I’m always on the lookout for self-care strategies that help me cope and live with my ALS. Especially on those days when I feel like I’m stuck in a hamster wheel trying to catch up and have no time to just “chill out.” Why am feeling ragged and running behind schedule? Well...
It’s a combination of my ALS slowing me down — I take more time to eat a meal, get dressed, and even move from one end of the house to the other — and how pandemic life has increased the number of hours I spend staring at a computer screen. There are just too many distracting rabbit holes to go down and the time I would have spent at in-person meetings and get-togethers with friends is now devoted to online interactions.
I found myself going to bed with my eyes, brain, and body tense and wound up. Leftover thoughts and ideas from my day would keep me awake and my sleep suffered.
Recently, I began collecting quick and easy skills I call "self-care minis" to help find the moments of calm and even pump me up when I hit a midday slump. They’re simple, fun, and work. That’s why I’m excited to share my self-care minis with you:
Self-care is the answer
To counteract physical and mental burnout, stress-reduction professionals recommend we all learn to take a break and devote some of that time off to self-care. I agree. But sometimes life just doesn’t give us the time to take a break. And as I wrote in With ALS, Self-Care Isn’t Selfish, It’s Essential, there’s no taking a break from living with ALS.
The 20-20-20 rule
When at the computer, I set a small timer nearby, and every 20 minutes I spend 20 seconds looking at objects 20 feet away from me. My work area happens to be near a large window, so when my timer rings, I’m fortunate enough to gaze at a backyard full of cactuses and distant mountains.
Why 20-20-20? Computer screens focus our eyes on one point; our field of vision narrows and activates our sympathetic nervous system into a mode of fight, flight, or freeze. Changing to a panoramic view and using peripheral vision are signals to our nervous system to relax.
Following the 20-20-20 rule helps diffuse the buildup of stress in the body. Ideally, repeat the 20-minute mini-breaks all during your screen time.
But my view is boring
Taking a break to spend time looking at anything that is nature-related causes our brains to release chemicals that enhance feelings of focused calm.
But if the weather doesn’t cooperate or your window view is ‘meh,’ how about looking out of someone else’s window? WindowSwap is a website that lets you gaze out of other people’s windows all over the world. No app downloads or subscriptions are needed. Just click a button at the bottom of your screen to switch to a new view. Here is the link again: https://www.window-swap.com/Window
My favorite views include the ocean waves of Honolulu and the canals of Amsterdam.
Humming to myself
You don’t need to be a musician or a singer to hum. It’s fun and easy, and it's a therapeutic, self-soothing sound.
Research has shown that humming sounds, such as “om,” reduce activity in certain areas of the brain associated with depression. Humming can also be beneficial for preventing sinus infections.
Since humming makes me pay attention to my breathing, I turn it into a rhythmic exercise. For example, I breathe in slowly through my nose for a count of four then exhale humming slowly for a count of eight.
The crying breath
Officially, it’s called a physiological sigh, and it consists of double or triple inhales followed by a slow exhale. Children also do this when sobbing, thus the nickname crying breath. It’s an easy skill that, like the 20-20-20 rule, sends signals to our body and mind to relax.
To do it, with your mouth closed, take three quick inhalations through your nose. Hold for a moment, then open your mouth and exhale with a loud sigh. Repeat the sequence three times.
I add the crying breath sequence to my vision mini-breaks, do it again before eating a meal (to erase any tension from my stomach), and right before falling asleep.
For an in-depth explanation and the interesting science behind how these techniques work, I recommend an article by science writer Jessica Wapner called, “Vision and Breathing May Be the Secrets to Surviving 2020.”
Dancing in my chair
Music has often been called the universal language of emotion because of the number of regions of our brain that are activated when we listen to it. Combine that with movement, and we’re dancing — even if it’s limited to dancing in our chair.
Chair dancing is a great way to combine physical movement and self-expression, and it brings a smile to your face.
Sometimes I slow everything down, letting each movement align with the rhythm of my breathing. Or, I let an upbeat, toe-tapping tune take over and I rock till I’m pleasantly exhausted.
Self-care is vital
Vital? No, self-care is essential for our well-being. Try my 'self-care minis' anywhere and anytime.
Let’s learn how to live well while living with ALS.
“It’s not selfish to love yourself, take care of yourself, and to make your happiness a priority. It’s necessary.”
A version of this post first appeared as my column on the ALS News Today website.
INDEED! These are great ideas--some I once used when teaching preschoolers with special needs--in the process of trying to help them 'unwind for rest time' I actually got a break! (I was 'engaging' them enough with my entertaining breathing ideas that they actually all quieted at the same time for a few moments!)ReplyDelete
Thank you for sharing these--ESPECIALLY the Window Swap site link! (new & WONDERFUL for a mid-west winter dweller!)