You are not alone if you feel like you are crawling to the finish line for the year. It’s been another big year filled with change, uncertainty, and unpredictable events.
In times such as these, spending time on self-care can feel like a selfish luxury. It’s not. It’s impossible to care for others if you’re not caring for yourself.
If you are seeking to balance the pressure of life better, here are five steps to build your self-care plan.
1. Find your Goldilocks zone
A certain amount of pressure is good for you because it helps motivate you to act and keeps you focused.
This is because when you experience the right amount of challenge and interest, chemicals are released in your brain (noradrenaline and dopamine), making you more alert, motivated and ready to learn.
Researchers and educators often refer to this as the ‘Goldilocks zone’. This is the zone of optimal performance where you are working on a task or learning something that is neither too hard nor too easy. Just like the children’s story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, it is ‘just right’.
2. Pick your mindset
You can’t control what happens to you every day. You can, however, choose your response by noticing your feelings, reactions and where you focus your attention.
You can reflect or ruminate. While both practices require you to look backwards, the emphasis and focus differ.
When you ruminate, you run the scenario in your head repeatedly, trying to rewrite the event and its ending. Your thinking process doesn’t reach a conclusion.
Research shows that rumination can lead to various adverse outcomes: depression, anxiety, and over-eating and drinking, for example.
When you reflect, you think about the situation, focus on uncovering what you have learned, how you were feeling and identifying what you would do differently next time. It requires a growth mindset, so you generate insights into the cause of the situation and remain focused on the outcome.
3. Set boundaries
You need to set two types of boundaries – the ones you set with yourself and the ones you establish with your boss and work colleagues.
Talk to your boss about boundaries and get clear on their expectations. This includes agreeing on protocols about how you will handle calls and emails outside standard work hours.
Set boundaries with yourself about how you work. If you consistently work long into the evening and answer emails late at night, you create a pattern of expected behaviour for yourself and those around you.
It can help to have routines that signal the end of your working day. It may be going to the gym, meditating or catching up with a friend.
Also, have your phone automatically switch to ‘do not disturb’ mode and turn off social media push notifications and email alerts at set times. Use the technology settings to help you switch off.
4. Build healthy habits
Your self-care plan should include a healthy range of activities that pep you up, calm the pressure, and give you time to rest and revitalise.
Firstly, get physical because exercise and moving helps shift your state, releasing the brain’s happy chemicals.
Establish regular sleep patterns and use meditation practices to manage your mood and elevate your coping mechanisms.
Seek out simple pleasures that make you feel good. For example, patting a dog, watching a dog run around the park, or any other activity that puts you in touch with an animal (also known as pet therapy) can help as it’s proven to help you destress. So too is spending time in nature.
Focus on your breath. In states of stress, breathing is shallow and shorter. Focus on slow and deep breathing. Breathing is the body’s natural mechanism to help regulate your nervous system.
5. Stay connected
Connection is at the root of all human existence.
When you have good relationships at home, in the community and at work, you have trusted friends with whom you can discuss your challenges and get advice.
In his book Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without, Tom Rath outlines research showing that employees with best friends at work are seven times more likely to be engaged in their jobs.
Additionally, if they have at least three vital friends at work, they are 96 per cent more likely to be satisfied with their lives.
A self-care plan that works for you
Of course, the points above are merely suggestions, and it’s important to carve out a self-care plan that works for you and your needs.
Pay attention to what feels restorative and what allows you to create healthy boundaries.
By starting with small and achievable steps, you can start to better balance the pressure of everyday life.