Not everyone can take a vacation during the summer. But you can mimic the positive benefits of vacationing — by practicing science-based self-care strategies that help with emotional balance and inspiration. Review the selection of activities and pick one or more to try for a month, three months or longer. Think of these activities as mini-vacations that provide long-lasting benefits to your well-being.
Experience the power of awe through nature.
In the New York Times, writer Hope Reese’s article How a Bit of Awe Can Improve Your Health shares how experts say wonder or “awe” is an essential human emotion — and a salve for a turbulent mind. One way to experience awe is to be one with nature. Many people do this by “forest bathing,” connecting with nature through our senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. Interested in trying this? Explore the concept in the TIME magazine article Forest Bathing Is Great for Your Health and How to Do It and a Psychology Today article about forest bathing.
If venturing out into nature isn’t possible, consider experiencing a natural awe moment virtually. While sitting at your computer, tune into this video provided by the Greater Good Science Center using headphones or earbuds. Listen to the music and watch the imagery. Welcome to a mini awe moment.
Why it works
According to the latest research, spending time in nature and experiencing awe can help with depression, heart disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, stress, stroke and type 2 diabetes. The American Society of Landscape Architects shares research conducted about each health issue and how spending time in nature improves outcomes.
We’re great at comforting a friend who’s having challenges, but what happens when we’re struggling? Research says we resort to negative self-talk. Instead of belittling yourself over something that went wrong, offer self-compassion. Author and researcher Dr. Kristin Neff says you should:
- Acknowledge your suffering. Example: “I feel really awful about this situation.”
- Acknowledge that suffering is part of life; others experience this too.
- Be kind to yourself. Give yourself comforting words. Example: “It’s alright, I learned from this and will do better.”
Why it works
According to Neff, self-compassion turns off the “fight, flight and freeze” stress response triggered by negative self-talk. Offering words and actions of self-compassion and forgiveness calm the brain, allowing the reasoning section of the brain (prefrontal cortex) to come online. As a result, we’re better able to solve problems and move forward. Learn more at self-compassion.org.
Build gratitude into your daily practice. Keep a gratitude journal and write down experiences you feel grateful for during the day. Before going to bed, review the day’s writings. This will help you release negative thoughts and focus on positive feelings before going to sleep. If you’re feeling stressed and need help regaining calm, take a moment to list 10 things or people for which you feel grateful. Doing this silently or out loud evokes feelings of calm.
Why it works
When we think about what or who we’re grateful for, our natural feel-good hormones, dopamine and oxytocin, are released and calm the brain — priming the neuropathways for better learning. This is a great practice to use when feeling anxiety (like when preparing for a presentation or a difficult conversation). According to an article written by Joshua Brown and Joel Wong in “Greater Good Magazine,” practicing gratitude changes you and your brain.
Try mindfulness meditation
Mindful awareness is paying attention in a specific way: on purpose, in the present moment, without judgment. We can learn this skill by practicing mindfulness meditation, which can be done anywhere at any time utilizing our five senses (sight, smell, touch, taste, hearing) to reconnect with the present moment.
Why it works
Mindfulness meditation helps us develop three important skills that help in navigating life’s challenges. The Unified Mindfulness website identifies these skills as:
- Concentration power: the ability to focus.
- Sensory clarity: the ability to identify emotion within the sensory experience.
- Equanimity: the ability to experience emotion without being overwhelmed by it.
Interested in learning more? Check out these free guided meditations from the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center.
If the above activities interest you, consider taking an online course to learn about the science of happiness and well-being. Yale University offers The Science of Well-Being for free, through Coursera.org, to help you increase your own happiness and build more productive habits. Also consider the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course created by John Kabat-Zinn. Learn more by reviewing the Positive Psychology article “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction: The Ultimate MBSR Guide.”