Having been in the corporate world for close to 9 years, I recalled times when things get so busy I failed to take care of myself and suffered the consequence of ill health across all dimensions of life: mentally, spiritually, physically, intellectually and socially.
Those were unwise times.
As I wrote in “7 Quick Morning Yoga Routines To Wake Up And Energize You For The Day”, developing a morning routine and self-care practice has truly changed my life.
Self-care is not being selfish (as I had mistakenly thought in my youth) – I wished someone had told me earlier that if I invest a little time into taking care of myself throughout the day, I would be so much more focused, productive, happy, and CALM.
Practical Self-Care Tips for Stress and Anxiety Relief
Self-care is not only about the physical (although we start with it), we need to also take care of 4 other dimensions, namely the Mental, Spiritual, Intellectual, and Social. Be
Below are some of the self-care tips I have personally implemented into my self-care ritual with visible results on my life, work and happiness levels.
Allocate some time in the morning for some form of physical exercise
Contrary to what most think, this need not be a full hour-long session. I usually run or do yoga, sometimes only for as long as 15 minutes.
Working out in the morning has now become such a habit that on days when I do not exercise, I feel like crap ie. Unfocused, cranky, disorganized.
The purpose of exercising is not only to maintain your fitness levels but also to pump fresh oxygen to your brain so that you are fully awake to tackle the day ahead.
If you really don’t have time in the morning, you can carve out time during lunch for a 20-minute brisk walk – this should get you going for the rest of the day.
Need some help to kickstart an exercise regime? Do check these posts for inspiration and ideas.
Nourish your mind and body
Some people may advocate indulging in treats such as cakes and desserts as self-care, but I think otherwise. These are good once in a blue moon, but not as a self-care routine!
Why? Because the effects of sweet treats are completely temporary – you feel awesome for a few hours, and then the guilt sets in, the sugar crash makes you feel horrid, your day gets affected, and it becomes a vicious cycle.
Try this instead: During lunch, instead of a quick meal of carbs and fats, try to find food that has long-term positive effects on your body. This does not imply a “salad diet”, but that you choose food that is whole (not processed) and green (as much as you can take).
While your body may protest the first few times you attempt to eat better (because who loves change?), it will thank you when you feel the effect on your energy levels and emotions after.
This was the ONE change that allowed me to overcome my usual food coma 1-4 hours after lunch, and be productive EVERY HOUR of the working day.
The amount of sleep each of us requires varies. Some people are completely energized with 5 hours of sleep, and that is without any caffeine. Others require more than 8 hours.
Regardless, sleep deprivation can damage your work performance and emotional wellbeing. To find out what your body needs, then make a point to get sufficient sleep.
Also, note that having a consistent wake-up time may be more important than your bedtime. This means that ideally, you should set your alarm for the same time every day, weekends included.
I personally struggle with this self-care practice, as I usually deal with different time zones and/or travel frequently. However, I do try to create the right environment to push me to sleep more. For instance
- If you have a smartwatch such as the Fitbit, set a reminder for you to head to bed at a certain time. You will get a notification just before your set time to prepare to wind down
- Say no to any work-related calls beyond 9pm unless absolutely necessary
- If you feel really sleep deprived, schedule a power nap, or a longer (>20 minutes) nap during the weekends. Naps have much better health benefits caffeine
Practice gratitude and make daily positive affirmations the moment you wake up
One of the things that really changed my perspective of life is the practice of gratitude. I don’t necessarily have time to journal every morning, but I make it a point every day to say the following OUT LOUD
“Thank you, God, for a new day, a new slate, a new beginning!
Whatever happened yesterday has passed, and your mercies are new every morning.
Today I declare that my day will be amazing,
I am healthy, happy and productive
I am better every day in every way
Whatever challenges I face today will only be stepping stones for a better me
And today I am fully equipped to do what I am called to do through Jesus Christ”
The above is not a prescription, it’s my own declaration and gratitude practice. I change it up depending on my needs.
Find time to make yours – what do you want your day to look like? Make your gratitude and positive affirmations yours to own.
If you are short on ideas, there are a few websites you can get them from. I highly recommend
Getting ideas from online resources including my favourite Pinterest.
