When psychologist Susan Pollak found herself taking care of her husband, she felt exhausted and was surprised to hear how some folks reacted to the idea of self-care. “Women in similar positions were saying that it sounded ‘indulgent,’ and they didn’t have three minutes to sit still,” she reveals. “That’s when I came up with the idea of ‘microdosing,’ or taking small breaks.” One such mini respite Pollak recommends is a “gratitude body scan.” “Start with your feet and thank them for holding you up; move to your knees, lower back and so on.” This brings awareness to how your body releases stress so you can start to slow down, even if it’s just for a minute.
Do what ever works for you.
There’s no one-size-fits-all way to reset, and knowing that will help you experiment. “I’m personally served by structure,” says expert Sharon Salzberg. “If I set out to take breaks for the next 10 days, for example, I will, but if I don’t have a specific time limit, it’s hard to get started. I know others who are served by accountability partners.” If that’s you, she urges having fun by, say, texting a friend an emoji with closed eyes after a nap. “This says, ‘I did it!’ and encourages you to try new types of R&R.”
Breeze through email.
Research shows we tend to hold our breath when we read email, reveals Salzberg, a stress response called “screen apnea.” But it’s easy to flip the script! “Every time you’re on email, that’s your automatic cue to breathe deeply,” she says. “Just exhale longer than you inhale. Meditation is a way of mentally changing the channel, not trying to make your mind go blank.” In other words, taking a few deep breaths in between hitting “send” will send stress packing.
Feel it in your body.
Creating boundaries begins by listening to your body, says Salzberg. “I have a friend who could never say no to demands on her time, so she visualized a situation in which she wanted to say no, to learn what was happening to her physically — the tightness in her chest, the panic rushing in.” When she felt this way, it was a signal to say, “Let me get back to you.” Just listening to your body is like an emotional feedback system that lets you gauge when to step back.
Call it a ‘Sabbath’.
The Sabbath is sacred, and so is your time, which makes it the perfect metaphor for self-compassion. “God is goodness and kindness, and a ‘self-care Sabbath’ is a way for you to foster that love in the spiritual part of you,” says expert Nicole Unice. Restful breaks that refresh your soul don’t necessarily “look” like self-care. “Expand your vision of what creates loving energy. Just lying in the grass looking up at the sky can be a spiritual practice. The presence of beauty is a balm that we should never underestimate.”
You’re in charge.
The boundaries you create offer you freedom to give from your heart, not out of obligation, says Unice. “Say you had a self-care day planned but a friend calls to talk. Instead of feeling resentment, you can make a conscious choice to break your own rule to be there for her.” In other words, it’s a fallacy that boundaries are all about constraints — they give you choices about how to spend your time to serve yourself as well as others.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine.