Taking Good Care of Yourself:
Strategies That Work for Everyone

Many of us have so many roles and responsibilities that we forget to take care of ourselves. Self-care is an important component of stress management. If stress becomes overwhelming, it can wreak havoc physically and emotionally. Most people only put themselves on the top of the list when they have "crashed and burned" energy-wise. I always encourage people to do it the other way around so that they prevent any stress overload and are able to function more effectively.

Carve out slots for Self Time at least two or three times a week. Even ten minutes a day of Self Time can help refresh your mental outlook and slow your body's stress response systems. Turn off the phone, exercise, spend time alone out under the trees or by a seashore or lake shore, meditate to your favorite music. Make a list of things that nurture you, and when you have the time, look at the list and choose something that sounds just right.

Sleep

I cannot overemphasize the importance of getting a good night's sleep. Sleep is essential for a person's health and well-being. If you don't get enough sleep (8 hours per night is the recommended average for adults), you may not be able to give your best job at work or as a parent and you may be irritable, moody, apathetic, and flat emotional responses. Over time, lack of sleep can result in clinical depression, or greatly affect overall functioning.

Here are some recommendations for "sleeping tight:

  • Reduce or eliminate caffeine and sugar consumption.
  • Go to bed each night and get up each morning at the same times. Don't force your biological clock or circadian rhythm to reset itself again and again.
  • Don't use alcohol as a sleep aid or to relax
  • Exercise regularly each day if possible — you'll sleep better that night
  • Take time to wind down before going to bed. (No pre-bedtime thrillers novels or depressing TV news!)
  • Develop a bedtime routine that relaxes you (drinking decaffeinated herb tea, reading, stretching, meditation, relaxation exercises, a warm hot tub)
  • Don't go to sleep stressing about that "mountain of work" you need to accomplish the next day

Exercise

Exercise and mood have a critical relationship: Inactive people generally have lower mood than active people. Depression, for example, makes your body feel heavy and sluggish, which only exacerbates depression — yet another one of depression's vicious cycles. And taking a few laps around the block can do wonders for blowing off steam and coping with the day's stresses.

Activities such as yoga, taking a short walk, going to the gym or playing sports help ensure that you have a healthy mind and body. Energetic, aerobic exercise provides an outlet for the release of negative emotions. Exercise is a neurotransmitter stimulant, and exercise produces endorphins, a kind of natural morphine that energizes the mind and body, and endows us with a sense of well-being. And physical fitness, of course, also boosts self-image and confidence, which boosts self-esteem — an important antidote to negative, anxious or depressive thought patterns.

The longer I practice, the more convinced I become that physical exercise should be part of any therapy. If you're cynical about just how much impact exercise can have on your mental state, a recent Duke University study suggests just how powerful a mood-booster exercise is. They found that a brisk 30-minute walk or jog three times a week may be just as effective in relieving major depression as typical antidepressant drugs. 156 volunteers with Major Depressive Disorder were randomly placed into one of three treatment groups:

  1. Medication using Sertraline — trade name "Zoloft"
  2. 30 minutes of exercise, 3 times per week
  3. Zoloft plus exercise

The results were startling…

IMPROVEMENT AFTER 4 MONTHS
Zoloft Exercise Combination
60% 66% 69%
RELAPSE AFTER 6 MONTHS
8% 38% 31%

While some people need psychotropic medication to treat their depression, this research can encourage all of us to make exercise a priority for both our physical and mental health.

Nutrition

You've heard the old expression "You are what you eat!" Giving your body the nutrients it needs can help treat — and prevent — mental and physical illnesses.

Diet can have a huge impact on mood, energy and sense of well-being. High-fiber foods, for example, boost energy and metabolism. The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish can help bolster mood. A high intake of caffeine, sugar and alcohol can contribute to depressed mood. What goes up must come down!

THere are some eating tips to help improve mood, energy and overall sense of well-being:

  • Drink plenty of water; water flushes toxins from your body and recharges your "electrical system"
  • Eat by the clock, not by your stomach
  • When you plan meals, focus on nutrition
  • Make meals that don't require a lot of energy to prepare
  • Avoid fast food and processed food
  • Avoid refined sugar and other foods (e.g., sugar carbs) that cause a sharp rise in blood sugar
  • Choose foods made from whole grains (brown rice, whole wheat, oats, rye, barley) more often than those made with refined wheat flour
  • Give up soft drinks that contain sugar

Flexibility

As you deal with life's ups and downs, you'll begin to realize that flexibility is part of building resilience. Here are some tips for improving your personal flexibility:

  • Let yourself experience strong emotions, but learn to recognize when you may need to avoid re-experiencing them in order to continue functioning.
  • Step up to the plate to deal with your problems and meet the demands of daily living, then step back to rest and reenergize your Self.
  • Spending time with loved ones is also self-nurturing — you'll gain support and encouragement.
  • Rely on others, but also rely on yourself.

Take regular vacations or other breaks from work. No matter how hectic life gets, make time for yourself — even if it's just to do simple things like reading a good book or listening to your favorite music. Monitor the impact that these pleasurable activities have on your stress levels.

If you feel overwhelmed by stress, please feel free to contact me at 408.250.2166 or maria@marialloyd.com.

 

©2009 Maria Lloyd, LMFT MFC38399. All worldwide rights reserved.
Maria Lloyd is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist located in the Silicon Valley area— San Jose / Santa Clara County, California. Maria provides individual counseling for women for: depression and stress management, post-partum depression, anxiety and panic disorders, bipolar disorder, interpersonal relationship issues, self and identity issues, co-dependency, anger management, and managing grief and loss.