New Year New . . . What? Creative Ways to De-Stress
2020 was rough, and the emotional toll that it has taken is heavy. As we move into this new year, it’s more important than ever to have a self-care routine and a support system to help manage the enormous amount of stressors that are compounded upon us. There is hope that some of the stressors will dissipate, but even when they do, they can leave residual effects that continue to have an impact on your system.
At BPAR, our team relies on several resources that we come back to over and over again, especially in times of stress. We believe in the importance of practicing what we preach. Our clinicians are just as dedicated to working on themselves and ensuring their own well-being as they are of taking care of you. There is no secret to self-care. It takes effort, it’s an active process, and sometimes it needs adjusting. As Carl Jung, the great psychiatrist and psychologist said, “The shoe that fits one person pinches another; there is no one recipe for living that suits all cases.” We have assembled a list of resources provided and used by our clinicians that help us with our own self-care. We encourage you to explore and try several different resources to find what works best for you!
Self-Help Resources to Help You De-Stress
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
In his book, Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, writes, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” Viktor was able to find meaning while experiencing one of the most horrific experiences of suffering of all time. He reminds us that even if everything else is taken from us—we always have the choice of what to do with our thoughts and feelings and to find meaning in our lives.
The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown
Brené writes, “Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, ‘No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.'” So many of our clients are lacking in self-worth, feeling as though they are not good enough and not deserving of love and care. This book does a great job of challenging those beliefs and helping the reader connect to their own worth.
Tools for Releasing or Expressing Your Feelings
Therapy can be a great resource for self-care. It can be used in a variety of ways depending on your personal goals. Despite the type of therapy you choose, you are bound to gain insight or awareness into yourself. You can begin to notice patterns in your thoughts and feelings which will help you look at your behavior in relationships, at home, and at work. When you really get to know yourself, you can then start to feel more in control of yourself.
Therapy can help to validate the difficult experiences you’ve been through and help you learn to articulate your feelings. It’s an opportunity to be vulnerable so that you can live your life in a way that feels safe and healthy for you.
Finding a therapist can be difficult. It’s important to shop around and make sure you feel it’s the best fit for you. Think of finding the right therapist as finding the right car for your needs. Ask about:
- their training;
- their style;
- what a typical session looks like;
- whether they require homework;
- how they give feedback;
- how they set goals; and
- if they have had experience with clients who have had similar challenges.
How do you feel meeting with them? Do you think you can be honest with them? The fit of a therapist is a personal choice for the client, but not for the therapist—we will not get offended if you feel like you might be comfortable with someone else! If you need help finding a therapist, you can contact us for support.
Physical activity can help relieve stress and also produce endorphins which are the neurotransmitters in your brain that help you feel good. Our BPAR clinicians engage in a variety of movement exercises such as lifting weights, running, yoga, stretching while breathing, cycling, hiking, dancing and walking.
We breathe involuntarily—our bodies and brains do it automatically to keep us alive. However, the way in which we breathe has a huge impact on our bodies and our emotions. Both shallow, fast breathing or holding our breath can increase anxiety and panic as either extreme triggers our fight-or-flight response (sympathetic nervous system). Breathing deeply, particularly with long, slow exhalation, activates the calming part of our bodies (parasympathetic nervous system), signaling to our brains that we are safe.
Some recommended breathing techniques from BPAR clinicians:
- “Star” or “figure 8” breathing: air tracing (or actually drawing/tracing) the figure and focusing on inhale/exhales while doing that bilateral movement
- Diaphramatic breathing
In addition to breathing, another great tool for expression is through intentional screaming or yelling. Find a safe space—like your car—and have a good scream or cry to help release some of the anger, rage or grief you are feeling.
CONNECTION — PHYSICAL AND EMOTIONAL
Human beings are wired for connection. It helps us feel safe and assures us that we will be okay. If it’s available to you, a 20-second hug from someone you love or feel safe with can have a positive impact on your stress response. If you live alone or are isolated or in quarantine, try a weighted blanket, petting your animals and hugging yourself. Emotional connection is just as important here, too. Try calling a friend who is going through a similar situation. Getting an empathetic response is validating and important. We like Brené Brown’s short animated video that explains the important difference between empathy and sympathy.
Many of our clinicians talk about the benefits of getting organized. Making to-do lists, cleaning the house, organizing a bookshelf, doing some laundry while working from home—all of these activities can help you feel focused as well as productive, which can boost energy and decrease feelings of being overwhelmed.
Engaging our creative parts is a great way to release stress. It helps us tap into our centered part of ourselves. The creative possibilities are endless! Try some of these activities:
- Write: Pick a topic and write about it for 15 minutes, or free-write for 1-5 minutes, or journal until you feel a shift of energy and or mood.
- Create art: Abstract scribbles or moving paint around on canvas. Get playful with it! Buy an adult coloring book, use clay, or find some markers that you love and just make marks on the paper.
- If you enjoy music: Put on some headphones and listen to a favorite song, make a playlist based on your mood, or practice an instrument. One of our clinicians who loves music highly recommends doing a Group Session on Spotify; you can invite your friends or family (they have to have a premium account) to collaborate on a playlist and listen to music together. Take turns adding a song to the playlist, and you can listen to what everyone else contributes. A nice way to be “together” if you can’t< actually be together.
- Increase play and fun: Many of our clinicians like to personify inanimate objects in order to stay playful and lighthearted. Give voices and personalities to the things around you. What does your refrigerator sound like? How about your cat?
INTERVENTIONS THAT HELP TO SOOTHE
Another great option to help in times of stress is to engage in soothing activities. These activities help us move into the present moment, which can help take us out of our thinking brain. Here are some of our favorite soothing activities that we use on a regular basis:
- Epsom salt baths
- Essential oils (rub on pressure points or use in a diffuser)
- Lighted candle (scented or unscented)
- Weighted blanket
- Teddy bears and stuffed animals (any object that brings comfort/joy/play)
- A warm beverage (Tension tamer or herbal tea, hot water with lemon)
- Position fresh bloom or flower or crystal in front of yourself
- 20-second hugs (or 10-second kisses!)
- Reruns of your favorite TV shows
- Power naps (20-30 minutes)
- Insight Timer app for soothing music, guided meditation, etc.
- In silent meditation, hum to notice the vibration of your own voice
- Deep belly breathing
Sending kind, loving, forgiving thoughts to yourself can go a long way. Pay attention to how you talk to yourself—would you talk to your best friend that way? At our office, we have a no-talk-trash policy that we implement and support each other with. If we hear a colleague say something negative about themselves like “Ugh I’m so stupid, I can’t believe I did that!” etc., one of us will gently suggest, “Now say something nice about yourself.” You can ask someone at home to do this for you, or set a reminder in your phone with a positive message that pops up at certain times during the day. The more you practice this, the easier it gets!
Summary: One Step At a Time
Self-care seems to have become this big term that has been thrown around all over the Internet—especially during the pandemic. But when it comes down to execution, many people feel overwhelmed or defeated even thinking about the concept. Our advice is to break the goal of self-care down into very small, tangible steps and also to think of it as an active process. Our needs are always changing, so we need to listen to what our bodies and minds are telling us in the moment. “Maybe today I need to numb out and watch Netflix for a few hours, but tomorrow I might need to go for a walk and get fresh air and maybe even that evening I might need to take a bath or call a friend.” The key is to have many tools in your belt that you can keep handy and take out at the right time.
Written by Kelly DiBendetto
Boston Post Adoption Resources