Self-care strategy #23: 3 tips to create a sanctuary from the work week

A pink lady slipper at Noanet Woodlands, Dover, MA
A pink lady slipper at Noanet Woodlands, Dover, MA photo by Sofia Reddy

Amazing things start to happen when you mentally and emotionally separate yourself from the stress of daily work life. If you’re like me, you probably spend an average of 40-50 hours per week working. Now add an average of 10 hours per week commuting, and you’ve spent about 60 hours out of your 112 wake hours per week working. You now have 52 hours left for the week. How do you use this time? After running errands, taking care of the house and kids, or any other obligations you have that doesn’t leave much time for decompressing or relaxing, does it? Every hour you commit to something is precious time and uses up your valuable resources (time and energy). No wonder many people I know, including myself, often feel tired and drained! We go back to work on Mondays wondering where the weekend went.

Your time is valuable. Use it wisely. Make every moment away from work and other obligations matter. Giver yourself the gift of time. Here are 3 tips to set healthy work/life boundaries:

  1. Set aside time on the weekend for yourself to do what you WANT to do, not just things you HAVE to do to. My favorite part of the weekend is going to my weekly acupuncture or yoga class, walking with a friend, or just getting up before everyone else does so I can work on my writing or read something fun. 
  2. Go on a day trip with your family and take lots of pictures. You don’t have to go far and you don’t have to spend a lot of money either. We love this time of year in New England. We find there’s always somewhere new to explore that’s just within driving distance. I always bring my camera so I can capture some of our finds, like the beautiful orchid featured here. This photo is from our hike at Noanet Woodlands in Dover, MA. It was a great day spent with good friends. We later had a picnic under the shade of a tree. It’s one of the highlights of my spring so far! Note: try to focus being fully present in the here and now when you’re on these excursions. Don’t think about the to do list waiting for you on Monday. It will get done!
  3. Think of an end of the day or work week ritual that will help you transition from work mode to personal life mode. After work I mentally tell myself I’ve “clocked” out and therefore I’m no longer being paid to think about work. If there’s something on my mind I write it down and note what action I want to take the next day or week about it. When I get in the car I leave work behind. There are some days that’s harder to do, but the more I practice, the better I get at it. My favorite thing to do now is listen to audio books. Friday night there’s a free wine tasting at our local wine shop with appetizers and good company. Think of something you can do that you look forward to at the end of the day or week.

What are some end of day/week rituals that you do? What’s the highlight of your weekend or time off from work? How are you with work/life boundaries? Would love to hear…

 

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Positive challenge #2: Take a 5-minute stress break. It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3!

A moment of sanctuary in California

Step 1. Stop what you are doing. Step 2. Take a deep breath in letting your abdomen fill with nourishing oxygen, and exhale all that carbon dioxide out through your mouth. Notice the tension leaving every muscle of your body. Step 3. Repeat 3 times.

Notice how you feel? What sensations do you feel in your body? It’s important for us to take mindful breaks like this throughout the day. Taking deep breaths and releasing all the stress and tension with each exhale can refuel you throughout the day. Don’t forget to breathe!

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The power of visualization to calm your mind and body

Capturing the moment during a stroll with my son

Think back to a time you felt really happy, calm and relaxed. What were you doing? Who were you with? How do you feel recalling this memory? Notice it in your body. Check in with your breath. Is it fast and shallow, or deep and smooth? Are you breathing from your chest or deep down into your abdomen?

When I recall the walk with my son last week during a beautiful spring day I feel calm and at peace. I can feel it in my body. My breathing is smooth, deep and regular and my muscles feel loose and relaxed. My mind feels clear and focused. It’s like reliving this wonderful moment all over again!

We can pay attention to our bodies to raise awareness about our current state of mind. Our heart rate, level of muscle tension and how we’re breathing can tell us whether we are calm and relaxed or stressed and anxious.  Our body functions as our very own barometer that helps determine how much internal mental and physical pressure we are experiencing.  When we are in a happy memory or experience, our breath tends to be smooth and rhythmic and our muscles are loose and relaxed. Contrast that when we experience anger or anxiety.  During an anxiety or anger episode our stress hormones release to prepare us for the “fight or flight” reaction to protect us from danger. Our heart rate increases, and we might experience a “nervous” stomach, shallow breathing, a headache, or other painful condition. In the midst of a real dangerous situation this is a necessary process to prepare us to escape from imminent danger. However, when we are caught in the vicious loop of re-experiencing anger or anxiety-provoking situations from the past, our bodies will kick into high gear to protect us from this perceived threat as if it’s happening in the present. Over time, these repeated episodes cause wear and tear on the body, and in the short term will leave us feeling drained and exhausted.

Repeated stressful reactions like this can trigger episodes of depression, overwhelming anxiety or substance use to alleviate the pain (both emotional and physical). However there are natural ways to obtain relief from stressful experiences. Visualization coupled with deep breathing is a powerful method that works to calm your mind and body so you can feel grounded and at peace.

The audio visualization below about accessing a happy memory was recorded live with my stress management group. You can practice it in the quiet of a private space where you will not be interrupted. I invite you to take a 10-minute break from whatever it is you are doing, find a comfortable place to sit or lie down, close your eyes and listen.

Happy memory visualization

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