Happy New Year! Lots of folks are pointing out that time is an arbitrary construct, and nothing really changes with a new year. But lots of things are going to change this year. Like, a racist, fascist reality-show star with no government experience who brags about sexually assaulting women is going to take the highest office in the land! And those of us who finally got health insurance might lose it! Many Americans will likely find their citizenship, reproductive rights, discrimination protections and other very important things at risk! The earth itself is going to be more at risk! Writers for feminist websites will use excessive exclamation points to try to make devastating facts seem a little less heavy! As illustrated right here! I’m going to stop listing all the horrible things likely to happen this year, because you already know, and you are already overwhelmed!
Aside from the scary state of the world, how are you doing? Oh, me? I’m pretty terrible, thank you for asking! So far, just a few days into this highly anticipated 2017, my life has been a nightmare. I sustained a sudden, unexplained back injury that has had me laid up in debilitating pain for almost a week. I had to cancel all my comedy shows this week and skip my cherished annual New Year’s Day ritual with one of my nearest, dearest, queerest friends.
I still don’t have a diagnosis, but I’m finally semi-mobile and have reduced my pain meds enough that I can stay awake long enough to sit down and write this article. I pitched it two weeks ago, and now it feels especially timely as I struggle to stay positive and not spiral into hopelessness.
Maybe you’ve also started the year with a crushing defeat. Maybe you’re still reeling from a crushing defeat(s) in 2016. Maybe you’re mostly okay but you’ve been so focused on work or family or your relationships or your community that you’ve been neglecting taking care of yourself. Whatever your situation, I bet you could use a little time just for you. I know we’re all busy buzzing bees, so I’ve designed a helpful list of simple, free, brief activities to help you reset, regroup and relax. Try one, try some, try all, and share your own quickie self-care tips in the comments.
1. For Outdoorsy Folks
Think about your favorite place in nature. Is it the woods, the ocean, lakes, rivers, ponds, puddles, mountains, your backyard, your friend’s backyard, your favorite tree, a park? My old friend had a hammock in her beautifully overgrown backyard. I’ve always loved hammocks and she generously gave me an open invitation to use hers. I liked to pop over when no one was home, clumsily maneuver myself into that glorious human-sized sling, and let it gently rock me like a giant baby. If you’re lucky enough to have access to a hammock, hop on in for a 10-minute rock.
Whoops, I went on a hammock tangent there (I really like hammocks), back to nature! Go to the beach, take off your shoes, let your feet experience all the sensations: the scratchy yet soft dry sand, the cool mushy wet sand, the ridges of a seashell under your big toe, the powerful tide lapping at your ankles. If you’re not a beach person, pick whatever place in nature you do like but stick with the feet theme. Give your feet a break from the shoes, socks and carpet they touch every day. Feel your feet on dirt or grass or rock or even cement. Close your eyes, take a deep breath and slowly exhale. Feel the Earth holding you up. Sniff the air like a curious corgi on a walk in a new place. Get your soles dirty. Get your hands dirty. Touch every texture you can find, from leaf to dirt to bark to your own skin. Listen for animals scurrying or chattering, strangers’ laughter, leaves rustling in the wind. Open your mouth wide and taste the air with your tongue. Take your senses on a 10-minute vacation.
2. For Folks Who Can’t Sit Still
OK, you’re not gonna like this, but I’m gonna make you sit still. No judgment; I am the worst at sitting still. I can’t just watch a movie, I have to also clean the apartment or do a crossword puzzle. I can’t just talk on the phone, I have to also smoke a cigarette or organize my desk. I can’t just [insert anything], I have to also [insert something] or [insert something else].
It’s time to give your brain a break for just 10 minutes. I’ve never been good at meditating, and if you’re antsy like me, you probably aren’t, either. So don’t try to meditate. Don’t try to do anything. Just sit and be with yourself. Find a quiet place: your bedroom, the living room, the backyard, heck, even your car or a closet if your place is always full of people. Set a timer for 10 minutes. Close your eyes. Do nothing. Your brain will probably jump all over the place, nag at you with to-do lists, get songs stuck in your head, tell you this is stupid, whatever your brain does to rebel against relaxing. Let it. Let your brain be as annoying as it wants to be, but don’t give in. Keep your eyes closed, take some deep breaths if you feel like it, but just be with yourself. You can notice your breathing or not think about your breathing at all. You can pout the whole time. You can grin the whole time. You can think “this is stupid” over and over for 10 minutes. Whatever you do in your 10 minutes of not doing, just do it (yes, that sentence makes perfect sense, kind of, sort of, don’t worry about it!).
By “do nothing,” we usually mean sitting on the couch watching Netflix or mindlessly scrolling through Facebook or playing video games. We say “doing nothing” when we really mean “not doing something productive.” So for once, try not to try. Just be. And after your 10 minutes of nothing, reflect on it. If it was really hard, ask yourself why. Why do you need to be stimulated all the time? How did it feel to just be? If you do it again, do you think it will be different?
