New Year’s is here, and with it come your New Year’s resolutions. Like a whisper in your ear from a better version of yourself, New Year’s resolutions are more often carried out for awhile and then ignored as time passes. But, that is not a reason to avoid them entirely. Much like the concept of avoiding your primary care provider to ensure that you never hear what’s actually ailing you - never setting new goals means you’re destined never to fail, right? That’s wrong. I don’t mean to be patronizing, but some failure is inevitable, so don’t undermine your drive to become a better person just because you’re afraid to fail. Let’s call it long-term self-care.
I am affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD for short. Ironic as it may seem, SAD tends to make me sad. It affects my mood, my motivation, and my ability to focus.
What is the cause of this yearly disturbance? It’s related to the change in seasons. As autumn progresses, the sun shines more directly over the Southern Hemisphere, until it reaches December 25, when it begins to make its way slowly back toward the equator and the Northern Hemisphere. This scientific phenomenon is the reason why the sun does not rise quite as high in the fall and winter as it does throughout the rest of the year. Lasting darkness causes my seasonal depression and lethargy.
When I was a kid, my parents would trick me into an earlier bedtime by reminding me that when it was dark outside, I should be asleep. Now at 26 years old, I just feel depressed during the darkest months of the year. It’s hard to wake up because it’s still dark outside. My office doesn’t get much natural light, so I’m sleepy all day. And, the sun begins to set before or during my commute home. Thus, I’m sluggish, mildly depressed, and my diet shifts radically toward fatty, salty, comfort foods.
As more of us explore ways to manage and respond to the stresses of everyday living, it can be helpful to look at approaches others have taken. One approach I have found helpful is mindfulness. Mindfulness can improve one’s physical, mental, emotional, and social health and well-being.
What is mindfulness? Mindfulness is the act of purposefully paying attention to what is happening in the present moment without judgment. I have read many articles about self-care and mindfulness and very few offer examples of how to incorporate mindfulness-oriented activities into everyday living, besides doing yoga – which isn’t something I, personally, enjoy. After thinking about how I try to be more mindful in my daily life, I have come up with three personal tips I find helpful:
This is a poem I come back to over and over again. I found it years ago, and every time I look at it, it seems to resonate in new ways.
After some days of supporting clients, it’s the “immense responsibility and very little authority” that catches me. After other days, it’s about “resounding triumphs and devastating failures.” And still other days, it’s about “always be[ing] frustrated.”
My frustration is sometimes directed at the systems. Why are they so complicated? Why do they set people up to fail? Why don’t they support people the way they should?
Sometimes, quite honestly, my frustration is directed at the people with whom I am working. Why did she go back to her abusive partner? Why did he spend his $10,000 settlement in a month? Why did he pay his phone bill, but not his rent? Why did she use again?
Self-care…I heard a lot about how I should practice self-care while getting my degree in social work, but not much about what it should look like and how to do it. Coming to social work from bodywork (I am a licensed massage therapist), I was very aware of the critical importance of self-care and how to incorporate it into my schedule.Based on prior experience and conversations with colleagues, here are my top 5 tips for self-care:
- Plan and schedule it!
We plan for everything: meetings at work, dinners with friends, doctor appointments…you name it, and it probably has a space on your calendar. Your self-care practice should not be any different. My social work friends and I try for “Self-Care Sunday” every other week. We all have different work experiences, but our daily routine can start to wear us down. These self-care get-togethers give us something to look forward to during stressful times and help reboot our thinking so we stay positive and mentally healthy.