New Year’s intentions might feel fresh on the mind, but let’s be honest, few of us are feeling fresh in ourselves with the onset of January. Winter gloominess descends as the street decorations and fairy lights come down. Post-Christmas blues are real! While we might like to turn over a new leaf, there isn’t a genuine resurgence of energy until the rebirth of spring in a few months’ time.
But we can still harness that impulse for change! It’s in how we go about doing it. At this time of year we need to turn our attention to mood boosting practices and that’s what this self-care challenge is all about -ways that we can build positive habits and dispel negative thoughts. Let’s start the year on the right foot and create a positivity toolkit that can sustain us the whole year long.
Our theme might be ‘positivity’ but to be crystal clear, this isn’t about being happy all the time. There’s a place for all emotion and what we’re aiming for is constructive thinking and healthy habits that help us navigate the challenges of life. We will build together over the next 14 days, a toolkit of practices and skills that energise and motivate us. Let’s dive in!
We’ve created a special calendar to help you keep track of how you feel on each day and a mood boosting library poster for you to print off and fill in (see day 6 for more information).
Follow the challenge on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and use the hashtag #ITMselfcarechallenge to share your progress!
In need of more self-care ideas before you start the challenge? We’ve recorded a special podcast with Suzy and In The Moment Magazine editor Kirstie Duhig to inspire you, which is packed with lots bonus wellbeing tips to inspire you.
Listen now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Acast and most major podcast apps, or online below.
Day one – Self-care as self-responsibility
Does the term self-care leave you feeling a little uncomfortable? Does guilt literally stop you in your tracks? It comes down to how you define self-care. It is not limited to pampering indulgence, sometimes the real act of self-care is the last thing you feel like doing! The concept that helps dial down the feeling of guilt is acknowledging that our health is our responsibility and we owe it to ourselves and those in our care to tend to it.
Self-care is health care. Engaging in it is accepting self-responsibility. It’s not luxurious or lazy, it is smart and pro-active. It is stepping up and learning how to parent ourselves. It is making the decisions that till the soil for the person you are becoming. Choose wisely! Reflect on how you think, feel and act when you are well nourished and consider how this benefits you and those around you.
Write down three reasons why it’s ok for you to engage in daily self-care.
Day two – Best self
Take your resolutions off the page and visualise your future you. Meet your best self! Conjure this version of you – in your mind’s eye, draw her, journal about her and really get to know her.
How does she move through her day, what does she eat, how does she talk to herself, what’s her sleep routine like, what kind of choices does she make? Every good decision you make now takes you one step closer to being this version of you.
In times of squeeze, have a chat with her, ask her what she would do. You might be amazed at the wisdom and willpower to be mined within.
Day three – 3 steps to sustainable habits
At this time of year it is easy to get swept up in grand, elaborate plans. It is natural after the indulgence of the festive season for the pendulum to swing the other way, but attempt too much at once and we lay ourselves vulnerable to ‘falling off the wagon’ and not getting back on at all. Set yourself up with insight and realistic expectations using these three steps to making habits that stick. Don’t try to change everything simultaneously, it is simply not sustainable. Instead, aim to create waves of change. Think of aspects of your lifestyle that you’d like to rejuvenate, like nutrition, exercise, social connection or creativity – start with just one.
- Ask yourself: What am I currently doing about this area of my life? You need to bring your current choices to the light before you can make informed change. What do you stand to lose if you don’t make any changes?
- ‘Why is this important to me’? This is the stuff that galvanises you into doing things differently, and making healthy choices more often in the face of temptation.
- Break your action steps down into one incremental change at a time. Work on this until it is a routine part of life, then embark on the next mini goal. One new habit at a time, one aspect of life at a time.
Day four – No time for self-care? Check in with skills instead of activities
No one has extra time for self-care but the good news is, we don’t actually need more time. Rather than equating self-care with activities, check in with the skills or values that boost your positivity and look for ways you can infuse them into your day.
