Dr Rangan Chatterjee on Self-Care for Stressful Times
As we all continue to spend a lot more time indoors than we are used to, it is crucial that we maintain our physical and mental fitness. Fortunately, Dr Rangan Chatterjee is on hand to provide some simple, accessible tips to keep our bodies and minds in shape.
Why is it that when we need to look after ourselves the most, it can feel hardest to do? I think it’s because we overestimate what ‘getting healthy’ involves. Right now, with all that’s going on in the world, none of us need a complete lifestyle overhaul. Who’s got the time for gruelling workouts, strict dietary regimes or hour-long meditations?Please, don’t add to an already stressful situation by being hard on yourself.
Instead, I truly believe the solution is found in much shorter, easier doses. I call them ‘health snacks’ – five-minute activities anyone can do to help themselves feel better. Start your day with a snack to help your mind; during the day add in a snack for your body, then finish your day with a snack to nourish your heart. Honestly, you’ll find these add up to a more meaningful short- and long-term well-being boost than any drastic lifestyle change would.
So whether you’re one of our keyworkers, tirelessly helping us through these times; whether you’re struggling with home working or homeschooling or juggling both – or if you’re self-isolating and feeling nervous and lonely – I hope the following suggestions help.
MIND SNACK: BREATH COUNTING
Did you know breathing exercises can deliver many of the benefits of meditation, such as stress reduction, pain relief, increased focus and better sleep? In these uncertain, anxious times, breath work is an incredible tool to have at your disposal. One of my favourite techniques is inspired by Zen Buddhism and can help you to become more mindful throughout the day, as well as quiet a busy mind overwhelmed with worries:
- Sit upright and set a timer for five minutes. Blow your nose to clear it if it feels blocked. Make sure your back is comfortably straight
- Take a few deep breaths in and out through your nose. Then allow the breath to return to its normal rate and rhythm
- On the first exhale, count ‘1’ inside your head. On the second exhale, count ‘2'. Keep counting on every exhale until you get to ‘5’
- Once you have reached ‘5’, start counting again from ‘1’. Keep repeating this cycle, over and over again
- If you feel your mind has wandered and you’ve stopped counting, don’t worry. It’s completely natural and a part of the process. Likewise if you find yourself counting beyond 5. Gently and lovingly acknowledge what has happened, go back to 1 and start counting again
- Do this for five minutes. It’s a wonderfully calming, grounding practice.
BODY SNACK: JUST PLAY
If you’re stuck at home and not getting as much exercise as usual, and perhaps spending more time sat at a desk (or on the sofa), it’s all the more important to take short, frequent movement breaks. That goes for your mind as well as your body. My usual advice is to do just one body snack a day, but in the current climate I’d say do this one as often as you feel like it.
This is one of my favourite health snacks because it makes me feel so free and joyful. It’s not a planned workout; it’s completely unstructured and just involves you having some simple, silly, energetic fun. Make like a child again! If you’re a parent or grandparent, play with the kids. Even if there are no children in your household, we can all remember what it felt like to just muck around. Some ideas:
- Play tig with your kids, grandkids or friends in the garden or around the house
- Kick a ball about, play catch or shoot some hoops if you have a garden basketball net
- Get skipping
- Turn up the radio and dance around the kitchen
- Make an obstacle course around the house and garden with your kids and challenge them to races
- If you have a garden trampoline or indoor rebounder, get bouncing.
- Whatever you do, you’ll get your heartrate up, your muscles working, endorphins flowing – and it won’t feel like exercise.
HEART SNACK: REFRAME THE DAY
This is an incredibly powerful exercise that research has shown to increase people’s happiness immediately, with the positive effects in some people still present six months later. At the end of each day, write down three things that went well for you. For example:
- Did someone you live with bring you a cup of tea in bed?
- Did your neighbour call to ask if you needed anything from the shops?
- Did you catch up with a good friend on a video call?
- Did the birds singing in your garden make you smile?
After each point, write a sentence saying why the positive event happened and what it tells you about the world. It could be that your partner brought you tea because they care about you; or that the birdsong reminded you that nature is a free resource for feeling good.
The simple process of pausing and reflecting can be incredibly beneficial, changing how you see the world around you – even when times are tough.
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