Self-care is an important topic during COVID-19 with many articles and blog posts about self-care strategies all over the web. Maybe all this self-care seems daunting, or you don’t know how to begin. Here are some simple ways to care for yourself that you may not have thought of yet.
Studies have shown that exposure to environments with plants can have physiological and psychological benefits (Chang & Chen, 2005). Perhaps you already have a houseplant or two. Great! Try taking a few minutes to see if your plant needs water, needs to be repotted, or just admire the amazing shape, texture, form, and color of your houseplant. These simple acts can be an act of self-care.
Another simple act of self-care can be spending time with your pets. According to the NIH (2018), about 68% percent of Americans have a pet. Studies have shown that interacting with pets can decrease cortisol levels and lower blood pressure (NIH, 2018). Additionally, pets can decrease loneliness, boost moods, and increase feelings of social support (NIH, 2018). Pets can provide unconditional love and help provide a sense of purpose and feelings of validation (Harvard Health, 2016). Perhaps you have a dog, cat, or other companion animal. Spend a few minutes petting, brushing, snuggling, or learning a new trick with your pet. This can be a simple act of self-care.
A two-year study followed changes in residents at Chase Memorial Nursing Home in New York, where care of plants, animals, and children were worked into resident daily life, compared to traditional nursing home care (Gawande, 2014). They found that residents who were involved in the care of these living things decreased prescription medication use in half, in particular decreasing psychotropic drugs for agitation. Total drug costs fell to 38% of the comparison facility and deaths fell 15%. Residents who were put in charge of taking care of plants and/or animals became more active and alert, and experienced life with greater meaning, pleasure, and satisfaction.
Do you have colored pencils or markers? A coloring book? Studies have shown that coloring has the therapeutic potential to reduce anxiety and increase mindfulness (Fitzpatrick, 2015). You can find printable adult coloring pages on the web if you don’t have a coloring book. Adult coloring pages are a great way to take a few minutes (or hours) to be present in the moment- almost like meditating (Fitzpatrick, 2015)! There are many free downloadable adult coloring pages available. A few examples are included here: https://www.justcolor.net/, http://www.supercoloring.com/collections/coloring-pages-for-adults, https://www.art-is-fun.com/free-adult-coloring-pages
Another great way to take care of yourself is exercise. Aerobic exercise has been shown to reduce anxiety, depression, and negative mood, and increase self-esteem and cognitive functioning (Sharma, Madaan, & Petty, 2006). Some studies have shown these effects are due to increased blood circulation to the brain and influences therefore on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis which can impact the limbic system, amygdala, and hippocampus (Sharma, Madaan, & Petty, 2006). Aerobic exercise can also improve sleep, and relieve stress (Sharma, Madaan, & Petty, 2006). Aerobic exercise includes walking, hiking, yoga, riding a bicycle, strength training, etc. Many gyms are currently offering online training sessions and you can find a great deal of workout videos on YouTube or through apps as well.
One last simple self-care strategy is breathing. Simple, right? Specifically, though, deep breathing. Studies have shown that deep breathing can decrease stress, heart rate, and cortisol levels and increase mood (Perciavalle, et al., 2016). Take a few deep breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth, filling your lungs and diaphragm. Repeat as needed.
Self-care can be incredibly simple and is increasingly important during these uncertain times. Try taking at least a few minutes each day for self-care.
Chang, C. Y. & Chen, P. K. (2005). Human response to window views and indoor plants in the
workplace. HortScience, 40(5), 1354-1359. Retrieved from https://journals.ashs.org/hortsci/view/journals/hortsci/40/5/article-p1354.xml
Fitzpatrick, K. (2015). Why adult coloring books are good for you. Retrieved from
Gawande, A. (2014). Being Mortal. Metropolitan Books. New York, NY.
Harvard Health Publishing. (2016). The health benefits and risks of pet ownership. Retrieved
National Institutes of Health. (2018). The power of pets: Health benefits of human-animal
interactions. Retrieved from https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2018/02/power-pets
Perciavalle, V., Blandini, M., Fecarotta, P., Buscemi, A., Di Corrado, D., Bertolo, L., Fichera, F.,
& Coco, M. (2016). The role of deep breathing on stress. Neurological Sciences, 38, 451-458.
Sharma, A., Madaan, V., Petty, F. D. (2006). Exercise for mental health. Primary Care
Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 8(2), 106. doi:10.4088/pcc.v08n0208a