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.

Pat a Dog – Self Care Month Day 3

Selfie with Wiggly Corgi

Or a cat, or a bird. I advise against chasing down animals in the wild, but having animals in our lives has huge health benefits, from increasing our circle of friends and acquaintances to lowering stress.

Having a dog will get you up and moving, for both walks and play; will likely make you more organized (they’re sticklers for a schedule); will give you plenty of opportunities for a hearty belly laugh; and are always on hand to offer an ear or a snuggle when you’re feeling down.

If having a pet isn’t practical for you right now, you can visit friends with pets, volunteer at an animal shelter (bunny snugglers wanted!), look at pictures of animals online, or even get a stuffed animal to fill some of the gaps. (Seriously, before we got our current dog, I was going through a depressive period and bought a toy sloth named Cyril. Cyril lived on the back of the sofa, and sat on my lap while I watched TV. He was quite the critic, and would wave his long arms at my husband when he disliked a show and wanted it turned off. He was also an expert at the UK museum-themed quiz show, Quizeum. Claims he never got an answer wrong, beating some of the best historians in the world.)

Whatever way you choose to interact with animals, they can help you feel better in both the short and long term.

Let There Be Light – Self Care Month Day 1

Welcome to February. February sucks.

In the northern hemisphere, February is likely to be the coldest month, and the time when we’re most likely to feel down, either because of mental health issues such as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or just because the cold weather makes it feel as if there just isn’t that much to do.

This year, because of political issues in the USA, most people I know are also feeling very anxious and tightly strung as we all try to wrap our heads around what asinine idea or edict the US president is going to come up with next. As people’s rights quickly disappear and the population tries to unite and fight this freakish narcissistic oppressor, more than ever, we all need to indulge in some self care.

As far as I can tell, there doesn’t seem to be an official “self care month”. Google pulls up some references to it being in July, and I found a website that says November, but really, if there is ever a specific month when we all need some self care, it’s gotta be February.

So I have a full month of things anybody can do – and they’re mostly small, inexpensive things – to feel better and get through the month. They are February, northern hemisphere-specific things (ideas such as sitting in a garden, or lying in the grass and looking at the sky are not super-practical right now), so YMMV depending on where you live, but I think most things will be relevant in some way.

I hope you enjoy, and that this month of suggestions is useful to you.

Let There Be Light – Self Care Month Day 1

I’m starting my self care suggestions with the one that has been the most helpful to me over the years, which is light therapy.

The Mayo Clinic explains light therapy…

Light therapy is a way to treat seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and certain other conditions by exposure to artificial light. SAD is a type of depression that occurs at a certain time each year, usually in the fall or winter.

During light therapy, you sit or work near a device called a light therapy box. The box gives off bright light that mimics natural outdoor light.

Light therapy is thought to affect brain chemicals linked to mood and sleep, easing SAD symptoms. Using a light therapy box may also help with other types of depression, sleep disorders and other conditions. Light therapy is also known as bright light therapy or phototherapy.

I use two types of light therapy to help me feel better in the winter months; the first is the light therapy box. These come in a variety of styles and strengths, but for all of them, you simply sit in front of the thing for about an hour each day. I keep mine on my desk and turn it on when I start to work. Stronger versions require early morning use as the bright light can mess up circadian rhythms if used too late in the day, but I use my lower intensity lamp around noon each day and have no problem. It really does help me feel brighter and more cheerful, especially in the afternoons when I’m likely to experience a slump.

The second lamp that literally changed my life was a simulated sunrise lamp. This is a lamp with an alarm clock that starts gradually getting brighter until the alarm goes off, filling the room with a warm glow, sort of like a sunrise. More expensive models have a more authentic light (pinkish glow as opposed to yellow) and can include radios just like a standard alarm clock, or even a selection of sounds so you can wake up to birds singing instead of the typical alarm noise.

For anybody who hates getting up in the dark, especially in winter, I cannot recommend this product enough. My mornings went from “garr, I don’t wanna!” to cheerfully looking forward to my day, just as I do in the summer when the sun in shining in the window.

Speaking of the sun, while we’re not currently close enough to the burning sky orb for our bodies to make Vitamin D (and we’re too covered up in the cold for our skin to absorb it anyway), being outside on a sunny winter day can also help if buying these lamps is out of your budget. Just getting up and moving around and being outside in the fresh air can go a long way to making you feel better.