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Don't Fool With Self-Care

hands of a man meditating at his desk
By Leo Ardine

3 minutes

Especially when you're leading through a crisis

Self-care is often thought about like getting a mani-pedi or a massage or a shopping spree. But during times like these, self-care is more inner, less material and much more important. External stressors like the uncertainty we see in our society now can harm us. Our bodies view these uncertainties as threats and prepare us to react like they were designed to so many years ago: They get us ready to run away or fight. 

Stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline get pumped into our systems so we are ready to go! Great for a real threat like something that might eat us, but not so for something like COVID19. What are you gonna punch? What are you gonna run from? See? What’s worse, cortisol might even dampen our immune response. Oy!

But there is a way to help ourselves: Self-care. 

A few simple practices consistently undertaken can help us counter these stress effects. Here are a few tips for things you call do (all within our control; all you can do sitting where you are).

1. Do some breathwork—deep controlled fully belly breaths. We're aiming for six breaths a minute. Try to breathe so you inflate your lower back. Calm inward inhalation for a count of three and then a slow steady outward breath for six. Do this five times in a row a few times in the day. The movement of the intercostal muscles stimulates the vagus nerve, which sends a calming signal to your bran. There’s no threat, there’s no threat. All is well. You can also breathe in deep for three and then purse your lips and pretend you’re blowing out through a straw. Closing your eyes helps. Try to do this three times a day.

2. Laugh—this actually counters the release of stress hormones. Laughing dumps endorphins into your system. These are feel-good chemicals. There’s something special about laughing—your body can’t distinguish between real laughter and laughter you are faking. So, go ahead jolly it up with a hohoho, a hahaha or a hehehe for a few minutes a couple of times a day. Your family may think you’ve lost it, but your body will reap the benefits. It is awkward, but it works.

3. Get out of your head—or at least your left brain. We’re problem-solvers. We’re spending more time now than ever figuring things out. We may be over-leveraging our left brains—the analytical side. There’s simply information overload right now. Finding ways to get out of that side of our head and activate our right brain may give you a better sense of well-being. Body scans are a great way to get out of your head. Yoga, meditation or a quiet walk with the intention of noticing colors, smells and sensations can give you a great sense of relief.

4. Watch what you take in—our bodies are designed to look for threats to keep us safe. Because of this negativity bias, we can be very prone to seeing the bad. It takes three pieces of good news to counteract a bad one. Think about the news you are seeing today … How much of it is bad? How much is good? Problem. =) So, limit what you take in. This goes for insta, Facebook, Twitter and news feeds. Then look for the good. It’s there, I promise, maybe not in the news but in those around you, books, art, music. Just really look around. 

What’s your self-care stress buster?  

Leo Ardine is CEO of $283 million United Teletech Financial Federal Credit Union, Red Bank, New Jersey. Certified as a mindfulness instructor through the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, he’s also a certified executive coach and is a meta coach with the Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence Coaching Program. He’s founded Wisdom Leadership Group, a leadership consultancy specializing in helping leaders find emotionally intelligent solutions to the problems they face.

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