Self-care means survival

By Caitlin Kelly

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This is a tough time of year for many of us.

Forget (!) the U.S. election and how weary some now are of constant comment, opinion, raging, crying, etc.

Some families are withdrawing from one another over the holidays to avoid (further) estrangement.

The next six weeks also mean a lot of rushing around, to parties, (for work, for fun, with family), to buy gifts, to attend professional events.

Maybe, on top of all that, you’re looking for work or a new job, or coping with illness or injury.

This time of year can also mean new, fresh heartache; we have friends who recently lost both parents (to a drunk driver); a friend whose husband died this summer; a friend whose husband of many decades died a month ago…each of them facing their first Christmas and New Years as an orphan, a widower and a widow.

 

Taking consistent care of ourselves is crucial to our ability to help nourish and sustain others, whether children, parents, friends, spouses, neighbors.

 

A few ways to nurture yourself:

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Keep fresh flowers or plants in your home

As I’ve written here many times, especially as the trees lose their leaves and color here, every week I buy fresh flowers and keep our houseplants thriving. Even $15 worth of grocery store mums can fill multiple vases and jugs around our apartment.

Flowers are everywhere in our home: bedside, bathroom, dining table, side tables. I recently splurged $27 for three plants at a local nursery, including a pale purple cyclamen and a deep purple African violet.

Silence

We live, most of us, in such a noisy world! Traffic, airplanes overhead, other people’s music and conversations, our children, our pets.

Silence is deeply restorative. Find a place, at home or out in nature, to be alone, silent and still every day.

Pets

Talking to, hanging out with, patting your cat/dog/guinea pig.

Sleep

Since the election, I’m sleeping 9 to 9.5 hours every night, an escape from fear and stress. Self-employment from home allows me to nap as needed. Few escapes are as consistently accessible, free and comforting as a nap or a refreshing night’s sleep.

Meditation or prayer

Making time to intentionally focus on your spiritual health is sustaining. A friend living in another state recently started an on-line group of us to meet for meditation together. It sounds odd, but we were all grateful she thought of it.

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We’re not robots. We all need a hand, a hug and some help!

Friendship

Face to face or on the phone or using FaceTime or Skype only. We really need to see our dearest friends’ faces and hear their laughter (or sighs). None of this online silliness! Get a hug. Give a hug. (In times of stress, ditch/avoid faux friends and competitive types, emotional vampires and frenemies. You need backup!)

Especially with those you’ve known for decades, reminisce about all the great times you’ve had together — and plot some adventures for 2017 to look forward to.

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Candlelight

I keep a scented candle on my bedside table and it’s a soothing, calming final sight before I blow it out at night. It creates a ritual. We also light candles every evening when we eat dinner together ,(no TV blaring, no phones) and that, too, is a ritual that gently slows us down and moves into the evening.

Soft textures

I step onto a cozy bedside sheepskin rug every morning and treasure our woolen throws and blankets to nap under. Whether you wear a silk scarf or a cashmere muffler, or snuggly socks or slippers, keep your body as coddled and comfortable as you can.

Lovely images

We have a large collection of art, design and decorative arts books (all of which can be borrowed from your local library.) Few things are as pleasant as leafing through inspiring bits of beauty. Thanks to the Internet, virtually every museum in the world is now available for browsing.

Even better, get out to a museum or art gallery, sit on a bench and really, really savor a few pieces — sculpture, paintings, pastels, a mask or chariot — slowly and carefully.

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Nature

Get out there! No matter the weather, fresh air and light are a great way to detach from grim thoughts, social media and yet another bloody screen.

Avoid all social media

It’ll wait.

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Looking at art restores and refreshes me. This astonishing life-sized painting of Joan of Arc hangs in a hallway of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City

Music

This is one of my favorites, whether listening to the Sixth Brandenburg Concerto or Erik Satie or the Stones or…Crank up the stereo and sing along as loudly as you dare.

If you’re a musician, what a great way to lose yourself! I so envy — and have been fortunate enough to know several talented amateur musicians — those who can just pick up a flute or violin or harmonica or guitar and delight themselves. (I need to get my guitar out of the basement and start building up my calluses again.)

Attending a concert is a great way to destress. Jose and I recently attended an evening choral performance, all in Finnish, at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, in upper Manhattan. It was sublime! The echoes!

