- Create a ritual that helps tap into the parasympathetic nervous system by slowing down – for example: making hot tea (or hot water with lemon) as a ritual.
The ritual aspect to this means that you’re in the moment and really do your best to stay with the process. So with tea, you’d set up the water to boil and prepare the tea bag or loose tea mindfully as you wait for the water to be ready. Then, you’d pour the water over the tea mindfully and with awareness. You sit with the tea breathing in the steam (and getting a little facial at the same time) as you wait for it to cool. You will drink it mindfully with the intention of soothing and calming your nervous system. Obviously, you aren’t going to be perfect at this entire process, so mindfully – noticing without judging – you’ll find opportunities to bring yourself back to the process and return to your awareness of the ritual.
You could also create a new ritual around mealtime. Take three long, deep breathes before starting to eat your meal (or during the meal whenever you remember that you didn’t take those breathes at the beginning). This will remind you to eat more mindfully, with presence and more slowly. I find this difficult to remember, but be easy on yourself when you forget and start fresh with each meal. When I do this ritual, it seems to really help; it’s just a matter of remembering and really making it a ritual/habit.
- If you struggle with anxiety, practice deep breathing exercises consistently at times when you do not need them. This means practicing in moments when you’re not particularly anxious or in the throes of an anxiety attack. There are a few different breathing exercises you could flow through each day (I’m sure you can find videos on YouTube for better instructions to follow and guide you, but here are some brief directions):
Square breathing – breathe in for count of 4, hold for 4, breathe out for count of 4 and hold for 4. Even out the breaths with awareness along the way.
Focusing on the exhale – make your exhalations longer than your inhalations, so focus on the out breath. This is because the inhalation generally energizes you and activates the central nervous system, while the exhalation relaxes the nervous system.
Alternate nostril breathing – start by breathing in and out both nostrils, then close the right nostril and breathe in through the left nostril only, switch and breathe out the right nostril, stay there and breathe in the same (right nostril), switch and breathe out the left nostril, stay and breathe in the left, switch and breathe out the right side…repeat for several rounds and then open both sides and breathe one last long breath in and out to end.
I hope you’ll be able to start creating more rituals for your self-care this year and keep it going for many years to come. There are still a few more self-care tips to follow in future blogs…until next time…
Kimberly Atwood is a licensed psychotherapist and certified sex therapist working in private practice in Princeton, NJ. She also provides online therapy with clients living in Indiana, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. She specializes in sexual health, intimacy and relationship issues. For more information, please check out her website.