Mindfulness and Self Care for Professionals
For My favorite analogy for self-care is clichéd, but accurate. When you get on an airplane and the flight attendant gives that safety spiel, when they get to the part about the oxygen masks, the first thing they tell you is: “If you’re traveling with children or others who need assistance, put your oxygen mask on first.”
Think about it. Let’s say you don’t do that and you fall unconscious due to lack of oxygen, then no one gets the help they need. Lose/lose situation there.
It’s the same in everyday life. When we don’t take care of ourselves, no one wins.
And yet there is a pervasive cultural pressure to keep pushing ourselves, to ignore the physical needs of our bodies and the emotional needs of our souls, which invariably leads to chronic stress, burnout, and depression. Data shows that burned-out healthcare providers provide crappy service, depressed parents can’t effectively parent, and over-burdened social workers can’t provide needed resources to their clients.
So Where Do We Go from Here?
The easiest way to answer this is that you implement it slowly and steadily. Start with one activity a week and then increase it to two, three, and four and so on until you are comfortable with the level of activity you are using.
Below is a list of self-care suggestions for you to try.
When was the last time you had a good laugh?
While each person’s self-care plan is unique, one of the most common factors that relates to self-care involves incorporating humor and laughter into your daily activities. For generations, people have used comedy and humor to cope with stressful situations and for self-expression. There has been research of the practical applications of the benefits of laughter and humor as an effective self-care tool.
Why laughter? — What are the benefits?
Research has shown that there are both psychological and physiological benefits related to laughter and humor:
Psychological Benefits of Laughter:
- Reduces stress, anxiety and tension, and counteracts symptoms of depression
- Improves mood, reduces the stress response
- Enhances memory and creative thinking
- Improves interpersonal interaction and reduces isolation
- Increases friendliness and helpfulness
- Increases ability to cope with difficult situations
Physiological Benefits of Laughter:
- Increases endorphins that the brain releases, which can improve mood
- Enhances intake of oxygen-rich air that stimulates heart, lungs, muscles
- Improves immune system; positive thoughts can release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more serious illnesses.
- Relaxes and exercises muscles
- Increases pain threshold and tolerance
Ways to Use Humor as Self-Care
- Watch standup comedies, comedic films or comedy sitcoms; listen to a funny podcast
- Read humor-related books, magazine articles
- Watch your favorite cartoons that you used to watch as a child
- Connect with a good friend with whom you can be silly
- Post funny comic strips or pictures that make you smile in your office and/or home
- Make someone else laugh! When you help others smile and laugh, you are also sharing in the laugh and connecting with someone else.
Meditation and Yoga
Stress is a major epidemic in our society that can create a “hypervigilance” in our mind and body.
Stress is fueled by epinephrine and cortisol (stress hormones). It impairs our ability to think clearly and leads us to a path of reactivity.
Unfortunately, the average person is flooded by stress responses every day, whether it be due to a toxic relationship, stressful work environment, or unhealthy lifestyle.
Yoga and meditation are optimal in counteracting the chronic stress response. How yoga helps with stress much like a self-soothing technique in that it activates the parasympathetic nervous system (relaxation response), and creates a calm and relaxed mind. When the relaxation response is elicited, stress levels decrease and oxytocin (feel good hormone) is released to support mind relaxation.
Yoga for stress and anxiety helps to release deep holding patterns in the body and generates a state of balance to support healing. Longer held poses characteristic of Yin and Restorative yoga, for example, function to dial down the sympathetic nervous system’s fight-or-flight response, the place we react from when feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope with the many demands of our lives. While the pose is being held, the breath allows us to create space between thought and action, and we can then move from the fight-flight-freeze response to relaxation.
Yoga and meditation are mindful and embodied approaches to healing, working synergistically to cultivate a calm, relaxed and peaceful mind. Whether you practice at a studio or from the comfort of your own home, a consistent practice can lead to significant shifts in how and what you pay attention to from moment to moment.
The benefits of meditation
- Meditation makes you more resilient. Several studies have proven that meditation can reduce anxiety and increase stress resilience and resistance. Meditating helps you keep your cool and allows you to gain some perspective before searching for solutions and solving problems.
