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Complete silence may sound peaceful in theory, but our brains actually crave sound. The balance is important. If it’s too quiet, individual noises can stand out and become annoying (a neighbor’s subwoofer, a ticking clock). White noise or natural sound machines are a good sources of neutral, balanced sound. You can use your phone as well. There are a variety of natural sound apps from waterfalls to cats purring. The hum of white noise does not disrupt your sleep. Instead it allows your brain to take a healthy break.
Yoga is more than a trendy exercise routine! Yoga combines the physical, emotional, and mental to promote balance and wellness. In doing yoga, one is encouraged to build a non-judgmental and honest relationship with oneself. Yoga originated in India, and explores the nature of one’s mind and emotions. The body movements and poses release endorphins and endocannabinoids, giving our bodies a “natural high.” If you haven’t done yoga before, beginner friendly classes are offered in most communities and a competent instructor can help modify movements and poses to suit movement restrictions and fitness needs.
Many find that the simple act of a hug can instantly calm your body and change your state of mind. Body contact releases oxytocin, a brain hormone that promotes bonding and a sense of safety. Physical contact starts a chain reaction that lowers stress levels, improves one’s mood, and reduces blood pressure. Hugging yourself works by stimulating the same pressure sensing neurons, and can have a similar effect. Practicing self-affection can allow you to cope with hardships, shame, self-criticism, anxiety, fear, and depression.
Giving love goes a long way. Sometimes we forget that other people are going through similar things. Pick a friend or family member and send them a text asking about something going on in their life, good or bad. If you can, practice being specific. Being specific shows them that you were listening, and that they matter to you. Who knows? Maybe next time they will be the one to start the conversation!
Feeling stuck? Change your temperature! Taking a hot shower relaxes the body, soothes the muscles, and reduces stress levels. Meanwhile, research shows that brief, cold showers stimulate the brain’s release of a hormone called norepinephrine which can help with depression. Taking a hot shower and ending it with a cold shower improves circulation. Any drastic temperature change can also change your mental state and disrupt troublesome thought patterns.
Stress balls, fidget toys, lotion on your hands, even tapping your feet can help soothe your mind and body.
Self-advocating is when you clearly and candidly let others know what you need. Taking on too much without proper support can leave you burned out before you know it, both personally and professionally. Respect is key to any healthy relationship, and being assertive shows others that you know you deserve respect. It is okay to say no when you are uncomfortable or others ask too much. It is also okay to ask for help, for more time, or to voice your opinion on what you need.
Relaxing your muscles can relax the mind and reduce stress levels. When we are tense, we hold that tension in our bodies quite literally by tensing certain muscles (often the neck or back). Holding this tension can lead to hypertonic muscles, or muscles that don’t relax as much as they should. This can change your posture, or cause pain and stiffness. Intentionally relaxing your muscles counteracts that effect. Guided muscle relaxation recordings are a helpful way to make sure you hit every muscle, and you can do it at your desk, at home, or even on the subway.
Listen to something new! That can be a genre you don’t typically listen to, or music from a time period outside your usual playlist. This is about novelty, or newness of experiences. Unexpectedness jumpstarts your whole brain! New music (even if you find that you hate it!) is a quick and accessible way to give your brain the jolt of novelty it needs to keep from sinking into boredom and anxiousness.
Put your phone to bed before you. The blue light from smartphone screens can trick the brain into thinking it is daytime, and keep you from feeling relaxed enough to sleep. Setting a bedtime for your phone gives you a chance to unwind as well, without the constant stream of social media and text messages. Those posts and messages will be there in the morning, but your chance to sleep won’t be.
Assembling a puzzle is a way to practice focusing your attention on the task at hand. Whenever you challenge yourself with a puzzle, it is at the forefront of your mind. Puzzles increase dopamine levels, and every properly placed piece is another jolt. Puzzles can also be a form of meditation, a way to clear the mind of outside matters. There is nothing at stake with a puzzle except what you make of it!
“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” This is a creed that is helpful for perspective in times of real stress. People in recovery from substance use it to help with situations that make them want to use. Internalizing this saying gives you the space to accept the past or anything you may have done or felt ashamed for and then the power to know that you have the ability to overcome the past in order to create a new future.
