Episode #30: 4 Stress Recovery Strategies That Don't Cost $$
Self-care seems to have become synonymous with acts of indulgence. But the truth is, that self-care doesn't have to cost a thing. A quick recap: chronic stress leads to chronic inflammation which leads to chronic disease. If we do not learn to mitigate stress in our lives through recovery activities, then we are not giving our bodies the chance to recover from the onslaught of stressors we face every day. SO, consider self-care a lifeline of sorts. This episode explores 4 acts of self-care that don't cost any money, but can have a profound impact on our lives.
Welcome to Episode 30 of the Freedom from Empty Podcast: Building Strong, Effective, Resilient Leaders and Humans. My name is Booth Andrews, and I am your host. Thank you so much for joining me for this episode.
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When I first started to practice self-care beyond exercise and sleep, I thought self-care was a monthly pedicure with a friend. Now, to be clear, a monthly pedicure with a friend was a SIGNIFICANT act for me back then. To give myself permission to step away from work or my family to do something indulgent really was an extraordinary leap from the norm.
In case you are wondering why self-care matters (particularly since it seems to be one of those terms that has taken on a life of its own and may be devoid of meaning at some point in the future) . . . a quick recap. Chronic stress leads to chronic inflammation which leads to chronic disease. If we do not learn to mitigate stress in our lives through recovery activities (aka self-care for the purposes of this podcast), then we are not giving our body the chance to recover from the onslaught of stressors we face every day. SO, consider self-care a lifeline of sorts.
While it is true that a pedicure can be an act of self-care, what I have learned over the last several years is that self-care takes many forms. And while self-care seems to have become synonymous with spending money on indulgences, there are countless acts of self-care that do not cost any money at all. I have a non-exhaustive list of 36 stress recovery activities that I use with groups on a regular basis. NONE of those 36 activities costs any money.
Since we are officially in the throes of the holiday season, I wanted to spend time today highlighting 4 methods of self-care that don’t cost any money at all. For those of you who have been listeners for a while, don’t fret. With the exception of the BIG KAHUNA of self-care (aka sleep), these strategies will be some I haven’t covered in depth in the past.
#1 Volunteering. Yes, volunteering is by definition doing something for someone else. But there is significant data on the benefits of volunteering for the volunteer him/herself. When I first started to come out of the darkness in 2016, one of the very first things I did was volunteer at our local children’s hospital. I was the movie cart volunteer every Friday. I would load up the cart and take it from room to room; asking the children and families if they wanted to borrow any movies. I also would collect the movies that had already been borrowed, bring them back down to the volunteer office, clean them and re-shelve them so that they would be ready to be borrowed again.
Not only did I have the chance to try to bring a little fun and entertainment to hundreds of precious children and families, but for many months, this time spent working on the movie cart was the only 4 hours in the week I got a break from my own mind and my own worries and challenges. It did me a world of good to be able to step out of my own pain in service to others. Now, I know that you may not have 4 hours per week to volunteer. One of the reasons I had that kind of time was that I had limited capacity to work during that period of my life. But, I challenge you to ask yourself if you have 1 hour a week or even 1 hour per month. You might find that not only will your spirit benefit from the act of service to another, your mind might appreciate the break as well! Speaking of minds . . .
#2 The second strategy is Observing Your Thoughts. I will approach this one using two personal experiences; recognizing that observing our thoughts can take many forms:
First, I have discovered this year that rumination lives in my forehead. What do I mean by this? Well, whenever I find myself replaying things that can never be changed or worrying about the future, I also find that my forehead is all scrunched up. No wonder I have deep lines on my forehead and between my eyes!! And while I know that replaying the events of the past or worrying about the future cannot change anything, I still find that my brain likes to churn. Which is exhausting. And not particularly helpful.
So, when I find myself swirling in my own thoughts, I have started intentionally relaxing my forehead and imagining my thoughts moving to the back of my head. (I think I was first exposed to this concept of letting my thoughts move to the back of my head during a Calm app meditation). Sometimes, I even picture my thoughts like the silver tendrils of Dumbledore’s memories that he used to draw into the Pensieve at Hogwarts. I let those silver threads trickle to the back of my mind, and out of my forehead. And for some reason, it works!! When I get my thoughts out of my forehead, I relax and the rumination ceases. Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself and let me know how it goes! I would love to know!
Second, not too long ago, I was all fired up about something and the dialogue in my head was all worked up. Brene Brown talks about the stories our brains make up as our way of translating the world. The problem with these stories is that our brains are often off base; reading our worst fears or pain into our interactions with other people. I guess the good news is that I have absolutely no idea what I was all worked up about, but these stories that we tell ourselves often include elements like: what happened, why it happened, what it all meant and who is in the dog house over the whole mess. And let’s be real, I could just as easily be in the dog house . . .
But anyway, as the story built up steam, another voice inside of me said: “That voice is anger. That voice is grief. That voice is pain.” In the moment that I was able to identify the emotion connected with each of the elements of dialogue in my head, the story started to lose its power. It was kind of like, OH! Well, that thing made me angry. And that made me sad. And that hurt my feelings. Oh, okay. Moving on . . And my brain was able to release the story and go about the rest of my day.
