I have the privilege to attend a caregivers course each week for the next few weeks. The main premise of the class is to teach caregivers who care for family with unique and time consuming challenges (severe or chronic illnesses, special needs, etc) how to take care of themselves too.
Usually these types of things are motivational for me, but I don’t necessarily learn any new information. But last in last weeks class, I actually did learn something new.
Last week’s topic was on stress. We discussed different triggers for stress, and our body’s immediate response to stress, such as rapid heart rate, irritability, racing thoughts, feeling overwhelmed, exhaustion, hunger, fidgeting, and others.
Next we offered up examples for how we currently cope with stress, and our instructors gave us some tips for more efficient stress reduction techniques.
This is when they shared something that had never occurred to me before.
They began to match up our body’s immediate stress reactions to related coping skills. Physical responses with physical coping skills, and mental responses with mental skills, and emotional responses with mental skills.
It was glaringly obvious. My body’s natural responses to stresses are a guide to what it needs to cope.
For example, if stress is causing my heart to race, a walk or exercise would be the most efficient way to cope. If stress is causing my thoughts to race, reading a book or watching a documentary would be the best options. If stress is making me feel irritable or overwhelmed, meditation may be the best route.
This got me thinking about how I need to be more thoughtful about my self care. Coping skills can be specifically curated to my body and mind’s current needs. Using the same coping skill over and over for every type of stress isn’t going to decompress effectively, and eventually you will experience burn out despite the significant time taken for self care. The type of self care DOES matter.
These are some ideas I brainstormed for curated coping.
- Increased hart rate
- Thought dump (record or right down, then delete or rip up)
- Punch a pillow
- Throw ice in the bathtub
- Stick head in freezer (cold air expands the lungs and sends more oxygen to the brain, allowing your mind to work more efficiently)
- Breathing exercises
- Make lists and prioritize
- Stick head in freezer
- Breathing exercises
- Walk (light exercise will force your breathing to slow down)
- Splash face with cold water
- Find a new and interesting recipe to try
- Meal plan for next week
- Drink water
- Take the time to make a snack (instead of grabbing a bag of chips)
- Resist temptation to just eat out and cook a dish you have fun making (homemade pizza is a great one)
- If you do eat out, eat at the restaurant instead of ordering to go. Make it an event.
- Eat your meal/snack at the table without any screens or other distractions. Focus on the flavors and textures of each bite.
- If you unwind with a drink, do the same thing and drink it without screens or distractions. Focus on the flavors.
- Do a hands on hobby like coloring, sewing, knitting, crocheting, video games, writing or typing, puzzles, etc
- Play a card game
- Repair something
- Do a craft
- Organize something
- Racing thoughts
- Thought dump
- Read a book
- Watch a show or documentary
- Watch a TED talk
- Do puzzles (crosswords, riddles, mind games etc)
- Eat a high protein snack
- Take a 20 minute nap
- Muscle tension
- Relaxation and meditation exercises
- Hot bath or shower
Many of these techniques overlap, so if you experience more than one response, you can curate a coping technique that covers both responses. For example, if you’re feeling panic and starting to hyperventilate (which would be a common combination), sticking your head in the freezer will help both. If you’re fidgeting and have racing thoughts, doing a puzzle can effectively provide for both needs.
Make a list of coping skills you personally enjoy and which responses they can help with. As stresses come, identify which responses you’re feeling (it won’t be the same every time), then consult your list. Be mindful about how you self care. I have high hopes in curated coping’s effectiveness in combating burn out. I hope you’ll experiment with me.