- Meditation boosts emotional intelligence. Brain imaging research has shown that meditation can enhance your ability to control emotions, which means you manage professional and social interactions within a group better. Consequently, you will take professional exchanges less personally and remain calm and collected throughout.
- Meditation makes you more creative. Meditation encourages divergent thinking — proposing as many solutions as possible when confronted with a problem — which is a key part of creativity. It therefore encourages “improvisational thinking,” which opens the floodgates in terms of new ideas. This is a major plus for start-up employees who must constantly innovate.
- Meditation increases your attention span and improves concentration levels. On average, we are capable of 90 minutes of full concentration, and that’s not even considering the numerous interruptions that we must deal with and the fact that we are supposed to multitask. Studies have indicated that regular meditation increases our ability to ignore distractions, improves our ability to stay focused and even boosts memory.
- Meditation changes the way you look at yourself. Meditation teaches us how to be kind to ourselves as well as others. Long term, it brings a feeling of fulfillment. It can make you feel less emotionally exhausted and will give you a real sense of personal achievement. Whenever you have a heavy workload you will feel less emotionally drained and be able to maintain your work-life balance, which gives you the upper hand when you must remain motivated and positive.
- Meditation protects the brain. Even more surprisingly, researchers have proven that long-term meditation can have a neuro-protective effect. A team from the University of California discovered that meditation can protect our brains from decline by reducing the usual loss of brain cells that is part of the aging process.
How to Make Meditating Part of Your Life
- Find the right setting. Meditation, like any other habit that isn’t part of your usual routine, requires practice and commitment. Meditating on your own demands a high level of self-discipline, so it’s a good idea to start with group sessions. This means there’s more reason to try and get it into the office.
- Discover your own rhythm. Try about 10 minutes of meditation every morning or as a break in the middle of the day. Meditating is a very personal experience, but you don’t have to start with long sessions to feel the benefits. For example, you could do a few minutes just before an important deadline. Just three minutes of mindful breathing can evoke physical and mental calm.
- Find the right tool to get started.
The four most useful apps to start your meditation journey:
- Smiling Mind is a 100% not-for-profit, free app developed by psychologists and educators to try to bring meditation into our lives.
- Mindfulness is used by millions of meditators in more than 130 countries. This app offers a five-day guided practice that includes an introduction to mindfulness.
- Headspace is probably the most popular app of all. There’s a free package that teaches you the essentials and about mindfulness in general.
- Zenfie is a free introductory course that offers 10 sessions that last 10 minutes each.
The olfactory nerve gives us our sense of smell. It starts from our nose and enters the skull through tiny holes to connect directly to the brain. This nerve sends signals almost instantaneously to many parts of the brain, including the limbic system and amygdala, which oversee emotions, mood, and memory. These systems are also in charge of regulating our autonomic nervous system, which can either trigger a fight-or-flight response, quickening our breath, heart rate and raising our blood pressure, or can soothe us through turning on the parasympathetic nervous system, which relaxing our bodies.
This theory helps explain why scents can so quickly trigger physical reactions in our bodies and have lasting effects after the scent is gone. Essential oils, like lavender, have even been shown to interact the same way biochemically that many anti-anxiety medications do on neuroreceptors.
Aromatherapy is a complementary and alternative medicine practice that taps into the healing power of scents from essential oils extracted from plants in order to balance your mind, body, and spirit. You can dillute essential oils with water and diffuse them into the air, or rub a few drops gently into acupressure points on your body.
Studies have shown that specific essential oils used in aromatherapy can help relieve stress, relax the body, and promote better sleep.
6 Essential Oils
Here are six essential oils that can help relieve stress and promote sleep.
- Lavender essential oil is one of the most studied in terms of its relaxing effects. One study found that lavender oil aromatherapy calmed the nervous system, lowering blood pressure, heart rate and skin temperature as well as changing brain waves to a more relaxed state. Lavender can also help with mild insomnia and provide better quality of sleep. It has been found to help reduce anxiety and depression in women with postpartum depression. Lavender also has found to help reduce anxiety in many medical settings, such as dental offices, the intensive care unit, and during preparations before surgery. The scent of lavender stimulates brain pathways, including our limbic system, which is connected to our emotional response and memories. Studies using electroencephalography (EEG), which measures brain waves, and brain imaging using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) show significant changes during lavender aromatherapy consistent with its relaxing effects. Lavender aromatherapy is generally safe, except for those with allergies to lavender. If you are applying it regularly on your skin, it’s important to talk to your doctor. Lavender can have estrogenic effects, so be cautious with regular use, especially in children.
