10 Smart Self-Care Tips to Avoid Stress and Increase Joy

The practice of self-initiated acts of kindness.

Posted Feb 01, 2016

Danielle MacInness unsplash.com
Source: Danielle MacInness unsplash.com

“Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.”- Robert J. Collier

Danielle MacInness unsplash.com
Source: Danielle MacInness unsplash.com

Do you ever get so busy that you neglect to take care of yourself?

If so, you’re not alone. Many of us lead busy lives where we’re consumed with taking care of others and accustomed to putting their needs before ours. While compassion and caring are wonderful traits, too little self-care leaves us emotionally depleted, exhausted, and ultimately, not much good to anyone else — especially ourselves.

Here are several ways to make yourself a priority in your life.

1. Wake up early and with intention — how you start each day matters. Every day brings a choice: to practice stress or to practice peace. If the idea of becoming a “morning person” is mind-boggling, a small tweak — avoiding the snooze button, can go a long way. Research has shown that early risers are more optimistic, conscientious, and anticipatory when it comes to problem-solving. Harvard biologist Christoph Randler discovered that early risers are more proactive and more likely to agree with statements like "I spend time identifying long-range goals for myself" and "I feel in charge of making things happen."

Another morning motivational tip comes courtesy of Steve Jobs:

“For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?

And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

2.  Check in with your thoughts — they become your actions. Conventional wisdom says that our feelings control our thoughts, but it’s actually the other way around: our thoughts precede our feelings. Complicating matters is the fact that our thoughts are often automatic, quick, and unconscious. The beauty of being mindful is learning how to manage your thoughts so they don’t manage you. For a thorough guide to adopting healthy thoughts using cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques, click here.

3. Make time for physical activity (even walking or stretching). Moving your body kick-starts your metabolism and releases the “feel good” hormone, serotonin, which helps relieve stress and increase self-confidence. Additional benefits of exercising include feeling more alert, productive, and creative throughout the day.

4. Choose what to say No to, and say No. Boundaries are the key to self-care and happiness, too. People pleasers have an especially difficult time with setting limits on their time and resources. A helpful reframe to remember is when you say ‘No’ to one thing, you’re saying ‘Yes’ to another. And hopefully that includes incorporating something else on this list!

5. Connect with someone you love. Humans are wired to connect. Studies abound about the devastating effects that loneliness has on our mental and physical health. The subjective feeling of loneliness increases risk of death by 26%, according to a study in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science. The good news is research also shows that relationships can improve health by helping us manage stress, improve immune system functioning and giving meaning to our lives.

6. Practice slow, deep breaths. In addition to helping you remain calm and avoid knee-jerk reactions, breathing is your best defense against panic attacks. According to a study published by the Journal of Emergency Medicine, 30% of patients who seek treatment at emergency rooms with complaints of chest pain (and no evidence of coronary artery disease) suffer from panic disorder.

7. Speak + act truthfully. The primary goal of therapy is to get clients to acknowledge the truth. As painful and messy as that can be, nothing beats saying what you mean and doing what you say to get on the right side of authenticity and a meaningful existence.

8. Watch the projections. Passive-aggressive behavior is among the most toxic of all personality traits. While we’re all entitled to feel angry and wronged from time to time, taking responsibility for our emotions and actions is a crucial step to adopting a mentally healthy mindset.

9. Be kind. Because it costs $0.00 to be a decent person.

10. Laugh. A sense of humor is a must-have for the emotional wellness tool kit. Laughter also strengthens your immune system, increases energy, diminishes pain, and protects you from the toxic effects of stress. Best of all, humor is fun, free, and easy to find!


Copyright 2016 Linda Esposito, LCSW