Eat a Bit of Chocolate – Self Care Month Day 14

 

We have a tendency to confuse self care with “Treat Yo’Self!!” and so today’s advice comes with the disclaimer to pay close attention to the “bit” part.

It’s well known that chocolate contains chemicals that make us feel good. Many people, when surveyed, say they’d choose chocolate over sex. And a little something sweet, especially if it makes us feel grateful – for the treat, or for the person who gave it to us, or just the experience of eating it – is certainly a good thing to do for ourselves.

However (sorry…), sugar has been linked to inflammation in the body, plus cavities, weight gain (from the inflammation), and even depression. That’s right, the candy that makes us feel good when we eat it not only makes us crash an hour later but could be contributing to a bigger long-term funk.

So have your chocolate today (or tomorrow when all the V-day chocolate is half off!!), but do it in moderation, savouring each piece and feeling gratitude for the experience.

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Listen to Music – Self Care Month Day 12

The world would be a much darker place without music. All types of music can inspire and energize us, mark our special moments, and fill our days with cheer.

And while any kind of music that you enjoy can help with the winter blues, there are a number of studies on how classical music can improve symptoms of depression and stress. Studies also link classical music to improved memory.

There is even a genre of music that is intended to improve memory. Known as Electronic Cognition or Electronic Focus music, this is electronic music with beta waves that supposedly help the listener to concentrate. Known as binaural beats, there is much debate on whether this music actually works, but when I tried it I found that I did concentrate better on the work I was doing.

Whatever genre you prefer, if music makes you feel better, then put something on in the background, or choose something that makes you get up and dance around the house.

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Meditate – Self Care Month Day 11

When you’re feeling blue and not especially enthused about life, sitting and doing nothing can either seem ideal or absolutely horrible. There are lots of good excuses to avoid meditating, such as; what if my back starts to hurt, I don’t know how to do it, what type of meditation should I try, should I do it alone or in a group, and what if I fart?

There are many different types of meditation, all slightly different, and depending on what you hope to achieve, one may be better than the others. But for the purposes of feeling better because it’s February and the world is kind of shitty, a more general approach might work best.

The website Gaiam claims that some of the benefits of meditation are:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improved blood circulation
  • Lower heart rate
  • Less perspiration
  • Slower respiratory rate
  • Less anxiety
  • Lower blood cortisol levels
  • More feelings of well-being
  • Less stress
  • Deeper relaxation

To get started, there are dozens of meditation websites and apps that can help. A lot of people really dig Headspace, but I find the main instructor a bit too chatty. My favourites are a site/app called Stop, Breathe and Think which offers a variety of simple, guided meditations that encourage mindfulness and compassion, as well as Calm, which has a lot of sound files of nature sounds and a timer, if you want to just listen to a stream or some birds. Most of these sites offer some free options with additional paid stuff, or monthly rates that you may or may not be inclined to purchase, depending on how you prefer to meditate. Check the app store for your choice of device, there are plenty of different services, with options for every style of meditation.

If you prefer to meditate in a group, check Google for some courses or groups in your local area.

Most people who do not meditate avoid the activity because they believe that you have to sit for hours every day. But the goal, at first, is not to achieve enlightenment but to simply quiet the mind, even if it’s only for a few minutes.

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15 Minute Tidy – Self Care Month Day 10

Depression can be a huge Catch 22. We feel too terrible to get up and do anything, and because we don’t get up to do anything, we feel even more terrible. This theory applies to the space around us as well. When we can’t find the energy to get out of bed, general tidying can often fall by the wayside. And then our house is cluttered and dirty, with piles of dirty laundry or dishes lying around, and we become even more disheartened.

If you can find the energy to dedicate 15 minutes each day to general tidying, it will likely make you feel better both mentally and physically. Remember, cleaning counts towards physical activity. And decluttering has such great benefits:

  • less frustration because things are easier to find
  • a greater sense of harmony and peace because things are already in their place, and you’re not reminded that you have to clean
  • less guilt and embarrassment because your place is no longer a mess
  • less anxiety at the thought of having to sort through piles of stuff

There are plenty of sites out there to help you get organized and clean your place. Unfuck Your Habitat is a great one, and Flylady, while kind of twee, can really help with organizational skills.

And if 15 minutes seems totally overwhelming, start with 5. Clean off a table top or desk, scrub your kitchen sink, or vacuum one room. Take our the garbage. Fold one pile of laundry. This will give you a sense of accomplishment and the incentive to continue, and that’s good for your mental health.

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Get a Massage – Self Care Month Day 9

If some of the self care suggestions I offer sound decadent or unaffordable, trust me when I tell you that they’re not. Take massage, for instance. We often think of a relaxing massage as part of a larger “spa day”, when in fact, massage on its own can do much not only to aid relaxation and improve mood but to help heal aches, pains and injuries. The benefits are definitely worth the cost.