3. For Creative/Artsy Folks
Pick your poison: writing, collaging, drawing, painting, joking, music, etc. Focus on making art just for you: not for a deadline, not for a show, not for someone else, not for any purpose but art for art’s sake. If you’re a working artist, your art is likely now tied to income and/or pleasing others. When’s the last time you made art with no goal in mind?
Set a timer for 10 minutes and make something with no agenda but pleasing yourself. If you’re a comedian, write jokes to make only yourself laugh. If you’re a visual artist, paint/sketch/sculpt something you find heart-achingly beautiful. If you’re a writer, start an essay or poem or short story or novel about something indulgent and self-serving and only interesting to you. Musicians: strum your guitar or bang your piano keys or sing notes that sound beautiful to you and make you feel alive. Don’t think about anyone else viewing this piece of art. Don’t think about submitting or performing it anywhere, just focus on making art that makes you feel good. Be all the things you’ve always been afraid your art will be: navel-gazing, hacky, derivative, cliched, boring, “bad.” Give yourself the freedom to create with no fear or restraint. Go big, go bold, go all out. BONUS: You might get so into your art piece that you keep going past 10 minutes!
4. For Folks Who Process Externally
I had to take that Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test thing when I had a boring corporate job in a past life. Though it was part of a strictly scheduled, soul-sucking, obnoxious management training in a stuffy hotel conference room, I was surprised at how much insight I gained from the test.
Specifically, I learned that I am an external processor, and it helped me forgive myself for being someone who “talks too much.” It even helped my coworker and me communicate better with each other. Sharing our results helped him understand why I needed to talk out so much of our daily work decisions, and helped me understand why he didn’t need the same kind of processing. We learned to compromise and meet each other’s needs better, and ended up a much stronger, more effective team.
That turns-out-it’s-not-so-silly-but-actually-whoa-really-insightful corporate test also helped me better communicate my needs to partners and friends. If you’re someone who needs to vent/process, there’s no need to fight that impulse. It’s okay to seek multiple opinions when sorting out a tough decision. It’s okay to tell the same funny or exciting story to each of your friends. It’s okay to want to be heard.
I believe that venting is sacred. Find a friend or lover you trust. Ask them if they’d be willing to offer 10 minutes to listen to you without offering solutions. Just before writing this article, I was feeling depressed about my back pain, unmotivated and overwhelmed by my to-do list. Then my dear friend Luna called to check on me and I told her what a rough week I’m having. She listened, she commiserated and she offered advice, but only after first asking if I wanted to hear it. I also held space for her, and we found we were experiencing similar woes. Her beautiful voice and wise words cheered me up, and as soon as we hung up I started writing this article. Though it sounds counterintuitive, sometimes you need other people to help with your self-care. So find someone to hold space for you for 10 minutes. I bet you’ll feel lighter and clearer after some good old-fashioned processing.
5. For Folks Who Process Internally
If you don’t like processing with others, might I humbly suggest you process with yourself? Time to bust out that journal, my friend! If you’ve never journaled before, this is a perfect time to try it. You don’t even need an actual journal! Any piece of paper will do, or open a word doc on your computer.
There’s a brilliant book called The Artist’s Way; it’s a twelve-week course full of activities to nurture and unleash your creativity. The central activity is “morning pages,” where you begin each day by hand-writing three pages about anything, everything or nothing. You must do this every day for the full twelve weeks, and the author hopes that you will continue the practice indefinitely.
But that’s big and overwhelming, so let’s take Julia Cameron’s idea and make it simple and doable for this moment. Set a timer for 10 minutes and write away. Write down nonsense fragments or single words that don’t add up to a sentence. One long run-on sentence about how obnoxious your across-the-hall neighbor is with how she noisily clomps up the stairs at midnight and never helps drag the trash to the curb on Tuesday nights. A list of everything you’re grateful for. A list of everything you’re scared about. A list of everything you miss about being a kid. A list of everything you don’t miss about being a kid. Complain about how annoying it is to pay bills. Write about your day. Write down everything you remember about games you played at recess in grade school. Just write, without judgment or hesitation.
You never have to look at it again and you never have to show it to anyone. You can rip it up, crumple it up, throw it out, burn it, soak it in water, or save it as the first or thirty-sixth entry in your journal. When your 10 minutes is up, you might sigh in relief and fling your pen to the ground. Or you might keep writing because it’s helping you figure something out or escape or ground yourself or because it just feels good.
SELF-CARE EXTRA CREDIT: Make these 10-minute self-care acts part of your regular routine! If doing it once helped, think how helpful doing it twice, thrice or 20 times will help! It’s just 10 minutes, and I bet you can find 10 minutes for yourself monthly. Maybe even weekly. And for you self-care overachievers, dare I say … daily? Imagine setting aside just 10 minutes a day to focus solely on caring for yourself. Here’s wishing you a new year full of kindness, compassion and growth for you, from you.