4 Self-Care Habits To Help You Keep Calm and Carry On

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Your nervous system gets better at the things it does regularly. If you’re always “on the go,” or regularly experiencing states of stress, your body will get good at activating the stress response. Over time, you’ll find you get stressed more and more easily. To counter this, you need to build new habits into your routine to teach your nervous system how to relax. Here are four ways to get started.

Schedule Regular Downtime

Most people’s idea of downtime just doesn’t cut it. Simply sitting and watching TV for a few hours won’t do the trick, nor does mindless social media usage, which has been linked to higher stress levels. Downtime needs to be actively relaxing -- not just the absence of stressful activities. Think massages, meditation classes, or spending time in nature. This type active downtime activates your parasympathetic nervous system -- your muscles relax, your body stops releasing stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, and your heart rate slows down. Schedule some downtime at least weekly -- or more often if you need it.

Challenge Negative Thoughts

There’s a two-way street between thoughts and emotions. If you start thinking negative thoughts like “I’m worthless,” “I’ll never amount to anything,” “I’m a terrible parent,” then, sure enough, you’ll start to feel worthless, useless, and incompetent. However, thoughts like this are knee-jerk reactions and rarely accurate. So challenge them. For example, you could ask yourself:

  • What’s the evidence for this?

Practice Sleep Hygiene

Sleep is crucial to physical and mental health, and if you don’t sleep well, you’re more likely to experience mental health problems including stress and anxiety. To improve your sleep, first set consistent times to go to bed and get up -- and stick to these times rigidly. An hour before bed, start to wind down -- lower the lighting level, turn off all screens (no TV, phones, tablets or computers) and do something relaxing like reading, meditation, or taking a bath. Just before you go to bed, spend five minutes writing everything that you need to do over the next couple of days, and be as specific as you can.

A study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that this simple exercise can help you fall asleep quicker because you’re getting your worries out of your mind and onto the page.

Declutter Your Home Regularly

A study at UCLA asked participants to make a video tour of their home, and talk about each room a little bit. The researchers also took saliva samples, to test for levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. The more that participants talked about their clutter in their video tour, the higher their cortisol levels tended to be. How would you describe your own home? If your home is cluttered, you might see this as a big task, but don’t worry -- you can fix this gradually.

Every night, do a 15-minute round-up of all items not in their proper places, and one day a week, pick a room and start going through your possessions. Split them into three piles -- keep, donate, and throw away. After a month or two of this, you’ll be describing your home in more serene terms!

The Whole is Greater than the Sum of the Parts The great thing about these four practices is that they build on each other. A decluttered bedroom is easier to sleep in. Regular downtime lowers stress, making your negative thoughts easier to challenge. If you practice challenging negative thoughts, you’ll be able to overcome your own objections to chores like decluttering. Add in one new practice each week and very soon you’ll create an upward spiral, producing positive results in your life.

Written by Brad Krause. He graduated from college in 2010 and went straight to the corporate world at the headquarters of a popular retail company. But what started as a dream job soured quickly. After four years of working 15-hour days and neglecting his health, he decided enough was enough. Through aiding a friend during a tough time, Brad discovered his real calling--helping people implement self-care practices that improve their overall wellbeing. He created selfcaring.info to share his own knowledge and the many great resources he finds on his self-care journey.