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  • Gonzalo Laje

National Stress Awareness Day

One of my favorite fun facts to share in the therapy is that our goal is not to eradicate stress. Stress, in balance, can actually be really healthy. “Good stress” motivates us, improves our focus, and helps us endure the least satisfying of projects. As a result, we are able to persevere and work towards final products that we’re proud of. The key, though, is balance. And the way we strike that balance is through self-care.

Let’s be honest: self-care has become a bit of a buzzword in the last few years. It conjures up images of everything from fluffy bunny slippers to contemplative meditation. Which, admittedly, is quite a spectrum. And depending on your environment and experiences, both extremes can elicit feelings of discomfort. With our plates already overflowing, self-care can feel like one more thing to do. At times, it seems easier to roll our eyes and push through than to pause and navigate how we’ll take care of ourselves amidst our endless responsibilities and constraints. In light of November 2nd being National Stress Awareness Day, I invite you to take the next few minutes to learn more about stress, self-care, and their respective relationships to our brains and bodies


“Snack Time” for our Brains

Our bodies operate in cycles. Our circadian rhythm directs our sleep cycle and our ultradian rhythm governs our wake cycle. The ultradian rhythm is about an hour and a half: it is during this cycle that we have energy and operate at peak performance. When the cycle completes (i.e. typically after an hour and a half of work) you’ll feel a dip in energy. That’s normal. It’s part of the cycle. It’s your body giving you a clue that you are completing the cycle and need a rest, much like your stomach growls to remind you that it’s time to eat or to get some more ‘fuel.’ Research shows that the ‘snack’ version of fuel for an ultradian rhythm is a 5-minute break in which you do something restful or playful.Those 5-minutes of self-care help us to be our most productive, efficient, and healthy selves—and they give us the fuel to have another cycle of peak performance. When we consistently ignore this need (i.e. plow through with stress hormones or caffeine), we are more prone to anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and stress-related illnesses, in other words: when we don’t honor our need for a break, we burnout, at which point we can do very few of the things on our to-do list, or at least we are diminished in our capacity to do them well. Given this, practicing self-care benefits not only ourselves, but also our family, friends, and coworkers.

Self-Care 101

At its core, self-care is not indulgent; it is as essential as a roof over our heads and food in our bellies. Self-care is the intentional, proactive pursuit of integrated wellness through balancing mind, body, and spirit, personally and professionally. Self-care is intentional; it doesn’t just happen, so actively plan for it. Put it on the calendar and make it a routine. Let those who care about you know what you’re doing to care for yourself and enlist their support in carving out the time to do just that.

Self-care is not one size fits all; your self care practice will be informed by who you are—by the roles you fill, what you value, what you like, etc. Play around with different practices, reflect on them (“Hmm, that was fun, but not restorative”, “Ooh, I liked that one and it’s discrete enough to do on my commute each day”), and build your practice.

Regular self-care will help you strike a balance of “good stress,” helping you to reach your goals. And remember, self-care matters because you matter.

5 Minute Ideas to Try

  • Gratitudes: Get in the habit of writing down three things you’re genuinely grateful for before bed each day. It doesn’t have to be profound or what others want you to say–“the first sip of coffee” and “books that have chapter titles” are totally allowed!

  • Dance party: Get your groove on! Even if you’re just jumping around or shaking side to side, the movement and good tunes will get those “happy” neurotransmitters flowing.

  • Walk down the hall and make a snack: Fuel your body, change your activity and environment, and tickle your taste buds all in one short break.

  • Watch a trailer for your favorite movie: Don’t have time to watch your favorite flick during the day? Treat yourself to the bite-size version.

  • Text a friend: Connection is a biological imperative. While it can’t always be synchronously, there’s a plethora of ways to connect with those we treasure.

  • Set a timer for 5 minutes and do something that makes you smile.


Janelle McCarthy, LGPC

Licensed Graduate Professional Counselor


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