Keeping Self-Care Simple

by Ami Kunimura, MA, MT-BC   •   August 2019

In case you don’t have a lot of time for self-care right now, here are four simple practices that take less than a minute.

Self-care does not have to be complicated. Let’s start here.

 

1. Six Breaths

 A Japanese research study with over 21,000 participants found that sitting quietly for 30 seconds and taking 6 deep breaths significantly reduced blood pressure and pulse rate. 

6 breaths, 30 seconds.
Stress management doesn’t have to be complicated.

Here’s what happens when something stresses you out – your body releases hormones that increase your blood pressure. This causes your blood vessels to become narrower, which makes your heart beat faster. 

Feeling stressed once in a while can be okay, and things will happen that impact our physiology. Our bodies know how to deal with short term stressors and some stress can even be beneficial. However, we don’t want to feel stressed too often or for too long.

Think about the last time you:

  • Felt overwhelmed, tense, or anxious
  • Felt irritable or on edge
  • Got frustrated because you didn’t have enough time
  • Felt guilt or shame
  • Lost patience with yourself or someone else
  • Smiled even though you were struggling inside

These can all be stress responses that can go along with raised blood pressure and increased pulse rate. Which means these are great times to practice 6 breaths in 30 seconds.

We often forget that we can take control of our breath, especially when we need to. 

Try it. Take six deep breaths right now. I’ll count along with you:

1… … 2… … 3… …

4… … 5… … 6… …

Taking deep breaths can also slow down your thoughts so you can think more clearly, make better decisions, and gain perspective.

Remember, you’re in the driver’s seat of your own life. Allow yourself to pull over and breathe when your body needs it. Then, get back on the road and do your best with what you have today.

 

2. Drop Your Shoulders Down

Right now, roll your shoulders back.
Then, gently drop your shoulders down. 

Your shoulders are in an important location in your body – between your heart and your head.

Sometimes your shoulders can hold the tension that forms when there’s a disconnect or a disagreement between your heart and your mind.

And sometimes stress can gather in your shoulders and neck, causing your shoulders to stiffen and move up towards your ears. This can lead to hunching your upper back, bad posture, shallow breathing, and feeling tired. This can also impact your mood and the way you carry yourself through your day.

Your shoulders can creep up on you, especially when sitting down, using a computer, driving, or using your phone. Shoulder tension can also happen when someone says something that upsets you or when you’re holding on to something too tightly. 

Let your shoulders communicate with you today. They’ll tell you when you need to take a break, when tension needs to be released, or when you need to let go of something. What do you need to let go of?

So right now, inhale and gently pull your shoulders back towards each other, allowing your chest to expand. Then, slowly drop your shoulders down, and exhale.

Give your shoulders some attention today.

You don’t need to carry the weight of the world around with you. Put it down.

When you need to today, drop your shoulders down. Let go.

 

3. Softly Smile to Yourself

Sometimes our reasons to smile become overshadowed by reasons not to smile.
Let’s try to make a conscious effort to not let that happen today.

So, here’s one reason to smile:

Smiling can send a message to your brain that things are going to be okay.

Try this – right now, softly smile to yourself.

This might feel silly and unnecessary, but stick with me here. 

Gently lift the corners of your mouth, and hold a soft smile just for a few moments. This smile is for you, not for anyone else.

This doesn’t have to be a super big fake smile. A subtle shift in your facial expression is enough. Sometimes a small external shift can cause a small internal shift. 

See how this might feel different than your normal resting face, and see how this might help you feel a tiny bit more present, alert, confident, or uplifted.

Research shows that smiling can facilitate stress recovery and possibly improve immunity. A gentle smile right now has many self-care implications.

You don’t have to keep this smile on all day. Go ahead and relax your face. You can bring your smile back anytime you want, and you can do that just for yourself.

Before moving on to your next task of the day, think of one more thing worth smiling about.

And if by chance you find it hard to smile at some point today, let that be okay too.

Sometimes acceptance can feel like a gentle smile that comes from your heart.

 

4. Think About Someone You Are Grateful For

You probably already know that gratitude is good for you.

But, sometimes gratitude can be easy to forget. So today, I want to reinforce this for you.

Research suggests that there’s an association between gratitude and well-being.

This study also suggests that one psychological strategy to enhance gratitude is to simply think about someone you’re grateful for.

Who are you grateful for today? Think about it for a moment here.

Gratitude can be an action and something we express, and it can also be a mental state of being. An exercise like this can help shift your perspective to something positive and external rather than focusing on what’s wrong.

Try it again, just for a few seconds.

Take a breath in, and think about someone you’re grateful for.
Then exhale, allowing gratitude to flow through the cells of your body.

If you want to take this another step further – tell that person you’re grateful for them and why. Send them a quick text, email, message, or prayer before moving on with your day.

And in the spirit of gratitude, thank you for reading this. Thank you for the working you’re doing. Thank you for being who you are.

 

And so here are our four short and simple self-care techniques again:

  1. Taking 6 breaths to reduce your blood pressure and pulse rate.
  2. Gently dropping your shoulders down
  3. Softly smiling to yourself
  4. Thinking about someone you are grateful for

You could do all four of these things right now in less than a minute.

Try it. Go through the list, and see if you can do all four of these practices simultaneously.

Remember – small and consistent acts of self-care can create change. 

Revisit these four practices throughout your week. The more you practice them, the more they can become a natural response to stress rather than automatically criticizing yourself, becoming tense, or feeling overwhelmed. Choose a kinder response. 

The little things you do for yourself matter. Your self-care matters. You matter.

Ami Kunimura, MA, MT-BC is the founder of the Self-Care Institute and the creator and facilitator of Resilience Over Burnout: A Self-Care Program, an in-depth online program that guides professionals out of burnout and stress cycles through research-based self-care practices. Ami has presented on self-care and professional burnout at international events and conferences. Ami (pronounced ah-me) was born in Hawaii and currently lives in Southern California.

 

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