It can be overwhelming trying to follow all the advice out there on how to live a better life. How to eat right, exercise enough, volunteer time towards a good cause, read more, work on relationships … it can be exhausting. But it doesn’t have to be that hard. There are some simple things you can start today that will improve how you feel about yourself.
In her book, Self Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind, Dr. Kristen Neff talks about how a person can develop a kinder and non-judgemental approach to themselves. A simple exercise to start this process is to consider how things might change if you responded to yourself in the same way as you would respond to a good friend when they are upset or suffering?
Try meditative exercise
Often the reason people find it difficult to engage in regular exercise is that they simply don’t enjoy it! Why not try something different? By engaging in exercise such as yoga, Tai Chi, breathing-walking (meditating while walking), or Pilates you can get the benefits of exercise while also deepening your self-awareness and calming your mind and managing your anxiety.
Engage your parasympathetic nervous system
The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system work together in your body and should balance each other out. In simple terms, the sympathetic nervous system mobilises you and is associated with the fight/flight system, whereas, the parasympathetic nervous system helps the body to recover and is associated with the rest/digest system. You can engage this system through your breath. A simple exercise you can do right now is to take a moment to sit back in a chair and start to focus on your breath. Breathe in for a count of 3 seconds, and then breathe out for a count of 3 seconds. Continue this for a couple of minutes noticing any difference in sensations in the body.
Jon Kabat Zinn, an international authority on mindfulness, defines the practice as paying attention in a particular way – on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally. There are many excellent mindfulness exercises that you can practice. A simple one to try today is to engage in mindful observation. The purpose is to connect you with the beauty and simplicity of the natural environment, and to slow yourself down. Choose a natural object in your immediate environment (it might be a flower, tree, clouds, the moon, an anthill) and observe it for a minute or two. Focus on only the object, visually exploring each aspect of it as if for the very first time. If you notice your thoughts drifting, simply acknowledge that you have drifted off and redirect your attention back to the object.
Gratitude is a simple practice to cultivate, and one that research has shown to have several benefits. A study published in Personality and Individual Differences in 2013 found that people who practice gratitude have fewer aches and pains and report feeling healthier. Dr Emmons, a leading researcher in gratitude, has conducted many studies that have found a link between practicing gratitude and improved happiness and reduced depression. Another study published in 2011 in Applied Psychology: Health and Wellbeing found that grateful people have a better sleep. So why not try jotting down a few things you are grateful for tonight before you go to sleep?