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Easy and free ways to take care of ourselves

By Joyce Alexander, RNP (retired)

When we are in the process of recovering from emotional pain and trauma, we aren’t helpless. Even if we don’t have any insurance to go to a counselor, or to pay for expensive antidepressant medications that we might actually need but can’t afford, , there are many things that we already know how to do, and know that they are good for us. The best part is they are free!

Exercise

When we are “down” and depressed, we become lethargic and we don’t want to move or do anything. We just want to crawl into a hole and pull the hole in after us. We lose interest in the parts of life that are fun, interesting and would make us actually feel better if we would do them. The first thing that we already know to do to make ourselves feel better is to move! Yep, simple exercise helps to decrease depression and increase the feelings of wellbeing.

According to an article in the December 2011 edition of Monitor on Psychology, a publication of the American Psychological Association, research has shown that exercise can help alleviate long-term depression.

Michael Otto from Boston University says, “Failing to exercise when you feel bad  is like explicitly not taking an aspirin when your head hurts.”

Sleep

Getting enough sleep is extremely important for both physical and mental health. Lack of sleep is actually used as torture in prisoners of war. Lack of sleep keeps the body from healing and hurts the immune system as well.  Lack of sleep causes short-term memory problems and decreases our ability to make good decisions and choices.

Too much sleep is also problematic. Sleeping too much increases our feelings of lethargy and decreases our desire to make good decisions.

Eating well

Eating right may sound like a “too simple” solution, but what we eat and when has a great deal to do with how we feel. A well balanced diet; eating breakfast, lunch and dinner; and not either over or under eating; will give our bodies the fuel they need for both physical and mental health.

Getting outside

Getting outside in the sunshine is another very important part of our anti-depression crusade, because sunshine has a positive effect on our moods. Being deprived of enough sunlight will make your mood more gloomy. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a depression experienced by people who live in areas of the world were wintertime has little sunlight, so they do not get enough sunshine to meet the body’s basic needs. Even in parts of the world where there is adequate sunlight, we don’t get outside we don’t take advantage of it. While the “happy lights” may help, nothing helps like natural sunlight hitting your eyes.

Socializing

Socializing with others is also something that we know we need to do. It may be as simple as attending your place of worship, or going to a meeting of your book club, or an AA meeting, or going out to eat with friends, or having friends in.

Doing for others

Volunteering at your local homeless shelter or food bank is another option for social interaction. That is another way to raise your mood as well, doing for others who are in need. Volunteers are always needed at hospitals, shelters, food banks and pet rescue shelters.

Curbing our addictions

If you are using tobacco, alcohol, or other substances, especially in excess, it is important that you put these aside. However you want to do this, I know it won’t be easy if you are addicted to substances, and that includes large amounts of caffeine (Yes, caffeine is a drug!). After my husband’s death I smoked up to four packs of cigarettes a day for almost a year. I finally made up my mind to quit, and quit fooling myself that I “intended to quit” when I knew darn well I had no intention of really quitting! So, I do know how it is to be addicted to something, something I did not want to quit, but knew I had to quit or die.

I used nicotine replacement for several months after I laid the cigarettes down, and I admit, there are times even now, years later, when I still want one. I don’t regret for one moment, though, that I did make the effort to quit my addiction to nicotine.

Take time for yourself

If you have a job and other responsibilities, like child care or whatever things you are responsible for, it is important that you have the energy to meet the basic necessities of your responsibilities. In order to do that, you may need to make some adjustments. Look at what you are responsible for and decide on what is really important and what can wait or be eliminated. Sometimes, you just need a “mini-vacation” so let the dishes wait until tomorrow, or find just a few minutes or a few hours to spend just with yourself.

Stop obsessing

We all have intrusive thoughts when there are unpleasant things that are causing depression, worry and anxiety. Thoughts just seem to keep on coming, and not go away. The harder we try to not think about “pink elephants,” the more we can’t think about anything else!

When these thoughts come, let them come, acknowledge them, “Yep, there I am thinking about what a jerk Joe is,” or “There I am worrying about how much longer my car will hold together.” Let those thoughts come, then say to yourself, “Yes, my car is old, but worrying about it won’t change a thing,” and then move on to thinking about something else. If that doesn’t do the trick, start to sing a song (even silently in your head) that you know very well. Since the brain can’t talk to itself in two voices, you can “drown out” the worry voice. Besides, “singing” even silently to yourself raises the spirits as well.

Start with baby steps

There are a “million” positive things that we can do for ourselves to increase our physical and emotional health that are free and easy to do. Start with baby steps; don’t try to run a marathon the first week. If you are not in the habit of exercising, start with just a lap around the block, then in a few days make it two. You don’t have to join a gym or wear a string bikini to exercise, you just have to start, take a few steps and you’re moving!