Therapeutic massage can aid both physical and mental health and can even be directed to deal with specific issues – sports massage is an important part of physiotherapy and recovery from sports-related injuries, but you can also get massage designed to help with bereavement, for pregnancy, and even massage designed specifically for seniors.

If a massage with a professional registered massage therapist is still out of your budget, consider checking out a massage school where students will give treatments at a discount price.

Many massage schools also offer basic massage therapy courses for the lay person – these are fun to attend with a partner so you can learn how to massage each other.

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Get Talking – Self Care Month Day 8

When I went through a depressive period a couple of years ago, one of the things I really wanted to do was talk about it. This was mostly me trying to understand what was happening in my head (the depression and anxiety originally started because of a weird drug reaction), but I quickly realized that there’s only so much listening friends and family are able to do. That’s not to say that the people around me weren’t supportive and loving, but often they just didn’t know what to do to help.

Our society still has lots of stigmas surrounding mental health, which means many people who need someone to talk to never search out professional help, but if your February blues are more than just a bit of weather-related funk (or even if they are), there are different ways to find someone who will listen and guide you to deal with your issues.

Here in Canada, while we have a great healthcare system, therapy for mental health services is not typically covered. People with additional health insurance might have psychotherapy coverage, but for most of us, those funds are limited. And while face to face talk therapy is the best option in many cases, if you need some help and don’t have the time, money, or inclination to go through the traditional systems, online talk therapy can fill the gap and even be a better option for many people.

Sites like TalkSpace, 7 Cups of Tea, Breakthrough, and Better Help are reasonably-priced, and can offer much more frequent interaction than traditional weekly therapy. Using their website or a phone app, patients can sign up, be assessed and interact with an assigned therapist without leaving home. In most cases, the therapist replies once a day, but the patient can write as much as they want, whenever they want, making the response more immediate, and more specific to the issue at hand. Live chats or even video chats can be arranged for an additional fee, and it’s easy to switch therapists if you find you’re not clicking. Most of these sites also offer a free forum area, and there are also sites where you can vent to (unqualified) strangers, but my research indicates that these are less helpful than the paid services.

My own experience with the site TalkSpace was incredibly helpful, and I would definitely use it again if I felt the need.

Whatever kind of therapy you choose, know that it’s a fantastic, positive step in your own self-care.

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Get Some Fresh Air – Self Care Month Day 7

So I know that yesterday I advised keeping warm, and that still stands, but please also consider opening a window. Or all of your windows. At least for a bit each day.

Here’s the thing – indoor air quality can be worse than the outdoors. Stuff like dust, mildew and pet dander can trigger allergies and asthma; furniture and carpets, especially new, will off gas; and all the scented crap people use to cover up the smells and stuffiness of their homes can all contribute not just to rhinitis but possibly to depression as well. And let’s not even get started on cigarette smoke.

Opening up your windows for a few hours each day lets fresh clean air in and lets the old stale air out. Most rooms only need windows to be open around an inch to allow for air circulation, and an hour or so is more than enough time to clear out the stuffiness from most rooms. Obviously, if it’s cold enough outdoors to make your windows freeze shut, wait a day or two, although I’ve been know to run around defrosting windows with a hairdryer just so I could open them to air our my apartment.

This circulation of fresh air will go a long way to making you feel better and making your home more pleasant to be in. If you absolutely can’t open the windows then be sure to get outside for a bit every day and to keep your place as clean as possible so that allergens don’t build up.

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Things Are Heating Up – Self Care Month Day 6

Flaxseed Heating Pad by LalaTextures

February is cold. Here in Toronto, the first two weeks of February are typically the coldest of the year. For many of us with illnesses such as arthritis, or chronic injuries (old sprains, herniated discs), the cold weather also means extra aches and pains. Keeping warm is an important self care activity at this time, as being able to move without pain means we’re more likely to get up and do things, which will make us feel more energized and less depressed and anxious.

Heat is also an important part of the recovery process for injuries such as torn tendons and ligaments, which have poor blood flow, as it draws blood to the areas being warmed and helps promote new tissue growth.

How to add heat? Warm baths or showers always help, but you can’t stay in the bath forever. Exercise, even gentle movement such as tai chi, keeps muscles and nerves warm and loose. But if you’re hurting bad you might not have it in you to get up at all. This is why I believe that every household should have a variety of heating pads.

