Happy Seventh Day of Christmas! And Happy New Year (almost)! By now, you’ve made it through all the joys, but also the stresses, of preparing for Christmas Day— shopping, decorating, sending cards, attending social activities, dealing with travel or visiting relatives, and a host of other holiday-related tasks. Like many folks, you’re probably exhausted at this point! And if you’re a singer, you’re extra-tired from all the many rehearsals and performances that get added on at this time of year. As wonderful as that all can be, it also can leave your body, and your voice, needing some real R and R (rest and recreation). That’s where a new attention to self-care can come in. And just in time for the making of New Year’s Resolutions, this can be your most important one, and a resolution you can keep— taking care of yourself!
If you haven’t read the first part of this two-part series, series, do take a moment to visit the first post: Self-Care: A Christmas Gift From You to You (Part One)
Now let’s continue with even more ideas to make the New Year one of greater balance, better health, and a renewed energy for life. When you take care of your body, mind and spirit, your singing voice will thank you as well…
More Tips for Self-Care in 2019:
1. Enjoy the Christmas afterglow. My friends and students know that one of my greatest pet peeves in life is when the stores rip down their Christmas decorations on December 26th, and proceed to act like Christmas never happened. Then the media suddenly stops all mention of Christmas (except for the Hallmark Channel!). Manipulated by these external pressures, many people now pull off the Christmas lights from their homes, throw out their trees, and start racing to the mall to hit the sales. Whoa!!! As I always remind everyone (to the point of being annoying) the Twelve Days of Christmas are December 25th through January 5th, and in many Christian religions the season culminates on Epiphany, also known as Three Kings Day. (Depending on different traditions, Christmastide or Candlemas can extend all the way into February!).
Even if you have no religious affiliation that celebrates the arrival of the Magi at the manger, the period after December 25th is where you can have the most relaxing and enjoyable time. I know I do! Keep listening to the wonderful Christmas music, watching Christmas movies, enjoying your decorations, visiting with friends and family, and avoiding the malls! You can prolong “that holiday feeling” for many days after the gift-giving frenzy has passed. What a great way to end the year, and to ring in the New Year. Nurture that Christmas glow for as long as you can, which is perhaps the best Christmas present to yourself after all!
2. Avoid “New Year’s Resolution Overload”. While it’s great to have goals and a plan to achieve them, don’t weigh yourself down with a lot of “shoulds” and “have-tos” for the New Year. Perhaps you can list the top three things you would like to achieve in 2019, but then prioritize them. What is the most important one, the goal that will bring the most positive change to your life? Focus on that first, breaking it down into monthly, weekly, and daily tasks that will steadily propel you toward your goal. If you try to take on more than one major goal at a time, chances are your focus and energies will be divided, and you may not progress as fast as you like. Then you’ll get frustrated, and give up altogether. According to U.S. News, about 80% of New Year’s Resolutions fail by February! Don’t be part of that statistic. Be gentle with yourself as you work on one big goal at a time.
3. Move your body– play a sport, dance, or exercise, because you want to, not because you have to. It’s a pretty universal New Year’s Resolution that almost everyone articulates— “I want to exercise more!” Yes, but… if you do it because you have to, chances are, you’re not going to stick with it for very long. Two things will turn this into an enjoyable self-care resolution, and not another “to-do” on your never-ending list of “shoulds”. First, pick something that you will actually enjoy, that you will look forward to doing! It could be exercise that incorporates an artistic element, like a dance class. It could be something with a possible spiritual component, like yoga. Maybe you want it to be a social activity as well— start a walking club with a friend, where you can talk while you walk. Even if you do something you don’t particularly love, like lifting weights, put on your favorite music or watch a funny TV show while you’re exercising, to make it more enjoyable “me” time.
Second, schedule time for exercise in your planner or calendar. Write it in, just like a doctor’s appointment, something you commit to and don’t miss. If you make the time a part of your regular routine, you will reap the benefits quickly, and want to stick with it. You will actually look forward to it! Of course, this applies to your vocal practice routine as well. See my post: How to Find Time to Practice Singing— Even When You Don’t Have Time!