#3 Saying “No.” When’s the last time you said “No” to something? Anything?? I will let you in on a secret about how I used to manage my calendar. If someone asked me to do something and it was either work related, or not work related, but it was something I thought I could be helpful with and there was an empty space in my calendar, I said “Yes.” There was no such thing as reviewing criteria such as:
Did I want to do it?
What else was on my plate?
Did it fit in MY priorities?
Was I physically able to do it, but adding it to my plate would create undue stress or anxiety?
Had I allowed time to EAT in my day?
Had I allowed any down time in between meetings?
Had I actually marked off National Holidays on my calendar so I wouldn’t take meetings on those days???
If it sounds ridiculous, it was.
Now, I am not an expert at saying “no.” I am actually very good at saying YES. Even when “yes” is not necessarily in my best interest.
A few weeks ago, my ex asked me about 15 minutes before I was leaving the house if I could take the kids to school. And while I technically had the time to take them, I had a very big project on my plate that day, and I was very focused on getting to the client’s site on time, prepared and ready to go. I said “yes” that I could take the children.
And then I got mad. How dare he even ask me to take them 15 minutes before I was leaving on such a big day?!?!?! And then I caught myself . . . I should have said “no.” The answer to the question was “no.” But I said “yes.” And then I was mad at myself!! Thankfully, the plans changed again and taking the kids was a moot point. But it was so very interesting to me to observe how quickly I reacted to my own YES when it should have been NO.
While I am still very much a work in progress in this area, I am proud of myself for being so very present and aware in real time. This is a HUGE shift for me. It used to be that I piled things onto my plate until I crashed. And then, as I became aware of my level of exhaustion, I still did all the things, but I maybe I was pissed off about it or maybe I did them while sick.
These days, sometimes I even manage to say NO before I say YES. And in this particular case, if the issue had not resolved itself, I was considering circling back to my ex and saying, “I know I said yes. But I should have said no. And I would like to revisit my answer.” I cannot fully articulate what an evolution in my life that this has been. And how much better it is for my health and well-being.
Do you always say yes? Do you say yes even when you know you should say no? Do you say yes and then your body and mind revolt in anger and frustration at the person who asked?
If we are going to create and hold space for our health and well-being via intentional stress recovery practices, we are going to have to learn to say no. If we are going to build the businesses we dream of building and stay well at the same time, we are going to have to learn to say no. If we are going to have time and energy to be fully present in this life, we are going to have to learn to say no. And if we don’t want to play pile on on our own stress and exhaustion, we are going to have to learn to say no.
Last week, as I thought about planning for next year, I started to write down a list of all of the things that I need to allow space for in 2020. It’s a pretty long list. And NONE of the things on the list that I know I need to hold space for in 2020 have a direct dollar for hours correlation. But ALL of these things have a direct correlation to keeping my priorities in place and investing in my own foundation of well-being so that I can do my best work and create my business for the future. Saying NO is one of the things I am really going to choose to focus on for 2020.
Imagine what kind of space you could create to invest in your own self-care and stress recovery if you said NO to one thing a week????
And last but not least . . . the BIG KAHUNA
#4 SLEEP. Yep, you’ve heard this one before, but sleep is foundational to our ability not only to do our work, but it is also a prerequisite to having enough energy to engage in other forms of self-care. Now, I understand that sleeping can be very difficult for some people. And I do not want to create performance anxiety for you related to sleep.
What I do want you to consider is whether you are prioritizing sleep in your life? If not, I am linking Arianna Huffington’s 12 Tips for Better Sleep in the show notes.
Some of you may be in the season of young children. Or you may be in a profession that, by its nature, interrupts or limits your sleep. I remember the season in my children’s lives when I regularly had to choose between sleep and exercise. Both were NOT going to happen on most days. Some days I chose sleep. And others I chose exercise.
If you are in this season of life or work, I want to extend permission and grace to you. You are doing what you need to do to get through each day. And, I hope you will extend permission and grace to yourself not to be perfect in every aspect of your life. I mean, none of us are perfect anyway, but when we are sleep deprived in particular aren’t going to have the capacity to do all of the things that we may see other people doing or the things we could use to “should” ourselves to death. So if you are in a season of little sleep, I encourage you to practice #3 which is saying “no” to things that are not necessary for you in your life so you can continue to carve out as much time as possible for sleep.
I think it is so very important to acknowledge that, while we may not be in a position to control our sleep, we do not have to live in denial about the very really toll lack of sleep takes on our lives and health. In fact, it is dangerous for us to live in denial about such things.
If sleep just isn’t happening for you right now, I am linking a 2019 study that shows that mindfulness can help augment sleep in the fight against exhaustion.
The hustle and bustle of the holidays adds to our already very full plates. And often can strain our wallets too. I encourage you to choose one of these no cost stress-recovery strategies to work into your life and see what difference it makes!
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I look forward to being back with you next time!