What floats your boat is individual to you but here are some suggestions – seek ways to imbue life with tenderness, a sense of humour, curiosity, kindness, compassion, gratitude, mindfulness, forgiveness, acceptance, or courage.
Just writing down your list of values can be uplifting! How can you weave these into everyday life, in no extra time? How you talk to yourself, the attributions you make to other people, how you use your commute, where you eat your lunch, how you use social media?
Day five – Positivity non-negotiables
If we want a buoyant mood and the ability to think straight there are some healthy habits that all human beings need to observe – these are our ‘positivity non negotiables’. We all need decent sleep to function. We all need to nourish with food our mental clarity and make sure we are well watered. We all need to move for mental health. Often we think about sleep, hydration, nutrition and exercise for physical health but they are just as crucial for our energy levels and outlook on life. This is the scaffolding we need in place to access a state of positivity.
What additional non negotiables do you need? Maybe it’s time in nature, connecting with friends, meditative tonics or creative pursuits. Get to know yourself and be honest about what you need to operate at your optimum. Use the steps in day three to set your incremental goals.
Day six – Mood boosting library
Create a list of your favourite podcasts, music tracks, TED talks, books, magazines, poems, affirmations, movies, TV shows, inspiring insta accounts, artists and apps. It’s easy to forget these things so having them written down keeps them on your radar and get into the habit of asking your friends about their favourites to keep your list evolving.
Check in with these resources whenever you need a dose of positivity or to make the most of precious downtime. Look for ways you can incorporate these into everyday life, transforming the humdrum into something nourishing. Listen to an uplifting podcast while exercising, have a kitchen karaoke session while you cook, or get absorbed in a mindfulness app on your commute.
Day seven – Breathe your way to positivity
One of the easiest ways to tap into positivity is working with the breath – it takes no extra time because you are doing it anyway and how you breathe has a tangible impact on how you feel. The mantra is ‘breathe better, feel better’. Smooth relaxed breathing helps calm the nervous system and can be a powerful anchor in keeping your mind focused on the present, a welcome distraction from negative thoughts.
Nothing elaborate is required, just take a moment to really notice how it feels to be breathing. Allow the breath to be spacious, moving into your tummy, your sides, your lower back, upper back, chest and collarbones. The movement isn’t just contained in the lungs! Feel your whole torso expand on your in breath and effortlessly retract back to your centre on the out breath. Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, your breath is your constant companion, check in and let your breath lift your spirits.
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Day eight – Anchor your mind with a mantra
We are all at the ransom of our thoughts and some days we can feel plagued by sticky, toxic thinking. Rather than trying to clear the mind, which is tough for any human being, give your mind something constructive to focus on. This is where mantras can be helpful.
If you’re feeling pressed for time, use the phrase ‘I have all the time I need’. If you want to relax, try ‘I soften into this moment’. If you want to feel full of zest create your own ‘I am’ statement along the lines of ‘I am ready’ or ‘I am full of energy’. Every time your mind wanders back to negativity, repeat your mantra and reaffirm how it is you want to feel, extending a sense of compassion towards yourself.
Don’t give yourself grief for having less than helpful thoughts, we all have them. A thought it just a thought, not a prophecy. If you don’t like where your mind is leading you, give it a different direction with a mantra. It might be worth considering when you last had a glass of water or ate something life giving too!
Day nine – Use your body to lift your mood
How you hold your body has a powerful effect on positivity. Pain and tension literally make us grumpy. We book our car in for an MOT so why not also schedule in some regular maintenance for your body. See a physio or osteo, book in for a massage, acupuncture or reflexology. Your body and mind will thank you for it.
Notice the areas of your body where you habitually hold on and consciously soften them or take a good stretch. It might be counterintuitive but giving those areas a squeeze first helps you relax them. Tight neck and shoulders? Lift your shoulders up to your ears and then relish dropping them down. Tension in your jaw? Screw your face up like a raisin and enjoy letting it go.