4. Eat for pleasure as well as health. What’s the other most common New Year’s resolution? “I’m going to get back on my diet and finally lose those _____ (fill in the blank) pounds!” While losing weight and eating with intention are certainly important, this kind of approach creates stress— the opposite of self-care! Wouldn’t a better thought be to simply choose foods that are appealing to the eye and the palate, that make your body and mind feel good? Do a little research about nutrition, and base your eating habits on foods you really enjoy, that can also lead to better overall health. Use the 80/20 rule— 80% of the time you eat nutritious and delicious foods that happen to be good for you, and 20% of the time you can have some treats that may not be. The pounds will fall away naturally as you are eating well most of the time, with the occasional Twinkie or Nachos thrown in! Seriously, consult your doctor before making any major changes, or if you have any ongoing medical conditions or concerns. But remember, eating should be a pleasure, as well as good fuel for you body. Don’t make it another source of pressure!
5. Treat yourself to a special meal or drink. Speaking of food, a truly pleasant form of self-care is to take yourself out for a special meal or drink. Visit your favorite coffee place and savor something special you can’t make yourself at home. Pick a comfortable spot and watch the world go by as you sip. Or, go out for a really fancy cocktail (one only!) at your favorite watering hole. If you can, make reservations at your favorite restaurant (or try something new), get dressed up, and really make an evening of it. If you can do any of these things with a spouse or friend, great, but if going it alone might feel extra calming and decadent, you can go solo (just don’t drink and drive).
On the flip side, if you’re always running around and driving everywhere as part of your normal routine, it might be extra nice to order in and just stay home! Or, if you love to cook, make yourself a truly special meal. You can still dress up, light candles and put on your favorite music. Whatever you do, approach it in a way that feels like you are nurturing, and even spoiling, yourself. That’s what self-care is all about!
6. Enjoy a great movie or TV series. There’s nothing like a really engrossing movie or TV show to take you away from the everyday and into another world. If it’s uplifting and funny, all the better. Great dramas can be rewarding, but we’re looking to feel good here, so don’t choose anything that’s going to depress you! And, if you can get out to a theater that has comfy seats, tasty popcorn and gives you a great movie-going experience, all the better! But again, if you’re out running around all the time in your daily life, it might feel more decadent to stay home. Shut out the world, and snuggle under a blanket on the couch with your favorite snack, while you watch an entertaining movie or TV show. I love nothing better than to have a day where I don’t have to drive ANYWHERE. Sheldon on the Big Bang Theory has it right— there’s something so comforting about being in your favorite “spot” on the couch!
7. Indulge in your favorite craft or hobby. There is something so profoundly soothing about taking time out from everyday life and doing something you truly enjoy. Whether it’s knitting, building birdhouses, painting, or gardening, losing yourself in an activity where you concentrate deeply and lose track of time has profound benefits for your body. Your breathing slows and deepens, and your stress hormone levels drop. Plus, you gain a sense of mastery over a particular skill, and you actually have something concrete to show for it when you’re done!
I think this type of activity is especially helpful for singers, or anyone who has to use their voice all day long at their job or in their personal life. You get to be quiet and rest your voice, and you are directing your energy only to your project, and not to anyone else. This feels incredibly calming and can renew your energy very quickly.
Now– this is a blog about singing, after all. So, if you don’t get to sing as a regular part of your daily life, the opposite approach may be better for you. Singing may be the hobby that you want to indulge in for self-care! Pull out your favorite songs and sing away! The deep breathing, jaw relaxation, vibration of the air through the vocal tract and simply the physical exercise itself will truly relax you. The artistic expression involved and the myriad processes that go on in the brain and body can take you into a different “zone”, similar to meditation. You’ll feel calm and energized at the same time. If this is your only dedicated singing practice time, you can also make it more efficient. Visit my post: Practice Singing Smarter, for Faster Results!
