By Mary Anderson
To help you best navigate the increased stress that this season’s busyness may bring for you and your family, here are some doable ways you can optimize your self-care and successfully prevent burnout this fall:
1. Prioritize Sleep
After over a decade of helping countless patients make the necessary changes to become happier, healthier, and sustainably high achieving, I know with certainty: sleep is essential for well-being. Indeed, research shows getting enough sleep significantly benefits mental and physical health. It protects your heart health, energizes you, and enhances your mood and memory.
I’ve also found that sleep is often the secret to improving weight management. When my patients are already exercising more and eating better but still not losing weight, ensuring they get ample, good quality sleep can be the missing piece to effectively solving their weight loss puzzles.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night for adults ages 18-64. It’s helpful to create a relaxing nighttime routine and go to bed around the same time each night to consistently obtain your optimal rest. Making sleep a priority in your life is absolutely worth it.
2. Build Movement Into Your Day
Aim for around 30 minutes of physical activity every day. Any type of exercise that helps you get up and move: “counts.” Swim at your local pool, use an elliptical machine at the gym, lift free weights or do yoga at home, or head outside for a daily walk—to take full advantage of the pre-winter weather and enjoy the beautiful colors of the fall foliage.
Pro tip: Harness the power of tracking to set yourself up for success. A simple monitoring system is best. For example, draw a checkmark on a calendar in your kitchen to signify you completed your 30 minutes of movement that day. It’s inherently satisfying to see all those checkmarks add up over the course of a month. And it will help motivate you to keep moving!
3. Make Time For Fun
Enduring difficult days during the pandemic, we all definitely need some: fun! Fun is important. Doing things to help ourselves increase our happiness is important. Learn more about the many merits of happiness in the funny and informative TED talk by Shawn Achor, “The happy secret to better work.” He details his time at Harvard and research showing how happiness fuels more productivity and less burnout.
Some fun, happiness-boosting ideas: Turn on your favorite music for an impromptu dance party at home (fun and movement—two birds, one self-care stone, gotta love the efficiency!), sing in the shower, watch something that makes you laugh, or schedule a pleasant activity for a few days from now so you can happily look forward to its arrival.
Truly, one of the quickest ways to achieve calm is by doing deep breathing.
Here’s a simple technique I use with patients: 44-6 Breathing. While sitting in a comfortable position, breathe in for 4 (slowly count 1-2-3-4 in your mind as you inhale deeply through your nose). Notice your stomach expand as you inhale, then pause and hold your breath for a mental count of 4, and then exhale slowly through your mouth for a mental count of 6. Repeat. Practice this slow, deep breathing for a few minutes to help create feelings of peace and relaxation.
5. Read (or Listen!) For Further Inspiration
For additional information about how to improve your self-care, check out the incredible New York Times best-selling book Burnout by Emily Nagoski, Ph.D., and Amelia Nagoski, DMA. And gain an abundance of science-based strategies for enhanced well-being from Dr. Robyn Gobin’s The Self-Care Prescription. Lastly, you can learn powerful self-care tips by listening to The Verywell Mind Podcast with Amy Morin, who shares numerous ways to build mental strength.
This column is for informational purposes only. This is not medical advice and is not a substitution for professional medical or mental health services. If counseling or expert assistance is needed, the services of a competent professional should be sought.
Dr. Mary Anderson is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, speaker, and proud graduate of Barnstable High School ’98. Her forthcoming book, The Happy High Achiever, will be published in January 2023. For more information, visit www.maryandersonphd.com.
Originally published in The Barnstable Patriot 10/29/21