“Listen to your mind and soul the way you listen to your body when it’s hurt. It may not complain as loudly, so listen…carefully.”
– Dr. Belisa Vranich, Psy.D
It’s almost Thanksgiving already, which means the winter holiday season is upon us. It’s easy to get swept up in a whirlwind of family gatherings and social engagements. We might get a holiday off, but the work just bleeds into other days, so we never feel like we really get a break. This year politics dug up deep, ugly resentments. Family gatherings can be both wonderful and stressful. To top it all off, shorter days and Daylight Savings Time mean that the season of light is a little darker here in the Midwest.
It’s a beautiful time of year, but it’s hard, too. So it’s extremely important to take care of ourselves as we move through it.
As I write this, the people closest to me are probably laughing hysterically because I am absolutely horrible at self-care. I have a ridiculous tendency to run myself to the brink of exhaustion. I have traditionally cut out life sustaining activities like sleep, food and physical activity in favor of more coffee-fueled work. (Confession Alert: I am actually skipping yoga to edit photos for my book and to write this post on self-care. Oh, the irony…)
But I’m working on it. And (despite today’s yoga skipping setback) I’m getting better. I’m lucky to have many people in my life who have been very open about their journeys with depression, anxiety and seasonal affective disorder. They helped me recognize my postpartum depression for what it was, which prompted me to get the help that I needed. They remind me that it is as important to care for ourselves as it is to care for others.
How do you take care of yourself when life gets intense? Be sure to leave your tips at the bottom of the post. These activities have been working for me, but I can use all the help I can get! (Seriously, please chime in. I am not naturally good at this at all, so I really do need assistance.)
Eat and Sleep
There are some of you who will read this and be like, “Obviously. What a stupid tip.” The rest of us will groan in recognition. Not every problem can be resolved with a nap and a sandwich, but some of the little ones can.
Pause to Reflect
It is hard to live in the moment. Our culture is very future-focused and results-oriented and the very act of sitting still and reflecting is countercultural. I know I always feel like I need to be doing something. So it’s normal that we need a little help cultivating this quiet space in ourselves.
Many people find this space through prayer or meditation. Some find it in art or nature. I think it’s smart to take time to figure out what works for us and to ask for assistance from those around us that are better at tapping into this mindset than we are.
How do you set aside time to nurture your spirit? How do you practice reflection and mindfulness? Do you like to do this alone or in a group? (If you’re curious, the class photographed above takes place monthly at The Center for Mindful Healing in Moorhead, Minnesota.)
I’m guilty of prioritizing my mind over my body and forgetting how both parts of my being influence each other. Exercise is important, both for its physical and mental health benefits.
I’m really active in the summer, but it’s harder in the winter. So I try to make a point to go to the gym, to take a midday walk and to build physical activities into my every day life. This winter I also want to try new things, like fat tire biking and cross country skiing.
What other activities should I check out? What do you want to try this winter?
I interviewed the artist Karman Rheault last year and I was struck by how she arranged her work day. Whenever she got stuck, she didn’t just sit in her studio and spin her wheels.Instead, she got outside and did something physical. She kayaked, hopped on her bike, built a fire, worked on a landscaping project.
As a fellow creative, this resonated with me. I’ve been trying to do the same thing. So that’s why I still go on photo walks and winter bike rides, even when it’s chilly and gray outside. Sometimes that change of scenery and even the tiniest amount of natural light really help. Winter offers its own distinct beauty.
These days I am both in love with and infuriated by social media in equal measure. So I’ve been imposing limits to help myself chill the heck out. I already have my phone off for long periods when I work and I’m trying to do this more in my personal life as well. (My job actually includes maintaining a social media presence, so if I can do this, you can too.)
Learn Something New
Sometimes my work requires me dive deep into one topic (hello, book research!), which can make it hard for me to think outside of that box. So I’ve been trying to challenge my brain by learning something completely new.
This month I’ve been playing around with new, artistic hobbies and bugging my friend Frode to teach me a few words of Norwegian. These aren’t skills I need, but just fun things that intrigue me. That takes the pressure off. You don’t need to become an expert, just play around a little.
What news skills have you learned this year? What classes, hobbies or activities do you recommend?
Also, if this book looks interesting to you, you can read more about it here. The publisher sent it over for me to read and try and it’s kind of fun to getting out of my comfort zone.
Pick one tiny task and do it quickly and well. If I’m feeling restless, sometimes it helps to declutter the surface of my desk or straighten the pile of boots (yep, all mine) in the entryway or put the dishes away. When you’re feeling stuck, sometimes just accomplishing something (anything) can help.
Burn that pretty candle, savor a piece of the fancy chocolate or take yourself out for an amazing cup of tea, a beer or your favorite meal. Sometimes when we get stressed out, we can deny ourselves simple pleasures under the misguided belief that these are rewards for hard work, not enjoyable experiences we deserve.
Life is tough sometimes. That doesn’t mean it can’t also be indulgent and beautiful. So use the good china and break out the coziest sheets. The time to live well is right now.
Enjoy a Guilty Pleasure
I’ve been trying to cut down on the things I own, so I know it seems weird that I still enjoy shopping. But I do.
So I’ve decided to cut myself a little slack for doing a little window shopping at my favorite locally-owned boutiques or throwing a little treat in for myself when I pick out the gifts I’ll ship to out of state friends and family during shopbop.com’s November Sale. (Just so you know, I’m an affiliate for this company.)
I’m also reading more fiction these days (just for fun) and binge watching Good Girls Revolt. (A newsroom setting + strong female characters + major Patti Robinson wardrobe envy = instant addiction.)
What’s your guilty pleasure? What are you reading, watching or shopping for this month? Tell us about it!
Find Strength in Numbers
While I’m racing to finish my book and hit my deadlines, my friends are dealing with work drama, finals, family issues and all kinds of other stresses. We’re all busy. Last Friday we got together for a couple beers anyway. And holy cow, did we need it. We didn’t accomplish a darn thing, but it just felt good to be together.
It’s easy to withdraw when we’re feeling overwhelmed. But it can help to just be with people sometimes.
Help Someone Else
After a particularly rough morning, I had to photograph a religious group and a non-profit organization for two newspaper stories. During the course of our conversation, the subjects of both photos mentioned that they knew there would always be trouble in the world, but it gave them hope and a sense of purpose to help people when they could. I really needed to be reminded of that.
Then I went home that night and saw all kinds of cool social media stories where friends had come to the same conclusion. They were donating to causes they believed in, signing up for volunteer shifts, publicly encouraging their friends and even sending notes of encouragement to friends of friends and total strangers.
That got me thinking about what I can do and how I can help. Even just making a plan made me feel more purposeful. If you have a favorite cause or organization, please share it with us below.
If you have tried the things on this list and they’re still not helping, it might be time to let the pros step in. I encourage you to call your doctor, speak to a counselor and reach out to people who love you.
It’s important. You’re important. If you’ve been looking for a sign that you should keep fighting through this struggle you’re facing, this is it, my friend. Please stay with us. You are wanted and you are valued.
And that goes for all of you. Thank you for taking time out of your busy lives to read what I write and to connect with me and with each other. Thank you for helping me do what I do. I’m grateful for you, this community of readers, and for our diverse opinions and the respect that we show each other. I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving and a peaceful holiday season.
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