I recently found out that I have an INFJ personality type--which explains my extreme love for alone time AND for people at the same time, and my dogged and sometimes really inconvenient obsession with high ideals and making the world a kinder place. Like, why can't I just be happy with a corporate desk job like everybody else? Why can't I take any old "healthcare" job and be satisfied with it already?! And why are there some days when I want to help and avoid people in equal measure? Well, because I'm a super picky, creative, independent-thinking and compassionate INFJ, and that's just the way I am.
What a relief it was to read about myself! I realized that folks with this personality type are especially at risk for burning out and requiring on-going self-care... which explains a helluva lot. But frankly, regardless of your personality type (you can find out what yours is here), any person who is spending most of their time doing compassionate work can benefit from a solid self-care routine. Hell, even if you think "I'm doing fine", your work can sure benefit from a healthier, more energized you.
Look ahead: do you anticipate running into stressors in the future? Um, duh. This is life, and life is a marathon. You are helping to save the world, to look out for your loved ones, to rescue babies from burning buildings--either literally or figuratively. The more important the work, the harder it is. And that's going to take a toll. That's just the truth.
Join me in initiating or re-vitalizing an evening self-care ritual to balance your body and mind, every single night.
Why? Because we're trying to prevent daily stress from becoming chronic. The physical stress response and the anxious chatter of the mind feed into each other in a vicious loop, and we want to disrupt that loop ASAP so it doesn't escalate and start affecting our physical and mental health.
Be proactive in guiding your body out of that physical stress response at the end of the day, every day. Be proactive in guiding your mind out of its unhelpful chatter at least once a day, every day.
Here's how I do it. Ideally, I'd want to do the following 3 self-care activities throughout the day, but for imperfect humans, I think doing them at the end of the day is a more realistic starting point.
1. Calm yourself through your senses. Going easy on my 5 senses at the end of the day was especially helpful when I worked in central LA and San Francisco, with the honking and congestion and putrid smells and conflict-fueled neighborhoods and traffic. This is also useful for those of us who work in fast-paced, high-pressure environments. The actual calming activities you choose to do will depend on your own preferences, but here are my faves:
-Breathing exercises, such as "belly breathing" or extending my exhales twice as long as my inhales. Or simply watching my breathing, and sitting with the inhales and exhales without judgement. Sometimes I'll diffuse or apply essential oils while doing this. It's now common knowledge that how you breathe has a direct correlation with how your body reacts to stress.
-Engaging with the sights, sounds, smells, and pace of nature. This could mean sitting on a park bench, watering and looking at my houseplants, watching the clouds move, playing with my cats, or even chopping up fresh herbs for my dinner. Nature moves at a very different pace than our typical workday does, and it exudes a very different kind of energy level. When I feel like I'm moving at the pace of nature, I know I'm back to baseline.
-Unwinding tense muscles through self/partner/chair massage, stretching, yoga, taking a hot shower or bath, or sitting in the hot tub in my apartment complex.
-Taking a break from technology, because screens are extremely stimulating to the eyes and brain, and often make us think about things that aren't conducive to relaxation. I'm especially vigilant about not watching the news before bed and banning my cell phone from the bedroom.
-Ensuring that your home is quieter and less stimulating than the environment you've been in all day, assuming it was an overstimulating one. For me, this means keeping the TV off or turning it down, and retreating to a private room for breaks if people are over.
Remember, stress starts in the body, often even before your conscious mind picks it up. Stress is a very physical thing. So ease it in physical ways, and treat your eyes, ears, and all your body tissues as precious when you unwind for the day.
2. Release or process stress in non-harmful ways. Stress is stubborn, and will often stick around until you finally acknowledge what it wants to say, or until you use its energy for something.
To alleviate the more "mental" attributes of stress, I like to journal or talk it out. But to make sure these strategies don't become harmful, I always put a timeframe or limit around it: no writing or complaining about the issue at hand for more than 20 minutes, or else it becomes rumination, which may actually make me feel worse! The point is to quickly "get it off your chest" so the tight coils of your worrisome little mind can loosen. You do not need to solve the problem from A to Z in order to move on.
To release the more physical aspects of stress, I like to run, dance (stupidly in front of the mirror), walk up and down the stairs, or do some circuit training stuff (burpees!!) in the middle of my living room. Remember how you learned in your first psychology class that the whole point of the "fight or flight" response was to give your body a burst of energy to deal with imminent danger? Well, you gotta use that burst of physical energy for something, even if modern dangers don't usually involve running away from sabertooth tigers.
Meditation is an interesting one for me, because it is the one thing that helps me to both release and process stress, in both my body and my mind. It deepens my breath, slows down my heart rate, and often shifts my perception of problems from a state of stress into a state of just... curiosity.
3. Ingest nutrients. When you're under a lot of stress, your body will suck up those nutrients much faster than it normally would, which leaves you at a greater chance of becoming depleted. And when your body is depleted, that will lead to even more stress on the body. This may, in turn, affect your immune system. Everything is a cycle, everything that is alive has its rhythm. So respect your body's, and load up on those fruits and veggies, those lean proteins and complex carbohydrates and unsaturated fats. I've made strides toward a healthier eating routine (in both how often I eat and what I eat--super proud of myself) but especially on days when I just can't seem to fit in a healthy lunch, I'll make it a point to eat a dinner that is just chock full of micronutrients and all 3 macronutrients.
So that's it. Every evening, soothe your body, let out stressful energy, and eat nutritiously. It doesn't need to take all night, and it doesn't need to be fancy. You can build your resilience just a bit more, every single day.
Tonight (or tomorrow night), what's one thing you will do to nourish your 5 senses?
What's one thing you will do to release stress from your system?
And what healthy meal will you have for dinner?
Your world will thank you for taking care of yourself, because you contribute so much to those around you. But, even more so, you deserve health and happiness just for being you.
Take good care o' you,