- Lemon or Yuzu. A new study from Japanese researchers has found that yuzu citrus scent can soothe stress and anxiety and lower your heart rate in just 10 minutes, with effects lasting for almost half an hour. Yuzu is a type of East Asian yellow citrus fruit often used in Asian cuisine. The Japanese custom of yuzu-yu or yuzu baths dates as far back as the 18th century. Whole yuzus are floated in hot baths in the winter to relieve stress. You can try diffusing yuzu or other similar citrus fruit essential oil, which can be more affordable, including lemon. Some earlier studies have found that lemon can be stimulating and increase heart rate, so the results are mixed, but try it out to see how it affects you.
- Bergamot. Citrus bergamot is a hybrid fruit somewhere between a bitter orange and lemon or lime and is used to create bergamot essential oil. Traditionally, it has been used in Italian folk medicine but has many new studies to support its ability to relieve tension and anxiety. Bergamot essential oil is often used in fragrances as well as food flavoring, and has also been thought to have antibacterial properties. Five out of six clinical studies conducted between 2009 and 2013 have found that Bergamot essential oil aromatherapy reduces heart rate, blood pressure and stress. Recent studies have found that bergamot can relieve stress, reduce chronic pain and even change brain wave patterns on EEG.
- Ylang Ylang essential oil is a sweet floral aromatic extracted from the flower of a tropical tree in Southeast Asia. The aroma has been shown in many small studies to be relaxing and decrease blood pressure. One study found that Ylang Ylang aroma calmed the nervous system, leading to lower heart rate and blood pressure and heart rhythms on electrocardiogram (EKG).
- Clary sage oil is extracted from the clary sage herb, a close relative of the common garden herb sage. The essential oil has been found to help people relax during dental procedures. It also has been shown to have antidepressant-like effects.
- Jasmine has a sweet aroma and can be a relaxing fragrance. It is less well-studied, but there is one study that suggests that the odor of jasmine tea can be calming.
There are many more therapeutic essential oils to explore, including earthy vetiver, Valerian root, or Roman chamomile. While most essential oil aromatherapies have not yet been rigorously studied, many can still have calming effects.
Qualities of essential oils can vary widely based on brand and price and are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration or any other government agency, so be sure to research the brand and check to make sure the oil is of therapeutic quality and purity.
Grounding, also called earthing, is a therapeutic technique that involves doing activities that “ground” or electrically reconnect you to the earth. The practice relies on earthing science and grounding physics to explain how electrical charges from the earth can have positive effects on your body. This type of grounding therapy isn’t entirely the same as the technique that is used in mental health treatment.
What the Science Says
Grounding is currently an under-researched topic and there are very few scientific studies on its benefits.
However, the most recent scientific research has explored grounding for inflammation, cardiovascular disease, muscle damage, chronic pain and mood. The central theory from one review study is that grounding affects the living matrix, which is the central connector between living cells.
Electrical conductivity exists within the matrix that functions as an immune system defense, similar to antioxidants. They believe that through grounding, the natural defenses of the body can be restored. Further research expands on this idea.
In a small study on grounding and heart health, 10 healthy participants were grounded using patches on the palms of their hands and soles of their feet. Blood measurements were taken before and after grounding to determine any changes in red blood cell fluidity, which plays a role in heart health. The results indicated significantly less red blood cell clumping after grounding, which suggests benefits for cardiovascular health.
Another slightly larger study examined the role of grounding on post-exercise muscle damage. Researchers used both grounding patches and mats and measured creatine kinase, white blood cell count and pain levels before and after grounding.
Blood work indicated that grounding reduced muscle damage and pain in participants. This suggests that grounding may influence healing abilities.
Grounding for Pain Reduction
This research is supported by a recent study on grounding for pain reduction and mood improvement. Sixteen massage therapists alternated between periods of grounding and no grounding. Before grounding therapy, physical and emotional stress and pain were common side effects of their physically demanding jobs. After the earthing therapy, pain, stress, depression and fatigue were all reduced among participants.