The easiest ones to use are the microwaveable shaped bags full of flax seed. There are plenty of places to buy these, but they’re cheap and easy to make. I recommend flax seed over other fillers such as rice, as they hold the heat better, and don’t dry out. Add some lavender flowers for some aromatherapy as well, if you like. If you make your own heating pad, make sure that it is cotton, linen or another natural fibre, as synthetic fabrics can catch fire when you’re heating the bag in the microwave. (This actually happened to me.) I now make my bags out of a cheap muslin cotton and then also make a cover for each that can be removed when the bag is in the microwave, or for washing (hot necks = sweaty), or if you want to sprinkle some water on the cover to create a more soothing wet heat.

Obviously you can also turn up the thermostat, but if your furnace creates a dry heat (and most do) consider running a humidifier on low, for at least part of each day. This won’t do much to keep you warm, but it will help with the “February flakes” (that dry itchy skin that most people get over the winter), will keep household static down, and will help fend off winter nosebleeds (yep, it’s a dry air thing) in those that are susceptible.

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Boost Your Signal to Noise Ratio – Self Care Month Day 5

In olde internet times, we would talk about the quality of the information we’d encounter by referring to the good stuff as “signal” and all the other crap as “noise”. So a high signal-to-noise ratio mean that the group or community was enjoyable and useful. If the ratio was low, then that meant it was mostly people cluttering up a space and not contributing anything good. Believe it or not, back in olde times most of us actually cared about adding only good, quality information to the places we congregated.

Today, however, even before current political events, the whole of the internet is full of noise. Oh, you can still find good stuff if you hunt for it, but often it gets drowned out by the crap. And often the crap just makes us all feel… crappy.

Most of our noise tends to show up on social media, where we put up with links and posts by friends who we care about, even if we don’t really care about the topic they’re discussing. So today, to make your life more serene, some filtering tools for social media.

Facebook Purity is a plugin for the desktop that allows users to filter pretty much every single thing that shows up on a Facebook page, from all the stuff in the sidebars to certain types of posts. If you really don’t want to know that your Uncle Bob liked that post about the white supremacist, well you can filter that. Facebook Purity also offers a text-based filter, which means that all you have to do is add “Trump” to that box and any post that mentions the US president by name will not show up in your feed. Some stuff might still get through – it does not work on shared posts or posts where someone refers to him as “that asshole” instead of by your filtering term, but it does a great job of clearing out the majority of stuff you don’t want to see. Sadly this plug-in only works on desktops, and not on mobile devices. For my own sanity, I’ve deleted Facebook from my phone, but I totally get how that can be the hardest thing ever to actually do.

For Twitter, I am a huge fan of the app Twitteriffic. This one is mobile only, and not desktop, but it also allows users to “muffle” tweets based on user name, hashtag or text. Muffled tweets show up in your feed with minimal info, typically user plus the topic/user/hashtag you’ve muffled, which allows you to open that post or ignore it.

Don’t forget that muting on Twitter or unfollowing on Facebook are also great ways to take a break from someone without removing them completely, or without them knowing that you just can’t deal with their shit at the moment.

Do not feel obligated to read all the stuff in your social media feeds, especially if it stresses you out. You are absolutely allowed to filter, cull or even take a complete break if you feel the need.

And finally, please consider using good Netiquette – if you are writing or sharing posts on social media about things like Trump, make sure you’re using common keywords (“Donald Trump” instead of “Lord Dampnuts” for instance…) or hashtags to make it easier for others to filter out those posts if they don’t want to see them, while still being able to read the other, non-triggering stuff that you’re posting.

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Get a Good Night’s Sleep – Self Care Month Day 4

Five more minutes! We’ve all heard, or said, this refrain. Some of us multiple times each morning. But a proper sleep is the most basic, and one of the most important, forms of self care.

I mean, I know why people don’t sleep enough, because there is so much to do and not enough time to do it in, but sleep is not only when our bodies rest but when they repair themselves.

So it’s time to figure out how much sleep you need each night, and then re-organize your schedule to ensure that you get it. Cut and cull that other stuff, hire or delegate some of it out if you can, but block off that time for sleep and stick to it.

Then, follow these tricks to make your bedroom a place where sleep comes easily…

  • make sure linens, mattresses, and pillows are comfortable and supportive, replace if they’re not (it’s February, hit a white sale!)
  • ensure that the room is as dark as possible so your brain knows it’s time to sleep and can produce melatonin
  • find the right temperature – for most people this is generally on the cool side so you are more inclined to snuggle under the covers
  • beds are for sleeping and sex only – remove all other stimuli such as TVs from the room
  • turn off back-lit devices at least a half hour before bed, read a book instead
  • go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even weekends
  • a white noise machine can help drown out distracting noises for light sleepers
  • if you share your bed with a partner, consider separate beds or even separate rooms. Crazy? Not at all – you’ll both get a much better night’s sleep without someone tossing, turning or snoring beside you
  • Consider a sunrise lamp so that you’re not waking up in the dark

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