Self-care is a necessity; especially when one has a full family, career, and expectations. When I do not get enough sleep, no amount of coffee will help me function. Sleep is necessary to improve and maintain cognitive function. Without it, you can die1.
There are thousands of articles that dispel the myth that working more hours than there are in the day is noble. Stress will kill a person before they reach any contentment in that lifestyle. Cardiovascular disease is just one of numerous physical health ailments that you can develop from working too much2. When people only work, they neglect other priorities and crucial components to healthy well-being, such as intimacy and friendship. Work exhausts one’s resources and creates a transactional perspective of the world where esteem is gathered from outer sources, rather than within. Vulnerability and trust are necessities for building relationship foundations, and are seldom components of one’s interactions with coworkers.
I used to make fun of meditating all the time. I would go crazy when left alone with just me, myself, and my brain. Come to find out, this is the best way to build mindfulness and keep one’s sanity in check. When a person meditates, it gives them a chance to regain that connection to their body. The person meditating builds inner peace, awareness, and has a chance to think about what is really going on in one’s life. Better yet, it gives that person time to prioritize responsibilities. I think about it as cleaning up the clutter of my mind. I gain complete focus and clarity after a small break of guided meditation. The internet is full of guided and non-guided channels with calm music that can aid in this process. I personally like The Honest Guys, found on multiple streaming channels like Youtube.
Oh, I forgot about fun. All the above refer to environmental factors rather than pastime activities. On days off, it can vary anywhere from cooking, baking, crafting, binge-watching movies, to shopping, going to the park, or camping somewhere far away from people. I would rather sit in the middle of the woods, eating breakfast out of a can of beans, warming myself by fire, than stay home, anytime. For kicks, we sometimes take off for a night to go sit in the middle of the desert, just so we can go to sleep under the stars and wake up to a sunrise that is not obstructed by buildings and people. There is order in nature, where there is only chaos in man. When the only noise is that of birds, beasts, and natural elements, my mind feels clear and I understand my place in the universe, albeit a tiny unit. Hiking is also a great way to spend a day outdoors. Some spectacular places rarely traveled exist on hiking trails.
Skiing is one of the most exhilarating activities. I spent childhood at the base of slopes in the northwest, growing to become a ski junky in early adulthood. Rushing downhill on ice with cliffs on either side scared the shit out of me at first, but I grew accustomed to rugged terrain. Now I get to share that hobby with my children. Teaching such hobbies helps them to grow in confidence, overcome deep fears, and allows them to find hobbies that may last a lifetime. However, my husband is not so happy when I laugh at him every time he falls after getting off the lift.
I get to teach cooking to my children. While I grew up serving tables and cooking in restaurant kitchens, I now get to pass those skills on to the next generation. Food preparation is a favorite hobby of mine. I can create, explore, and then enjoy the masterpieces made in the kitchen. My children learn the skill of measuring fractional components and arithmetic and combine this with exploring their creative sides. People also love food. So, any time I want to impress others, I make a big batch of donuts or double-chocoholic brownies. It wins them over every time.
Make, bake, create.
As a child, I began crocheting and knitting when my neighbor taught me how to make blankets and rugs. Come to find out, this is a useful way to stay grounded while sitting for lengthy periods of time. I can knit, for instance, and attend meetings that last an hour or more. The knitting occupies the part of my mind that otherwise wants to move, while I can attend to logic and thinking with the other. In recovery, it is necessary to keep both areas of the brain exercised, since long-term drug or alcohol use kills cells and shrinks overall brain matter. Like physical exercise, mental exercise includes practicing puzzles, crosswords, engaging in conversations, reading, making art, and other various methods one needs particular mental focus for. When really focused, I can jam out a blanket that will last forever and get stolen by one of my children when I try to use it to cozy up on the couch and read. Nothing is mine anymore. Guess I should make more.
Whatever it is, downtime is necessary. As human beings, we need to regulate our nervous systems. Being revved up constantly will burn out all of our resources, contribute to toxic states of being, mental anguish, and put oneself at high risk for some very serious diseases. From a holistic perspective, self care is necessary to complete the cycle of being. When resources deplete, one must rest and restore those same resources, or an unhealthy state of being will unfold. Somewhere, when the brain gives out, or the body gives up, people who burn out will collapse in insanity and exhaustion. This is not a fun place to be. If you reach burnt out, it takes many months to restore and rebuild motivation. Through the proper balance of fun with work, one can live a well-balanced and enjoyable life.
Change your environment
I clean when I am anxious. Clutter intensifies unease. While friends comment on the cleanliness of my house, I view it as maintaining sanity. When my environment reflects a natural disaster, so does my inner world. Therefore, incorporating a manageable daily regimen of chores is a must on my to-do list. Then, when I sit on the uncluttered couch and place my coffee cup on the table that is not covered with kid toys and magazines, I can breathe a sigh of relief and revel in this orderliness. I can only control so much in this world, and clutter is one.
You can remodel, redecorate, or get out of town. Any of these environmental changes can reflect positively in your mental state. Each of these activities trigger creativity, excitement, and exploration. These can bring a renewed sense of purpose or meaning to your spirituality. When you interact, you strengthen your neural bonds, ultimately enhancing cognitive functioning. So, get out, get creative, and explore.
Coffee with a friend
Spending time out with others is essential. We are biologically geared to be social, as mammals who use numbers to survive and thrive. In societies, we create safety through working together to build, create, and fight. Evolutionary biology explains this need, as we grew from hunter-gather societies to whatever you want to call it now. Human brains release the feel-good chemical dopamine when they engage in social gatherings and intimate-based relationships3,4. So, whether you like it or not, you need people.
I will meet with a person or have a long telephone conversation with them once weekly. Coffee shops are my favorite in-person meeting spots. I like to go back to the old days of talking for hours, not the days-long text string or exchange of emails. This involves an actual voice-to-voice conversation with live people talking to each other, like 1980. Yes, this is still possible, and highly recommended. I will give this behavioral assignment to the younger generations in my care if I see they are cutoff from others and only use written modes of communication. If you are an addict or alcoholic (in recovery or active), I will mandate 12-Step meeting attendance. Isolation kills those in addiction.
Keeping up with friends is no simple task. For myself, this means cramming activities into weekends and carting a circus to various parts of the Valley when I would rather cozy up in my blanket on the couch and read a good nonfiction book. However, when I stay in connection with those who care about me, I have an outlet for tough issues, an ear to listen when I am in pain, and a non-judgemental opinion should I seek advice. In addition, I learn from my friends in areas I am unfamiliar with. And I know they will reflect reality rather than tell me what I want to hear. An open and intimate connection is vital for one’s spirituality, an especially important component of recovery. When I isolate, I get into the nether regions of brain space where negativity governs the desolate landscape. I stay away from stinkin’ thinkin’ when I surround myself with others who lift me up.
So, call your mom and dad (unless you have parent-based trauma, then call your best friend).
- The brain functional connectome is robustly altered by lack of sleep. Neuroimage; 2016. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1053811915011416
- Workhours in relation to work stress, recovery and health. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health; 2006. https://www.jstor.org/stable/40967602
- Oxytocin attenuates phencyclidine hyperactivity and increases social interaction and nucleus accumben dopamine release in rats. Neuropsychology; 2018. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41386-018-0171-0
- The Rewarding Nature of Social Interactions. Neuropsychology; 2010. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnbeh.2010.00022/full
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