Most of the studies on grounding are small and rely somewhat on subjective measures, such as self-reported feelings, mood or even self-administered treatment. Some studies also rely on blood markers, such as those that detect inflammation, but the size and shortage of these studies suggest that more research is needed.
Types of Grounding or Earthing
There are many types of grounding. All of them focus on reconnecting yourself to the earth. You can do this through either direct or indirect contact with the earth.
- Walking barefoot. Have you ever been outside on a warm summer day and felt the urge to run barefoot in the grass? One of the easiest ways to ground yourself to the earth is to walk barefoot. Whether this is on grass, sand, or even mud, allowing your skin to touch the natural ground can provide you with grounding energy.
- Lying on the ground. You can increase your skin-to-earth contact by lying on the ground. You can do it in the grass by the park or on the sand at the beach. If you’re going to ground yourself in this way, be sure to take the proper precautions and never lie somewhere you could be injured.
- Submersing in water. According to advocates for grounding, water may be used to ground in the same way the physical earth is used for grounding. They suggest simply wading in a clear lake or swimming in the ocean as a way to ground yourself. As always, be sure to stay safe when swimming, especially in murky or deep waters.
Using Grounding Equipment
When going outside to ground yourself isn’t an option, there are alternatives. One method of earthing involves connecting a metal rod to the ground outside and then connecting the rod to your body through a wire. If you’re not comfortable using a metal rod to ground yourself, other grounding equipment is available. This equipment is an effective way to incorporate earthing therapy into your daily life and includes:
- grounding mats
- grounding sheets or blankets
- grounding socks
- grounding bands and patches
Why Use Grounding?
There’s not much research on the benefits of grounding. However, people have reported improvement for conditions such as:
- Chronic fatigue. In the study on massage therapists, many reported a decrease in their fatigue levels after four weeks of treatment with grounding mats.
- Chronic pain. The study on grounding for exercise recovery found that those who used grounding patches reported lower pain levels.
- Anxiety and depression. In one small study, it was shown that even one hour of grounding therapy can significantly improve mood.
- Sleep disorders. The massage therapists also experienced an improvement in sleep length and reduced sleep disturbances with grounding therapy.
- Cardiovascular disease. Results of one treatment study found that long-term self-administered grounding therapy helped to reduce blood pressure levels in participants with hypertension.
As mentioned above, many of these studies are small and require further research. Still, some health professionals believe that the benefits of grounding therapy may come simply from feeling like you’re reconnected to nature. Regardless, there is little harm.
How to Practice Grounding
You can perform grounding either indoors or outdoors, depending on the technique you choose to use.
- Outdoors: When you’re outside, you can easily ground yourself by allowing the bottoms of your feet, palms of your hands or entire body to touch the earth. Walk in the grass, lay in the sand or swim in the sea. These are all easy ways to naturally reconnect.
- Indoors: When you’re inside, grounding yourself requires a bit more effort and in most cases, equipment. Use a grounding sheet or socks while you sleep. Use a grounding mat in your home office chair. This equipment has been thought to help ground you throughout the day.
The Power of Telling Your Story
Every time you tell your story and someone else who cares bears witness to it, you turn off the body’s stress responses, flipping off toxic stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine and flipping on relaxation responses that release healing hormones like oxytocin, dopamine, nitric oxide and endorphins.
Do you have story that needs to be shared? Just for you?
Maybe there’s some healing you need to do. And telling your story to the world is just part of the process.
- Don’t question your right to share your story. It’s important. It matters. It doesn’t have to be “good enough” to share. Don’t believe the lie that says someone else had it worse, so you just need to suck it up. This isn’t for them. It’s for you. Share it anyway.
- Find the gift in it before you tell it. Never tell a story until you are through bleeding from it. We might not be on the other side of our story, but we can find a way to find some good in where we stand right now. Even the idea of hope is enough.
- Before you write it, give it a framework. We tend to ramble when we share our stories if they aren’t planned out in advance. Make sure you have a clear outline.
- Practice telling it before you share it with the world. It will take some time to get used to telling that story before you’re ready to launch it on a bigger platform. Practice your story in a safe environment. Perhaps even get some feedback.
- Surround yourself with people going through the same journey. It’s always nice when you have others trying to share their story, too. You can help each other along the way.