Play a game

Anything! Gin rummy, Scrabble, Bananagrams, cribbage, bridge, mah jongg. Do a jigsaw puzzle. Borrow your kids’ or grandkids’ Legos and have at it.

Exercise

Yay, endorphins. This has been my preferred method of stress management for decades, whether dance class, spin class, a long walk or playing softball. Especially this time of year, as we all start eating and drinking too much, burning off some of those calories will help.

Spa stuff

Some people hate being touched by strangers. But for some of us, a massage and/or manicure and/or pedicure and/or facial (yes, costly!) can be a great stress-buster. We’re lucky enough to live next door to a very good hotel spa, so I have incentive to work and and save hard for another visit.

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Cooking at the house we rented last year in Ireland

Cook

Only if you enjoy it! Creating something delicious is both focusing and distracting — a stack of muffins, a savory soup or stew, a pile of roast vegetables fills your home with great smells and gives you instant, possibly healthy, gratification.

Feeling Stressed? Johnson & Johnson Offers $39.99/Month On-Line Relaxation

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Image by Tambako the Jaguar via Flickr

How stressed are you feeling today? Would going on-line — as women do 27 hours a week doing non e-email reading — help you chill out?

A new program, with related products, begins this month at upliv.com, $99.95 a month for the first month and $39.95 a month thereafter, starting with a stress analysis test. Reports today’s New York Times:

While some Upliv tips, like relaxing by taking a hot shower or having a cup of herbal tea, are predictable, the company says the overall approach is effective. In an internal study in which 540 women aged 25 to 45 who reported “moderate to high stress levels” were put either on the Upliv program or in a control group, women in the program reported marked improvements, including increased “clear-headedness” and “sleep satisfaction.”

A 30-minute infomercial for the product will run this month in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas and Atlanta.

“Stress is usually one of the biggest causers for headaches and before I started this program I was averaging sometimes about 15 a month,” one participant, Jenny Ford, a teacher and mother of three, says in the infomercial. She said that her headaches had virtually disappeared as a result of the program, and that it had “really improved my marriage, because I’m happier, I have more energy, and I’m not such a drag.”

Another participant, Caroline Jalango, 37, single and a sales associate, tells the interviewer in the infomercial that the program helped her to be “responsible for my well-being — it’s a very powerful tool to me.”

In a telephone interview, Ms. Jalango, who lives in the Riverdale section of the Bronx and participated in a three-month trial in the fall, said that even though it had been a few months since she had had access to the Upliv Web site, “it has become like a lifestyle for me,” and helped her to be less stressful about her job, her family relationships and “being single while my biological clock is ticking.”

For $39.99 a month, I’ll stick to my usual stress-relievers: lots of hot tea, fresh flowers, long walks outdoors, listening to music, talking to friends.

The products offered, with names like Field of Happiness, Ocean of Clarity and Canopy of Tranquility, all sound a little goofy to me. If one could relieve stress by spritzing, send me 200 cases and let me aim it at…most of New York City.

Women, many of whom are socialized to make everyone happy all the time, often need explicit permission to take good care of themselves. Anything that helps them name, and pay consistent self-nurturing attention to, their own needs — not just the endless demands of their partner/husband/kids/job/aging parents/PTA — is a good idea.

Studies Find Exercise Calms You Down By Remodeling Your Brain

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Image via Wikipedia

It’s probably no surprise to those of us who have been using exercise as our drug of choice since childhood, but recent studies, described in The New York Times Magazine, find that exercising consistently actually remodels the brain — and creates one, writes Gretchen Reynolds, that is “biochemically, molecularly calm.”

I’ve recently been unable to work out the ways I usually do — walking, playing softball, the treadmill and bike — due to a stress fracture in my left foot. So, for the first time in years, I went swimming instead. It’s been a really stressful time recently, with my partner wondering if he’d lose his newspaper job, so not exercising has been hell. I feel cooped up in the box of my own body. The water was blood-warm, the pool at mid-day uncrowded and, thanks to a glass wall and door, flooded with light. I felt redeemed.

Once more, thanks to moving and using my muscles and my skills, sweating and panting, I felt like me, because “me” is someone strong, active and flexible. Yup, I will be a lousy, grouchy old lady if I lose these gifts. Which is why I want to keep enjoying them every minute I now can.

The Times’ piece points out — if you’re new to the world of exercise/sports — it takes time for the brain to change, at least a month. Well worth it.