rather than waiting for a big chunk of time on the weekends, try to implement even just 10-20 minutes most days of the week. Begin to be more possessive of your time. Learning to say "no" to the things that do not suit you will free up a lot more time to say "YES" to the things that fill your cup!

What's your favorite way to practice self-care? Let me know in the comments!

Stay safe, stay healthy and take good care of yourselves, friends.

Hugs,

Melaney

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