Your posture makes a difference to how your feel too, with a tall spine, long neck and open heart tapping us into energy and confidence. To counteract the many activities in modern life (screen time, driving, carrying heavy objects or little ones) that bring us into a round spine position, lowering our mood and subjective energy levels, try some shoulder rolls or place your palms onto your lower back and squeeze your elbows towards each other. And if you want to feel up, look up! Lifting your line of sight while out walking helps too.
Day ten – Reframe your mind
If you find yourself catastrophising or leaping to conclusions bring your mind back to balance by asking yourself ‘what is the worst outcome, the best outcome and the most likely outcome’? Let your mind linger on the last one. It will also be worth considering what lies in your control. If it’s beyond your sphere of influence, no amount of worry or trying will make a difference!
Direct your energy, attention and effort on things that you can do something about. A spot of gratitude can bring us back to perspective too, even when things are tough – the simple things like the roof above our heads, the ability to provide for our families, a functional body, loved ones in our lives, and living in a country blessed with safety and ample resources.
Day eleven – Scent as a mood alchemist
Ever noticed how transformative scent can be? Seize the power of scent and savour it through your day – the fragrance of your shower gel, the aroma of your morning coffee, seasonal scents around you like blooms, cut grass, or foliage. Spritz perfume, room spray or apply some scented hand balm whenever you need to lift your mood, energy or focus your mind.
Choose scents that remind you of loved ones to feel wrapped up in their care.
Day twelve – Worry time
Tell yourself not to worry and sometimes that amplifies your concerns. Push them down and they leak out or create tension in our guts or shorten our breath. It’s not healthy to eradicate worry, fear or anxiety – they are all there to keep us safe, giving us the opportunity to check that we are on the right track. But while it’s normal to experience these states, there is a time and place. If you find worry consuming you it can help to create a boundary to it. Set a specific time to worry and give it everything you’ve got for that allotted time only.
If worry crops up at other times remind yourself you can give this your full attention later, it’s not time for it now. You might find you don’t really feel like worrying when that time comes up or with the passage of time, or the thing that really needled you earlier this morning feels tiny now.
Dump it down onto a piece of paper and enjoy crossing out cares that aren’t really your responsibility – give yourself permission to hand these back to their rightful owners. Anything that’s not a real concern, scrub it out. Maybe there are some big worries, spend some time coming up with a plan of attack or reach out for help. Worry on its own isn’t enough, there will be things that we need to take action on. Break it down, tie up some incompletions and make progress today.
Day thirteen – Harness the power of your environment
Want to feel positive? Draw on the power of nature’s beauty. She washes the world clean with her rain, blows out the cobwebs with her breeze, tops up our energy banks with her sunshine. The changing seasons remind us that difficult times will pass. Reboot your nervous system by getting out into green space or by bodies of water. Watch the moving cloudscape on your commute. Look out the window at your desk and see birds in flight. Savour a vase of cut flowers at home.
Your inner environment can sustain you too – a well placed painting or photograph, cushion or throw that you love or the simple pleasure of fresh sheets. Even a good tidy can help you organise your mind. How can you make your environment more conducive to your wellbeing?
Day fourteen – Check in and celebrate your wins
It’s important to have an idea of where you are headed, with goals to light the way, but equally, it’s energising to take a look at how far you’ve come. Review how you’ve found the last 14 days of this challenge. What have you learnt about yourself and positivity? What worked for you and what didn’t work so well? Are there any days you missed that you’d like to try now – your needs and preference change so different things work at different times. We need to keep taking action, so check in with these tips on a regular basis. There is great zest to be found in acknowledging the wins. Don’t miss out on that mood boost by leaping too quickly onto the next wave of change. Take the time to give yourself a pat on the back and feel how empowering this is.
It’s not just the outcome that needs recognition but effort too, so if you’re still on the way to achieving that goal, it’s ok! There is time! The best goals are fluid ones, taking into account the available resources, so check in, refine your focus and give yourself the feedback you’d offer to a buddy walking in your shoes. Well done, keep going! We’re willing you on too!