Taking care of ourselves in many positive ways, even with just small improvements, such as smoking less if you’re not yet ready to actually quit,  can make a world of difference in how we feel, and in our actual health.

In the last few years research on the brain anatomy and physiology has taken amazing leaps. Our brains actually do make new connections, as well as chemically change, in relation to our environment. The fMRIs and other scans that can actually see inside the brain and how the brain changes in response to stress are amazing.

While stress, especially long-term or severe trauma, can have some very negative effects on our brains and bodies, we are not helpless. Many of the best things we can do are “self help” things that we all already know are good for us. So get up and get going!

God bless.

 



9 Comments on "Easy and free ways to take care of ourselves"

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  1. Sparklehorse says:

    Thanks for this article! It’s perfect timing for Valentine’s Day since we must first love and care for ourselves before we can love and care for others.



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  2. Ox Drover says:

    This article was written for myself as much as for others (as are most of my articles) I try to practice what I preach, but sometimes I need reminding myself to DO the things that I KNOW TO DO. It is easy to fall off the wagon and stop doing the things to take care of our own needs and health. We get side tracked by emotions (depression and anxiety) or by responsibilities (don’t have “time”) and lots of other excuses—and I am as guilty as anyone else in letting these things side track me.

    Since I have been forced to exercise and do PT for my leg which I had an Achilles tendon transplant last August to restore the muscle in that leg, it has sort of forced me to do the things, but I still let myself “fall off the wagon” in other areas, and have suffered somewhat of a “melt down” because of Patrick’s parole protest, which sort of forced me into “back door contact” and threw me into a spin cycle.

    So I sat myself down and had a “talk with myself” about what I needed to be DOING to get out of the abyss I had allowed myself to drop into.

    I have been working hard for the past month or so, plus have added meditation which I had done years ago and I’m not sure what is helping the most, but I realize I am starting to feel the positive effects, increased energy, better sleep, and more positive moods and getting my feelings of well being back.

    I actually became physically ill the stress was so bad, but am now recovered from that as well.

    I realize that NOTHING WILL HELP US IF WE DON’T HELP OURSELVES WITH SELF CARE. Neither drugs nor therapy will help if WE don’t DO what we know to do.

    Happy valentine’s day to all of my LF friends and to myself as well!



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  3. blossom4th says:

    Thank you Oxy!This is an article that I should print out and put on my fridge.Having a puppy to take outside,helps to get me outside.I socialize some.When it comes to exercise,I ‘chastise’ myself everyday,lol!



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  4. Ox Drover says:

    Blossom, don’t chastise yourself, just take BABY STEPS on the exercise…walk the doggie around the block, then do a little more each day.

    I wrote thiis article more for myself than for anyone else…because I have not been consistently taking care of me for the past few months while I worked on Patrick’s parole protest. So I hit bottom and fell iinto the abyss, so now I am going to do what I KNOW I NEED TO DO…and already I am feeling MUCH BETTER, my mood is improved and I just plain FEEL better all over. So take some baby steps on each of the things and you’ll be surprised just how much better you feel in a VERY SORT TIME. It won’t fix the “problems” but it will give you the strength to do so. Go gett’em girlfriend!



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  5. anam cara says:

    St Valentine’s Day is remembered with a smile.
    37 years ago I passed my driving test; first time.
    41 years ago I started my first job.
    42 years ago I received my o’grade results….5 straight “A”s
    I’m cool 🙂



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  6. Ox Drover says:

    Congratulations and many many more wonderful valentine’s day memories.



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  7. kim frederick says:

    And I am remembering small heart-shaped boxes of chocolates from my father, every year. This was special because my Dad was a bit of a Scottsman, and didn’t like to spend money on frivolious things. I beleieve that VD was his favorite holiday, and every year my Mom and I got chocolates. I think this is the case because, before he and my Mother were married, but had been dating, and talked of marriage, my Dad was in the Navy during the Second world war, on a ship in the South Pacific, and on Valentines Day….1942? not sure what year, his ship took a shot, and it sunk. I think he must have made some kind of promise to himself…and yes, he survived, and I was concieved about 16 years later. 🙂 Happy Valentines Day everybody!!!



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  8. Ox Drover says:

    Kim, a friend of mine says being in the navy is like being in jail, with a chance it will SINK! LOL Glad your father survived and thrived!

    Yes, I remember those little heart shaped boxes of candies, I got one for my teacher every year.



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  9. Truthspeak says:

    Joyce, this is a fantastic article and applies to EVERY day!!!

    BRIGHTEST BLESSINGS!!!!!!!!



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