Meditate in the morning and/or before bed
Before jumping on the bandwagon, I used to be very sceptical about the benefits of meditation and pictured people trying to achieve nirvana (the effect of too many movies). Having now developed a mindfulness meditation habit and still working on it, I find that on days when I took time to meditate, my thoughts were much clearer and I was less overwhelmed by the false belief of having too many tasks to accomplish.
If you haven’t meditated before, there are now many free online resources for you to try. For tips to access on the go, do try out meditation apps – they are so useful and allow you to meditate anywhere.
As mentioned in my earlier post, some of the best meditation apps include
- Insight Timer: Best for its huge library of free meditation
- Meditation Studio App: best for people with really little pockets of time
- Headspace: Best for habit building
- Calm: Best for Sleep and Relaxation
If you are more of a reader, The Daily Meditation is one of the best resources I have come across. This is the website I personally used to get an introduction to meditation.
Implement productivity systems instead of trying to remember everything using your mind
I confess I am a fan of the Getting Things Done or GTD system developed by David Allen in the book by the same name.
For those who are new to GTD, this is a personal management system that helps reduce stress and increase productivity by capturing all pending tasks out of your head (or post it) and keeping it in one place. You then assign tasks into projects or contexts, which enables you to execute on them and track which you might have missed. The Asian Efficiency wrote an in-depth primer of this system.
One of the benefits which people seldom talk about is the ability of the GTD system to help you batch your time. I hate the idea of multi-tasking because it is counter-productive; instead, I block a chunk of time, usually 3-4 hours, during which I focus on one topic only (I take breaks in between of course).
Batching time and using the GTD system helps me stay mindful of my task and at the end of the day, I am usually able to check off more tasks than if I were to be jumping around projects or trying to find to-dos from missing post-its.
There are other productivity concepts that can help reduce stress and anxiety, though I find that the GTD system has been the only truly effective system for me.
Leverage technology to stay organized without pulling your hair off
Closely related to tip #6, even if you are not using any productivity systems, I highly recommend you find ways of consolidating all your notes or to-dos in an easily accessible tool you can take with you anywhere and take the work off your mind.
Many free tools such as digital notebooks, to-do list apps, and project management tools exist for free. Tom’s Guide usually provides an updated list of the best tools available in the market to explore.
Personally, I use Todoist for both Task Management and Project Management It is probably one of the better tools that managed to balance simplicity with rich features for people who want a more complex system. It’s probably been the one tool I use to do my brain dumps and declutter my mind.
The only thing about Todoist is that many features are locked in the Premium version. If you haven’t tried Todoist, and want to try it, you can sign up for the free version, or click on here to get 2 months free of the PREMIUM subscription. You can always downgrade to the free version after
Cultivate a journaling habit
Don’t bottle in your feelings; Find a way to get them out of your head and heart. This will not only help you to release the pent up emotions but also make things clearer when you verbalize or write them out.
Besides talking to people, journaling has been my best friend when it comes to releasing emotions. I use it to rant, to celebrate, to brainstorm and even to just write about every detail of what happened in the day.
Journaling almost always helps improve my mood, calm me down, and helps me clarify my thoughts. I now write daily, if not once every two days, on my favourite Paperblanks journals.
Take 2 minutes of deep-breaths whenever you feel overwhelmed in the middle of the day
While some stress can be beneficial, intense stress can cause high blood pressure and anxiety. This can happen when you feel overwhelmed. Your breath shortens and your heart beats faster as your body activates its fight or flight response.
You can use your breath to combat excessive stress; it is your self-care tool that you can take with you everywhere. Deep-breathing is one of the simplest ways to reduce anxiety and tension.
Try this deep-breathing exercise anytime:
- Take a deep inhale through your nose
- Hold for the count of 4
- Exhale through the mouth slowly
Continue this breathing exercise until you find yourself in a calm and quiet mode. Feel the mind clear up and the heartbeat return to normal.
Detox from work and technology before bed
While technology can help make our lives easier, using gadgets right before bed can affect the quality of your sleep, according to Sleep.org.
Many of us have our lives revolving around our phones – even if we are not checking emails or messages, the lure of social media and entertainment apps (think: Youtube) tend to keep us stuck to the screen for hours on end.
Try to make it a point to disengage from your phone and other devices at least 30 minutes before bed if you want a restful night. Having sufficient sleep, in turn, helps you be less prone to anxiety and stress the next day.
