By Christine L. Hohlbaum
You've just finished a fulfilling - yet exhausting - day at the office and all you want after dinner is a glass of red wine, a bath and bed. Just as your head hits the pillow, your mind starts reeling about that big presentation the next morning and the budget cuts that are forcing you to let some of your favorite people go. Or maybe you fall asleep for a few hours, only to wake up in the middle of the night with 13 things on your mind. How are you going to get it all done when so many people are counting on you? Another sleepless night might just push you over the edge, but when the alarm goes off, you get up anyway. You watch the invisible gauge on your mental tank plummet to zero.
Whether you have a super-demanding career, or are a parent to an unhappy child, or are stuck in a one-way relationship with someone, you feel the toll it can take to be there for everyone else but yourself. Countless studies also conclude that feeling overly stressed can have serious health risks, too. A University of Helsinki study found that high job strain with an unequal reward system could potentially double your risk of cardiovascular death. And according to the Franklin Institute, the brain produces hormones in reaction to negative stress to deal with emergency situations (also called our "fight or flight" response). If exposed to chronic bouts of stress, however, your adrenal glands literally wear out and put you at risk for heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses.
Stress can also affect your memory. Too much cortisol (a stress-busting hormone) in the bloodstream can inhibit neurotransmitters from performing properly, and result in impaired cognitive performance. One telltale sign you may have produced too much of the c-stuff is the lost-key syndrome. The moment you forget where you put an everyday item, such as your keys, it could be a sign that you're overly stressed, have high levels of cortisol in your body and need to take it easy.
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As we continue to live longer, work longer, wine and dine longer, we have to build in self-care strategies to sustain the level of productivity today's world demands. In the spirit of "you are as worthy as the people you serve," try some of these self-care strategies so you're not running on empty.
1. Learn to say "no." I have said this before, but it bears repeating here. When you fill up your plate too high, it's bound to crack. Give yourself some relief by declining a few requests just because you want to - guilt-free.
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2. Read your favorite book. According to a study conducted by the University of Sussex and reported in The Telegraph, reading just six minutes can reduce your stress level by 68 percent. It is believed to be a positive distraction from the world around you, which allows you to release tension in your muscles, especially your heart.
3. Dedicate one evening a week to your favorite pursuit. Whether it's that Pilates class you love or a weekly book discussion group, plan some time to enjoy a hobby, but only if it doesn't feel like yet another to-do. If that's the case, plan for some breezy moments of nothingness. Think you don't have time? Think again. The Bureau of Labor Statistics' annual American Time Use Survey states we have five hours of leisure time at our disposal every workday. There's got to be an hour or two of you-time in those 35 leisure hours between Monday and Friday.
4. Congratulate yourself! Celebrate that promotion by splurging on something that makes you feel good. It needn't be expensive, but it should be for you. The next time you go by that flower stand, pick up a bouquet for yourself. Place the flowers in vases around your house as a reminder to stop to smell the roses every day.
5. Purchase the first good harvest of your favorite seasonal fruit. There is nothing like the taste of a strawberry after a long, hard winter. Savor the flavor as it lingers on your tongue. Wolfing down a pint of berries on the way to pick up the dry cleaning is not recommended, but make sure to set aside a portion for yourself so you get your share!
6. If you're having a tough time, write down all the attributes you like about yourself in the form of a thank-you letter … addressed to you. It's not narcissistic to recognize your own strengths. Show gratitude for them in an act of self-recognition.
7. For your next birthday, ask for a gift certificate from your loved ones for an entire day off to do what you want. Ensure you spend your time on you and not once again on fulfilling everyone else's needs but your own. Giving yourself the gift of time is one of the greatest gifts of all.
Sometimes we have to teach others how to treat us. That might mean scaling back on a few activities or delegating tasks to make room for your own needs. Being at the beck and call of others all day long can be exhausting. As we set boundaries and give back to ourselves, we ensure we are the best we can be for the world resting in our care.
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[Photo Credit: Shutterstock]
By Christine L. Hohlbaum