A Cup of Tea
Yes, tea claims to have all sorts of physical health benefits, but did you know that the act of drinking tea has psychological benefits too? Brewing and drinking a warm cup of tea forces your body to slow down, stay present, which results in a sense of calm. This is why doctors often recommend drinking a cup of tea before bedtime. Doing so also provides a comforting ritual for yourself. To take the calming effect to the next level, limit your multitasking while making and drinking the tea. Instead, focus on watching it steep and savor the flavor of each sip. So next time you’re feeling a bit nervous and want to wind down, try enjoying a nice cup of warm tea.
Go out and enjoy the gifts of nature. It is a beautiful world out there and it is worth exploring! Staying cooped up indoors can have drastic effects on emotional and physical health. Stimulation from natural beauty is calming. If you live in a large city, try to find a park or appreciate the places nature has taken hold in the city. Exploring nature is also great source of exercise.
Food is fuel for your body and your mind. Adding healthy foods to your daily eating habits provides your body with increased energy throughout the day. Feeling tired in the afternoon? Did you skip breakfast or lunch? Blood sugar can have a big effect on your mood. For individuals recovering from eating disorders, sticking to your recovery plan is a key part of self care.
Watch Funny Videos
Laughter may not be the best medicine for everything, but it certainly helps! And there’s science backing that up. Laughter reduces tension and anxiety, even (and perhaps especially) when it doesn’t feel like anything is worth laughing about. Funny videos provide a momentary distraction from whatever you are feeling and can jump start positive emotions so you can get back to life feeling refreshed and ready.
Flowers, Lotion, and Essential Oils
Scent is one of the strongest memory triggers. Finding the right scent can be calming and stress relieving. It can also be energizing and invigorating. Luckily, flowers are very easy to come by. Next time you’re out, stop by local nursery and pick out some flowers or plants that speak to you. Make keeping it healthy a part of your routine. This is a grounding habit that can create consistency and a feeling of stability. If you struggle to keep plants alive, essential oils are another way to get the same benefits of scent without the added work.
Draw a Butterfly
This is for those who regularly self-injure and want to reduce their frequency. Draw a butterfly on your skin with a pen or marker and give it a name. The goal is to let the butterfly fade on its own without washing it off. If it fades before you self-injure, it lives and you are one step closer. If you self-injure before it fades, it dies. But don’t give up hope! After treating the wound, draw a new one and try again. This is best done while getting comprehensive support with triggers and stressors, but can definitely be done on its own to reduce harm.
Watch a Documentary
Feeding your mind with new information can push out unpleasant or stressful thoughts when you’re in an emotional slump. The slower pace of many documentaries can help slow down chaotic thoughts, and learning new things helps engage your higher-order brain functions. Unlike school, there’s no pressure to remember it all for a test, either! New learning promotes neurogenesis (when your brain makes new neurons) and synaptogenesis (when existing neurons make new connections).
Snuggle A Pet
“Dog is a man’s best friend” holds merit when talking about coping skills. Spending time with our furry friends stimulates the release of oxytocin, the bonding and love hormone. Tactile stimulation of fur and animal affection helps us ground ourselves and stay present the same way getting a hug from a person does. Having your pet by your side can help alleviate loneliness. Go ahead and hug your pet (or get one)!
Take A Class
New learning promotes growth of neurons in the brain, and expose you to opportunities you didn’t know existed. This isn’t just about classes you’re required to take in school or expensive college courses. It can be anything from a yoga class at the gym to a free seminar at the public library. The cool thing about this is that it doesn’t even have to be a class you are interested in (though it certainly helps). Taking a class breaks up stale routines and introduces you to new people, regardless of the topic of the class.
Meet Up With Friend
Feeling alone is something that happens to everyone people at some point in their lives. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t something to do about it! Boredom and loneliness feel awful, but they are our bodies’ ways of telling us we need to act on our social and emotional needs, just like hunger and tiredness tell us to act on our physical needs. Try to make plans to meet up with a friend in the near future. If your usual circle is busy, try reconnecting with a friend you haven’t seen in awhile. Whoever you reach out to, make it your goal to learn something new about them before talking about yourself, especially if you’ve known them a long time. Whether you feel like talking about your loneliness or not, being in someone else’s company can make a huge difference in mood and emotional well being.
