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5 On-the-Spot Self-Care Techniques to Use Anywhere, Anytime

By Jessica Hicks
October 04, 2021

Life has a way of throwing us curve balls when we least expect them. Often, when a stressful moment occurs, we're not in a position to take a pause to reassess or reframe. We have to soothe ourselves on-the-spot and keep going about our day. That’s why it’s crucial to have some self-care strategies in our back pocket that we can deploy anytime, anywhere.

These five in-the-moment techniques will help you catch your breath, keep your cool, and care for your mind and body while facing even the most stressful of scenarios.

1. Your manager volunteered you to give a snap presentation.

Often, when we're forced to step out of our comfort zone, we waste our energy considering the worst-case scenario or thinking back to times in the past when we’ve made a mistake. Instead of beating yourself up over the shoulda-coulda-woulda’s of the past, think back to a time when you met a challenge and crushed it. Focusing on what has gone right instead of dwelling on what has gone wrong may improve judgment and decision-making for those struggling with anxiety and depression found University of California, Berkeley researchers. Keeping a running list of the accomplishments you're most proud of on your phone and looking at it often may help nudge your memory in a more positive direction when you’re stuck in a negative-thinking rut.

2. The nitpicking family member who always pushes your buttons just messaged that they'll be visiting for the weekend.

When hit with a pang of anger or frustration, our first reaction is often to vent—raising our voice, throwing a few curse words out there, you get the picture. These behaviors, albeit natural, can actually leave us feeling worse. Rather than letting the situation get the best of you, try what's known as cognitive restructuring.

At its most basic level, cognitive restructuring is changing the way you think, and thus, the way you feel, with more reasonable and adaptable thoughts. Give it a try by gently redirecting the irritated voice in your head. Instead of thinking, “I can’t believe they're coming this weekend, I’m so mad I could scream!” shift your thoughts to be a bit more constructive and compassionate with a phrase like, “This is a frustrating situation and it's understandable that I'm upset, but getting angry isn't going to fix anything." By putting your emotions into perspective, you'll not only realize that you can get through it, but you may also come up with some solutions to help ease the situation, like arranging a flurry of activities for your visitors to do to keep them out of your hair.

3. After taking a few days off from work, you've returned to an overwhelming email backlog.

An ever-growing inbox may push you into a frenzy of multitasking. But while you may think that divvying up your focus and attention can help you get several things done and save time in the long run, the truth is, the human brain isn’t built to do two (or more) things at once. Stanford University researchers who studied the effects of multitasking found that we lose efficiency, accuracy, and sustained attention when switching between tasks.

To effectively tackle your email overload, don’t take on everything as soon as you open your laptop. Instead, be more intentional with your time and focus by scheduling blocks on your calendar to read and respond to emails—nothing else. Dedicating 15- to 30-minute increments of time to clearing out your inbox will help eliminate distractions and keep you on task.

4. The kids are fighting, the phone is ringing, and dinner is burning on the stove—too many things are going on at once!

In moments where your fight-or-flight response has been triggered, your breath will become your best friend. Research has shown that deep breathing has a positive impact on both mood and stress levels. And, best of all, breathing exercises are always available—no special equipment or setting necessary.

The University of Michigan Health System recommends belly breathing: Simply sit or lie flat in a comfortable position, place one hand on your belly and one on your chest and take a deep breath through your nose. You should feel your belly pushing your hand outward, while your chest remains relatively still. Then, breathe out through pursed lips and feel your hand move closer to you as your belly retracts. Repeat these steps three to 10 more times for maximum calm.

5. You're waiting to hear back on some uncertain news and can’t help focusing on the worst-case outcome.

No matter what kind of news you’re expecting, no one enjoys playing the waiting game. One way to help ease your discomfort is to tap into your sense of wonder. You might think, “My sense of wonder? How can I lean into that in my day-to-day routine?” University of California, Riverside researchers found that simply watching an awe-inspiring short video (think: a panoramic YouTube video of a rain forest or the recording you took of that sunset) is enough to boost your mood and lessen the stress of waiting.

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