Luckily, in a recent Facebook Q&A session, psychologist Laurie Santos, PhD, host of The Happiness Lab podcast and professor of Yale’s viral happiness course, shared some self-care tips and gratitude practices that frontline workers can still fit into even the most airtight schedule. Read on to learn the three research-backed strategies to bring into your life if you're focused on saving everyone else's:
1. Try slow-breathing breathwork
If you can spare even just a minute, Dr. Santos recommends simply give yourself a break for three conscious and very slow breaths into your belly. Embracing breathwork, especially right now when we may be extra grateful for every healthy breath, can provide the opportunity to be present.
"It'll kick in the parasympathetic activity that we know allows us to kind of rest and digest," says Dr. Santos. "The more you can sort of take short breaks to do that, the better."
2. Practice positive reframing
There are several strategies you can use to reframe stressful situations, like humor, courage, and believing in yourself. For frontline workers, though, an especially helpful tactic for finding a positive reframe is to remember the compassionate core of what you're really doing. "You're doing something that's incredibly brave that's helping folks, but sometimes in the frantic day-to-day anxiousness of that, you can lose that [bottom-line reality]," says Dr. Santos.
So set a reminder—whether via an alarm, or whenever you finish a shift, or when you take a shower, or any other time—to acknowledge the positive gravity of your day-to-day influence. Research shows that positive thinking and taking time to realize that what you're doing is compassionately helping other people actually affords you more resilience. "It can actually up-regulate what's called your self-regulation—your ability to do hard things," says Dr. Santos. "So turning on your compassion muscles can be incredibly powerful."
3. Practice lovingkindness meditation
Before writing off meditation as something you don't have time for or that otherwise just isn't for you, know that there are a number of different kinds of meditations. And, in fact, certain mindful practices can reduce burnout—even in incredibly stressful times. Research supports that one especially valuable meditation for mental well-being is called Metta, which focuses on lovingkindness.
The premise is all about practicing compassion by extending happiness and health to yourself, loved ones, neutral people (think, the cashier at your go-to grocery store) and all living beings. It generally involves extending some variation of the mantra, "May you live with ease, may you be happy, may you be free from pain"—meaning, it doesn't have to absorb much time at all.
"The research suggests that the simple act of doing this, even really temporarily, can allow you to feel compassion, this urge to help people without the empathy that goes with it," says Dr. Santos. "In other words, without the kind of burnout that comes from feeling those other people's emotions, this can be an incredibly powerful technique for health-care workers right now."
For a lovingkindness meditation, check out the wealth of online apps and resources, like Insight Timer, Calm, and Ten Percent Happier. "So jump on and do one of these meditations, even for five minutes in the morning," she says. "It's the kind of thing that can really improve your kind of resilience and protect you from burnout later on."
Are you a helper seeking some help? These digital support groups will give you community in the time of COVID-19. And we have some healing advice if you're feeling overwhelmed with sadness over COVID-19.
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