Lower Your Expectations
Sometimes the world is just too much. Sometimes you've overcommitted and need a break, or depression is clouding everything around you and you just can't. Lowering your expectations means giving yourself room to breathe. Let yourself off the hook for today (not tomorrow, or forever!) and let something slide. Start with things you can control (like chores) before moving on to things you need to discuss with others (breaking commitments, missing deadlines). If your lowered expectations will affect others, you should let them know as soon as possible. (Be aware that there may be appropriate consequences if it affects others!)
Raise Your Expectations
This applies to both yourself and others! If you find yourself bored, understimulated, dislike the conditions around you, or dislike how others are treating you, it's time to raise your expectations! We all slip into complacency and comfort at times, and sometimes it's necessary to let things slide in order to prioritize other needs, but we can't stay in that state forever. Raising your expectations means no longer making (or accepting) excuses, and instead working toward solving or working around problems you face. When you raise your expectations, you stop seeing obstacles as reasons to quit and instead see them as challenges to overcome!
Say Thank You
Maintaining connection to others takes effort, whether they are family, friends, coworkers, or acquaintances. One of the simple ways to remind people that they are important to you is to show gratitude. Think of someone you want to express gratitude to. Send them a quick message thanking them for what they have done for you. A simple, "Thank you for listening," sent to a friend can go a long way toward maintaining that friendship. Showing appreciation for the effort of a coworker by sending a, "Thank you for your help," email makes it more likely they'll help next time since they'll know it means something to you. Keep it short, and to the point.
Sometimes we add people to our social networks that we really don't get along with. Or they post things that drain us and leave us feeling empty when we engage with it. Your social media feed should never leave you feeling worse about yourself or discouraged about your friendships. Unfriend or unfollow those who add distress to your life. If you worry about the social consequences, use the platform's softer functions, like hiding or filtering out their posts so you don't have to see them. Take the steps you need to take in order to make your online experience better for your health and wellbeing.
Connect With Family
As our lives get busy, it can be easy to overlook connection to family, whether that is extended family we don't see often, or even close family we don't live with. Family connections require the same work as other relationships. Take a moment to reach out to a family member just to catch up. Choose the connections you want to foster and reach out. Ask questions about them and what they’re up to, and then follow up with more specific questions. Make plans together if it's feasible. Aim for reaching out to family like this at least once a week. Feel free to change up which family member you reach out to each time. We also realize that you may not want to be connected to every member of your family. That is ok, too! Connect with the ones that feel right for you.
5-4-3-2-1 to Calm
At times, strong emotions can feel all-consuming and hinder your ability to think about anything else. If you begin to feel your emotions starting to take control, try this simple calming technique. The technique requires you to focus on your five senses and in doing so, it reorients your attention and helps you stay present in the moment. Give it a try! 5: LOOK at five things around you. What do you see? Say them out oud 4: FEEL four things around. How do they feel? Say them out loud 3: LISTEN for three sounds. What do you hear? Say them out loud. 2: SMELL two things around you. What does it smell like? Say them out loud. 1: TASTE one (edible) thing around you. What is the taste? Say it out loud.
One Thing At A time
Practice slowing down and single-tasking. Give what you are doing your full attention. Research shows multitasking doesn't make us as productive as we think. In fact, it makes us less productive. Turn off additional screens or put away additional devices. If you need background noise, try music without words, or nature sounds. When you are spending time with family and friends face to face, engage and be present with them as fully as you can. Try to keep your phone use to a minimum. Put it face down (or on do not disturb mode) so you don't see notifications, or keep it in another room. (Granted, sometimes family are the ones we use our phones to get a break from. I if that's the case, then another tool may be more useful for you in this moment) Doing one thing at a time enhances your experience of the moment!
If you have a spiritual path or a religion you practice, follow through on practicing it: whether that means daily meditation or prayer, showing up to a gathering, or something else entirely. Whatever the typical expectations for your spiritual path are, committing to regular practice can benefit you in multiple ways. Those include connecting with community, sticking to a routine to get you through tough times, building up attention span, and strengthening self-discipline. And all that is in addition to what you gain spiritually!
Watch For Red Flags
Watch for warning signs. When you are in unfamiliar situations, around new people, or when you feel your body tense up, do a gut check. Do I feel safe? Does this person seem trustworthy? Have they given me a reason to distrust them? Can I get more information to help me decide? Am I being pressured, deceived, or coerced into something I am uncomfortable with? When you see red flags, warning signs, or mixed signals, take them seriously and don't assume this situation will be different unless you have clear evidence.