8. Declutter, reorganize, redecorate, clean. One of the most helpful things you can do to dial down your stress levels is to get more control over your immediate environment. Clean out a drawer, rearrange the furniture, change out some of your your decor with the passing of each holiday or season. When your surroundings are in order, it clears the path for new energy and accomplishment, or simply for better relaxation! The very act of rearranging items, throwing out or donating unused clothes, and simply improving your environment is a fantastic form of self-care!
9. Really connect with a good friend. In our insanely busy, on-the-go-constantly modern lives, it can be tough to make time for quality connection with family and friends. Singers have an even harder time, because our teaching, rehearsal and performance schedules often run opposite to the usual 9 to 5 schedules of our non-musician family and friends. Social media is helpful, but there’s no substitute for the one-on-one connection with someone you care about, who cares about you. Pick up the phone and your planner, and make a date to get together with a friend or family member whose company you really enjoy. It should be someone who uplifts and supports you, and with whom you can relax and truly be yourself.
If schedules or distance make it impossible to physically meet, then pick up the phone or Skype! A really great phone call with your favorite cousin or high school chum can be an incredibly renewing experience. You can talk about everything from the latest great joke you heard, to really serious subjects that are weighing on your soul. Laugh together, cry together, or just catch up on the latest. A true friend will connect with you in whatever direction the conversation turns, and you should do the same for him/her. No matter how long it’s been since we’ve talked, I can pick up with a good friend on the phone or in person as if we just saw each other yesterday. That kind of connection truly brings you a feeling of self-care!
10. Hug someone! While you’re visiting with your friend or family member, make sure you hug each other! Hugging is so beneficial, on a variety of levels. It increases levels of the “love hormone” oxytocin, and lowers levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. It reduces the harmful physical effects of stress, including lowering your blood pressure and heart rate. Try hugging for at least 20 seconds to get the full benefit. Also, you can hug your pet, or even a stuffed animal!
The power of touch is so great, you can even hug yourself! Another wonderful technique is to put your hand over your heart, close your eyes, and breathe deeply. You will feel the love you are giving yourself, and your stress levels will drop in no time!
11. Plan (and ultimately take) a trip. One of the great things about travel is you get to enjoy it three different ways! First, there’s the research and anticipation. Second, there’s the actual fun experience of the trip itself. Third, once you’re home again, you can enjoy those wonderful memories anytime you wish! It doesn’t have to be a huge, expensive vacation to refresh and revitalize you. An overnight jaunt or a weekend away can be as effective as two weeks in Europe!
Studies show that taking more frequent, shorter trips is actually better for you than one long vacation away. Whatever your budget and time constraints, go somewhere. The change of location and routine will make all the difference in your stress levels, and you can reap the benefits for many weeks afterwards. See my post: You Deserve A Break Today— and I Don’t Mean McDonald’s
12. Do something charitable. One of the great things about donating your time, money or skills to a worthy cause is the helping hand that you are putting out into the world. But did you know that charitable acts also benefit you? It can activate the “reward center” in your brain, creating a surge of dopamine and endorphins. Multiple studies show that people who give time and resources to others experience greater satisfaction in life and feel happier overall. Research studies at Johns Hopkins University show that charitable givers experience reduced rates of stress and lower blood pressure as well.
Hopefully, after reading this post and the last, you’ve been inspired to try one or more of the ideas I have shared for self-care. It’s certainly an open-ended list. I could probably add even more ideas, and so could you! I’d love to hear them, so feel free to share any suggestions you might have…
It’s vitally important for anyone, but especially for singers, to take care of body, mind and spirit, if you really want to sing well. Your body truly is your instrument, and everything that happens to it, good or bad, affects your voice, and your ability to sing and perform. Why not stack the deck in your favor by including ways to revitalize and renew yourself on a regular basis?
Here’s to a New Year’s Resolution you’ll want to keep, and that you CAN keep. Raise a glass, and let’s say “Cheers!” to a New Year of Health, Wealth, Success, and Happiness. All of that is much more possible when you include a resolution to practice self-care. Happy New Year to all!