Restorative self-care through the holidays

Contributed by Cynthia Moore

Self-care is the things we do for ourselves that allow us to gently prevent health disasters, survive well and thrive. If you look up self-care you may not find a dictionary definition, but I like what Wikipedia has to say, calling self-care the things we can control and initiate for ourselves, and linking self-care with the prevention side of the healthcare equation. Self-care is essentially the ways we can take charge and stay well.

Sometimes self-care practices aren’t the indulgent “kindnesses” we think of when we’re tired and coming home to recline in front of the TV. Self-care may rather be doing the things that take a bit of effort, but replenish us and restore energy. Self-care examples include taking a soothing bath, a morning or after dinner walk, getting to bed earlier, going for massage, or just deciding to share moment-to-moment pleasures with a family member.

While these activities may seem small and insignificant, they represent listening to personal needs and being a priority in our own lives. The alternative isn’t just “not finding time for what I need to do,” it’s actually self-neglect.

What each of us considers beneficial self-care may be different. Consider savoring time for reading, learning, walking in the woods, music, enjoying quiet solo time, taking up dancing or yoga, or taking a bath with Epsom salts and guidance from the app Calm.

When caring for ourselves takes a backseat in the busyness of spring and summer, winter and holiday opportunities to connect with others may be a good time to assess personal wellbeing and aim to boost healthy self-care pleasures.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

Where have I really shown up for myself in this last year? What things have helped me feel more whole? What else have I longed to do but not gotten to?
When I feel at my best (most healthy or relaxed), what do I enjoy doing or experiencing? This might be music, time with family, bike riding, traveling, volunteering, time at home, or learning something new. Am I making time to do these things?
Finish this sentence: Looking forward, the biggest difference for me and my wellness in 2019 would be when I… Examples may include finding a walking buddy, learning mindfulness and taking more pauses in the day or week, managing conditions such as sleep apnea, blood sugar, or blood pressure, dealing with pain in a more effective way, finding knowledgeable resources, or planning meals and snacks one or more days in advance.

This is your invitation to remind yourself of what helps you be at your best. This is also your permission slip to take part in both pleasurable and necessary self-care in the next three to four weeks.

Holidays can also bring new opportunities to practice stress resilience as you ready for the holidays, work or family gatherings. Here are a few quick practices I keep close. They’re also useful year-round.

4-4-4 breath: Portable stress resilience
Breathe to a 4-4-4 count. Inhale to a count of four, hold for four, then exhale for four. Repeat three or four times. The 4-4-4 breath can quiet and focus the mind, calming a stressful moment and enhancing concentration.

Mindful eating
Aim to single-task while eating, even if just for a few bites. Slow down and savor the delicious in what you’re eating. Really notice the crunch, salty

Mindful eating during the holidays

bits, sweetness, flavor, health and creaminess of what you’re eating. See if you can tell when you’re only medium hungry (like a three to four on a 10-point scale). Do you notice when you’re satisfied (a six to seven) and stop before you’re stuffed (at nine to 10)? Eating mindfully can help us reach a healthy weight.

Acceptance: “It’s like this”
“It’s like this” can be repeated with a sort of mindful acceptance in the midst of needing more patience, being irritated, afraid or anxious. It’s an aspect of mindfulness practice that allows stepping back and relaxing. Often, when pausing, a sense of perspective returns. With more perspective, a formerly irritating event may become less charged and possibly even humorous. When I notice I’ve been grabbing or expecting a certain outcome, and the situation is turning out differently than I expected, noting “Hm…it’s like this” sometimes shifts the tension to greater ease more quickly than it would otherwise shift.

Restorative yoga: Yoga nidra
Yoga nidra, also called yogic sleep, is the last part of some yoga classes. It can be enjoyed even without the yoga postures. Generally you lie down to fully experience Yoga nidra. It is beneficial for overall health and accomplishes a deep rest with some of the same benefits of actual sleep, but in less time. During yoga nidra body relaxation is deep, which enables the mind and spirit to also rest. Experiencing yoga nidra connects us to the most peaceful inner part of ourselves. Yoga nidra and iRest recordings are available if you don’t get to yoga class.

What kind of self-care will you offer yourself this holiday season?

Cynthia Moore MS, RD, CDE is an integrative health coach, registered dietitian and diabetes educator at the University of Virginia Nutrition Counseling Center.

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