Self care tips for pre-holiday stress

Today I woke up with an aching throat, a sure sign of a coming cold. I think we can all agree, no matter what we do, that there is very little time in our busy day-to-day lives for feeling under the weather. The first thought that came to my mind when I woke up feeling sickly was, "This cannot be happening right now." The past few weeks have been spent writing the discussion section of the manuscript of a paper we want to get published and this week is my deadline to send this version to come colleagues for critique. Tomorrow night starts my Christmas vacation and I've been working to the wire to have the manuscript ready to send before I board my flight home, so I've been perfecting figures, doing regression analysis, and putting everything into a spreadsheet so I can attempt a new kind of analysis over the holiday (with the help of my incredibly smart, neuroscientist fiance). 

Despite my self-imposed deadlines and stubborn determination to get everything done by tomorrow, my body is waving red flags at me to slow down. One thing I think we as scientists and grad students call all agree on is that we tend to sacrifice our own needs for the sake of one more experiment, one more analysis, one more presentation, one more paragraph, etc. We're all working hard to make it to the holidays where we can finally stop and catch our breath, and the long ours usually end up leaving us feeling depleted, stressed, and fatigued. But it's really difficult to slow down. Some people have strict and demanding PI's (bosses), some are pushing towards graduation, some are dealing with failed experiments, some are juggling too many experiments to finish in a normal day's time.

Self-care. Self care is a term that's incredibly trendy right now in the health, wellness, and mindfulness community. But I think we can all be (especially me, personally) guilty of skimping on self-care. I know my daily routine typically involves chugging coffee the minute my feet hit the floor, working anywhere from 8-12 hours, driving home in the ever present Miami traffic, exercising (most days), scrounging up some dinner, showering, then toppling into bed. This type of schedule doesn't exactly lend itself to dedicating lots of time to take for myself.

Maybe we don't exactly have a self-care routine we normally fall back on or even a clear idea of what self-care really is! I want to spend the time here sharing some tips and ideas for self-care to toss in throughout a busy day. Together, we can all work toward giving ourselves priority so we can be even better scientists and feel better and better every day.

1.) Drink something warm at home- Whether you're coffee or a tea kind of person, taking the time to sip something warm and soothing can start the day off at a more peaceful pace. Take time to breath and enjoy your cup of coffee from a comfy seat. 

2.) Step away from work time to time- As scientists, we spend a lot of time hunched over microscopes or in front of a computer screen. My boss has told me countless times to be careful and take breaks, especially on days I'm doing a lot of work on the computer. We can ruin our posture and cause significant neck and shoulder problems from the way we sit when we have to work at the computer or when we're performing fine motor tasks under the scope. I walk to the water fountain on the other side of our building from time to time just to get up and get the blood flowing. But if you can, stepping outside for just a few minutes can do wonders to reset your mind.

3.) Hydrate- This one feels a little cliche to write, but it's incredibly important. When I've gone too long without water I get powerful headaches and that really hinders my ability to concentrate, as well as my attitude.

4.) Stretch- I love yoga, but you don't have to be a yogi to just do a few simple stretches. Maybe in the morning or maybe before bed (really whenever you want to) just do a few simple toe-touches, raise your arms up over your head to stretch your whole body, wiggle around and do whatever feels good and loosens up your muscles.



5.) Eat well- It's so easy to skip meals or eat something fast and convenient, but we need healthy foods to nourish our bodies and minds. When I get off my normal healthy eating schedule, I start to feel fatigued and my mind feels sluggish. Getting enough fruits and veggies and protein is the best way to take care of your body, even if it takes  a little more time to prepare. Cooking can even be a form of self-care if getting creative in the kitchen is something you enjoy doing.

6.) Write- Writing is one of my favorite outlets. It allows me to get things off my mind and leave them there. Or I can process through the thoughts and feelings in my head that could be affecting my behavior without my realizing. If you write consistently about what's going on in your life you can also uncover patterns and learn what circumstances make you feel great and which ones are making you stressed or exhausted.

7. Wind down- (Without screens) Nowadays we spend almost every waking moment attached to our phones or our computers. In the evening, I try to get away from the computer or my phone and read something in paper form. If you need a break from work/lab, read something for pleasure. I like to read one chapter of a fun book before I go to bed. Something short and sweet is still enough to let you breathe deeply and let your shoulders creep away from up around your ears.



8.) Pamper- I have this anti-inflammatory oil I swear by (from Natura Culina) that I rub all over my neck and shoulders in the evening when I'm winding down. Once I hop out of the shower, I like to slather it on my muscles that are feeling tense or onto my temples if I've been fighting off a headache. Things like essential oils or other pain relief oils can feel heavenly after a long day and they really help me feel more relaxed.

These are just a few of the most accessible tips for simple self-care during busy seasons of lab life. They're easy little tidbits that don't take massive amounts of time and they're tried and true. Give yourself permission for peaceful moments during your busy schedule and your body and mind will thank you!

Bree Watkins