Engage in art therapy
Art therapy can be for anyone, even if you don’t think of yourself as the next Picasso. Art therapy takes many forms; the main idea is to have a creative outlet that you can channel your emotions into.
A few ideas to start you off,
- Making a collage: This can be as simple as cutting up magazines to create a collage that expresses what you are feeling
- Doodle: You can buy colour pencils or simply marker pens, to draw on some blank papers. I sometimes find that even designing and colouring my bullet journals can be really therapeutic. There are many ideas on Pinterest if you need inspiration.
- Colour in colouring books: Colouring books for adults are trending. These are so fun to fill in yet so calming for emotions.
- Put together a journal: Instead of buying your journal, why not make one? You can buy craft materials easily at your nearest art store and get as creative as you need
- Make a postcard for yourself: Create your own postcard and write a message to 1-year-older self
Engage in activities that cultivate your spirituality
Spiritual self-care does not have to involve religion. Fundamentally, spiritual self-care arises from having a deeper sense of purpose, connection or understanding of this world.
Some of the benefits of spirituality, according to Mental Health America, are
- reassuring belief in a greater force or being
- sense of purpose and meaning
- focus on your own or universal wisdom
- way to understand suffering
- connection with others
- a reminder of the good in the world
Activities that cultivate spirituality can include
- Meditation: We have covered this previously in #5
- Having a formal religion: This would likely entail joining a religious institution and being part of the community of the religion
- Connecting with yourself: Take some time off to reflect and contemplate on your life’s purpose. This can be in the form of a retreat (I do mine yearly in Bali), or simply a day off to think about your goals and where you are in life.
If you don’t know where to start, here are some questions you can ask yourself:
- Are you
engaging in activities that you find fulfilling and are willing to do even
without a paycheck?
- What brings you joy?
- What inspires you?
- Who are the people you value most and want to keep close for your lifetime?
- What are your proudest achievements? Why?
- Are you happy about where you are now? If not, what practical actions can you take to change it?
Regardless of the activities, you engage in, spiritual self-care is really important as it forms a big part of who we are as human beings.
Read or listen to a book
Reading helps you to cope with anxiety, really. Besides helping you to escape into a new reality, the act of reading shifts your mind from focusing on your problems to focus on the book. It can also give you a better sense of perspective and in turn, easing tensions and stress.
Some people read fiction when they need some downtime, others look for self-help books for guidance. Regardless, find a genre or topic that you enjoy, and use it as leverage to distract yourself from your anxious mind.
At times when I am travelling, physical books are just too impractical to carry around. I usually bring my trusty Kindle Paperwhite with me – this little device houses more than hundreds of books that I can reach for at my fingertips.
If you don’t actually like the idea of reading, perhaps try an audiobook? These are as powerful and really convenient. I usually use the Blinkist audiobook summaries for short reads or the Audible app for full books narrated by the author.
Social or Relational Self-Care
Have a family dinner
It’s rare for those of us who have started working to be able to find time to eat with our families. For those who still live with your parents (aka. Yours truly), this is much easier.
However, not everyone is as lucky. If you work long hours, dinner may be a choice of takeout or cold leftovers. Many times we take family time for granted, but I always feel that having loved ones around and bonding over food helps me feel much more centred and calm. There’s something magical about having family around, even if it’s only for the evening.
If you are a busy person, you need to take time off intentionally. Schedule it in your calendar and make sure nothing eats into it.
Be selective about who you hang out with
You are the average of the people you surround yourself with.
Spend time with negative people and the tendency is that you will lose your mojo even if you started off all fine.
On the contrary, if you need some encouragement, find people who can see a positive side of everything that happens to them. If you are low on motivation say to go for a workout, find friends who can accompany you in your activities; I’ll bet that you will accomplish your tasks much more easily than you expected.
Your friends are truly your future; You need to be intentional about spending time with the right friends who have the best influence on your life.
Have you tried any of these self-care tips? Ping me below and let me know your thoughts!
The YogaMad is founded by Mila, an avid yogini who is passionate about inspiring others to live their best lives while finding mind-body-soul balance. She has a background in business consulting but has left the corporate world in her quest to live out her dreams as a yoga nomad.