When you think about self-care you might think of pricey spa days, holidays, and the sort of indulgences that many of us either can't afford or just don't have time for in our busy lives. While there is certainly nothing wrong with a bit of pampering you may be surprised to read that relieving stress can be as simple, and inexpensive, as shrugging your shoulders.
Here are five ways you can practise self-care that might surprise you.
1. Have a good cry - Cultural and societal attitudes towards crying often mean we gulp back our emotions when in fact you'd be better served by letting it all out, snots and all. As tears flow, adrenaline levels drop allowing the body to relax. Hormones build up to a high level when the body experiences emotional strain, so crying helps to ensure that these toxins don't build up and weaken your immune system.
2. Shrug your shoulders - Studies show that increased mental workload directly results in physical tension in the arm and shoulders. So, paying attention to easing the tension in your shoulders could help to combat emotional strain. What to do: with an inhale, lift your shoulders to your ears, exhale and draw your shoulders down and back, guiding the shoulder blades towards each other and downwards.
3. Yawn - Emotions like anger and stress can cause clenching of the jaw and muscles around the mouth. By releasing the jaw with a big open-mouthed yawn or sigh, you enable the release of this built-up tension. If you're in the privacy of your own home, or you don't mind looking just a little bit batshit in the name of stress-busting, you could practise the yogic breath exercise, Lion's Breath, which helps to relieve tension in both the face and chest.
4. Express your anger - Anger is an emotion that many of us don't feel entitled to express. As a result, the anger gets pushed down inside the body and turned in on ourselves. This can have a number of knock on effects for our health, from high blood pressure to depression and anxiety. Many people feel like anger is 'bad', whereas, in reality it is an important emotional reaction, signalling to ourselves that something is wrong and needs to be corrected. While this isn't a green light to scream at everybody who tries your patience, acknowledging, accepting and communicating this emotion can help us to better understand ourselves, and be better understood by others.
5. Eat dark chocolate - While most of us are aware that eating several bars of chocolate in one sitting isn't always the best idea, there is some evidence that dark chocolate has a natural calming effect one to two hours after eating it. A Swiss study in 2009 found that people who ate 40g of dark chocolate a day over two weeks had reduced cortisol levels, our natural stress hormone. Prebiotic yogurt could be another stress-busting option. The jury is still out on this one, but some studies suggest that prebiotic bacteria can lower levels of stress and anxiety.
Miriam Christie is a portfolio-careerist, dividing time between teaching Yoga and Pilates, blogging about health and wellbeing, training in humanistic integrative therapy, mental health campaigning for campaigntoendloneliness.org and public relations for career coaching organisation careershifters.org