By Cate Brandon, Psy.D.
Throughout this very difficult past year, there has been increased focus on the importance of self-care. But who has time? This article contains some simple, effective “bite-sized” ideas for self-care that take only a few minutes so that you can squeeze in your self-care whenever and wherever you can.
Exercise Snacks: While historically, experts recommended prolonged periods of exercise to obtain the full benefits, new research is emerging about the benefits of brief spurts of exercise throughout the day. Even quick bursts of activity of only a few minutes can provide meaningful short-term and long-term benefits for your physical and mental health. Consider setting an alarm to go off every few hours to prompt you to move or perhaps engage in some extra movement every time you get up to go to the bathroom or get a drink. Do a few minutes of jumping jacks, running in place, or jogging up and down a flight of stairs. Just these brief “exercise snacks” can improve your fitness level, blood sugar, blood pressure, mood and memory.
Mindfulness snacks: Mindfulness is an activity designed to ground you in the moment and connect you to your immediate physical and emotional experience. Mindfulness has been shown to improve mood, self-awareness, concentration, ruminative thinking and physical health. However, we don’t all have time every day to find a quiet room and put all of our responsibilities on hold for a long mindfulness exercise. Luckily, mindfulness is an easy activity to incorporate into the things you normally do every day. The simplest way to engage in mindfulness is to focus on your five senses during an activity. You can do this while washing your hands (noticing the smell of the soap, the warmth of the water on your hands, the sound of the running water), pouring your coffee (inhale the scent of the coffee, watch the liquid sloshing in the cup) or even while doing a chore (while dusting or vacuuming, notice the repetitive movement of your body, the change in appearance of the furniture or the carpet as you clean and the smell of the dusting spray or sound of the vacuum cleaner). You can do this while you are cooking as well: inhale the scent of the various ingredients, notice the sound of the wooden spoon tapping the side of the metal bowl or the feel of the dough between your fingers. Engage in mindful eating when you are enjoying a small dessert by slowing down your eating and noticing the smell, texture, taste and appearance of your food. Incorporating mindfulness into your everyday activities allows you to reap the benefits without having to sacrifice your time.
Gratitude Journal: This is a simple exercise that takes only a few minutes, but that an abundance of research has shown to have benefits in many areas, including mood, stress level, sleep, self-esteem, happiness, optimism and even aspects of physical health. By helping to shift your focus to positive things that happened throughout the day, it counteracts the natural human tendency to dismiss or overlook positives and attend more to negative events. Instead of doomscrolling on your phone at bedtime, simply write down three things each night for which you are grateful. This quick activity can make a big difference, and over time, help you to pay more attention to those positive events in the moment as they occur.
Breaks at Work: As many of us are working remotely right now, sitting a desk all day, without the benefits of breaks that naturally occur in the office, such as chatting with a co-worker, having to get up to get materials or walking to the break room to have lunch, we are often sitting in the same location all day. The lack of movement and constant staring at our screens can cause decreased attention, lack of motivation and increased fatigue. Make it a goal to detach from your screen at least every hour, setting an alarm if needed to remind yourself or relying on natural transitions in your work. Use this break productively by doing an exercise snack as described above, munching on a healthy snack while listening to a song or reading an article (somewhere other than your workspace), or even just gazing out the window for five minutes and allowing your mind to wander. Taking these breaks will not only boost your mood, but should also boost your motivation and productivity at work.
It’s okay if right now, you are too overwhelmed with other things in life to make major overhauls to your habits, but sometimes making small changes can have large impacts. These smaller, easier, briefer changes tend to feel more doable and therefore make you more likely to initiate and maintain them. Happy “snacking!”