The only way we are going to get through this marathon of malaise, with our well-being intact, is to practice self care.
“Yeah, it’s tough out there.”
“Maybe worse,” I said, “Incomes that are less than basic living expenses make it, well, impossible. That’s more than tough, that’s a fundamental bug in the economic system.” This is just one urgent and important problem that causes a lot of psychic pain.
A fellow prison volunteer and I were talking about the wages for unskilled work, and how a young person working full time cannot afford average rent in any state the US. One person trying to earn an honest living cannot afford to have a roof over their head. If you’re already screwed, addictions or crime can look like an escape from despair.
It’s just one example of the many things in our society causing people major stress. As someone with privilege, there is no threat to my survival, but I don’t think people should be set up to fail.
Fast forward, to a post-pandemic world which brought enormous psychic strain to all of us. It led to a piling on of stressors for those who were already carrying more than many of us.
Almost every person I listened to those days was struggling on one or more levels. Money and employment problems, interpersonal tensions, major health fears and challenges, housing uncertainty, and extreme political corruption are all contributing to people feeling overwhelmed and upset. Aggressive and angry behaviors seem to be on the rise, and it’s pretty unpleasant, regardless of one’s politics.
So what do we do? These are big problems, and they will take a long time and a lot of effort to really address. Meanwhile, somehow we need to maintain our energy, and not drown in the grief, our own, or others’. The only way we are going to get through this marathon of malaise with our well-being intact is to practice self care.
As a priest and friend, Barbara Williamson, always used to say, “Put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.” We are much more effective when we take care of ourselves. And we cannot do our best work when we allow our foundation of well-being to crumble. Like me, I suspect you need a solution too, and by now, you probably know it.
There is good news. It’s not complicated, and there are many ways to do it. You can tailor it to you. But in order to be ok, we need to take small actions every single day. I’ve read reams of research, and I’ve tried a lot of things over my tediously long life. Here is the distillation.
There are the 5 types of activities that will fill the well of wellness. These are the things we can use to maintain an even keel in turbulent waters.
Now, I know that getting started can be difficult. I recommend starting small.
And I also know what it feels like to be really stuck emotionally. Sometimes we need professional support, and in that case, please prioritize #4. Talking to a therapist or a doctor are essential options under the socialize category. But what I am saying is this. If you are able to do these things daily, your well-being will improve over time. Guaranteed.
The prescription is simple. Do 3 or more. Everyday. For the rest of your life.
- Move your body
- Create something
- Go outside
- Connect your spirit
Move your body
Move your body. It doesn’t matter what you do, or where you do it. Maybe get a little sweaty. You can do the same thing everyday, or you can mix it up. It can be leisure, or it can be ‘work’. Everyday you do at least 30 minutes, give yourself one point. Also, this one will have the added side-effects of making you stronger, more energetic, healthier, and feel happier. Also sexier.  
Create something. Anything. Plan, design, imagine. Create a system of organization. Create a clean space. Sing in the shower. Cook something healthy. Plant something. Anything. Give yourself one point for each creative thing you did that pleased you.  
Go outside, and focus on whatever nature you have available to you, even if you are in the middle of a city. The sky, the earth, the trees, the water, the air. You can be still, or you can be in motion. Breathe it in. Remember, you are part of this natural world. It can heal you. Make it work for you; if you are allergic to grass, spread a blanket before lying down to look at the sky. Take your pet with you; they benefit too. Go out at night, or in the morning. Watch the sunset, sit in a field, the woods, or near water. If you spend at least 15 minutes outside in a day, and give yourself one point. Use sunscreen.   
Connect with others, with family or friends, or even people you don’t know. Get a therapist, or another someone who can offer support, wisdom, or perspective. Share how you are in this moment, or just listen. Go to a class. Touch someone, or be touched. Massages are healing. Write a letter, or call a relative. We are the living cohort of humankind. Give yourself a point if you connect with someone today.  
Connect your spirit
Maybe you believe in a higher power. Maybe you don’t. Either way, can you find something or a place that feels sacred to you? What evokes gratitude, awe, or joy for you? Things that help you to love others, and yourself. Notice beauty. Perhaps paying attention to your breath, or a poem, a prayer, or simply being in nature. (That’s a two for one.) Join a worship service, offer to help someone, forgive someone, or simply honor your need to rest. Give yourself a point for each one in a day.  
Always, we begin again.
That’s covers the waterfront. Five categories, a multitude of options. There are many different ways to do this. And all of them are exactly right.
You can do this, and you probably already do! Try to do 3, every single day. And notice that many of your activities give you two or three points. For example, going to an exercise class could be both Moving and Socializing. Coffee and meditation in the morning sun. That’s Nature and Spirit.
Somehow we found our way in this life together, to right now, in the middle of this crazy moment on earth. Now that both of my parents have gone ahead, I’m more aware that it doesn’t last forever. Let’s enjoy the trip as best we can. We deserve it. You deserve it.
Let me know how it goes. And please, share any thoughts or ideas below.
Post update October 2020. I talked to fellow blogger Jame Black. He lists loads of science-backed benefits of going outside, with others, and for exercise here. That’s three! It’s all we need for a good day.
Revised February 2023. Thanks for the feedback, Carl W.
Feature photo by David Straight on Unsplash
 Fox, Kenneth R. “The influence of physical activity on mental well-being.” Public health nutrition 2.3a (1999): 411-418. https://journals.lww.com/co-psychiatry/Abstract/2005/03000/Exercise_and_well_being_a_review_of_mental_and.13.aspx
 Biddle, Stuart JH, and Nanette Mutrie. Psychology of physical activity: Determinants, well-being and interventions. Routledge, 2007. https://books.google.com/books?id=wCmCAgAAQBAJ&dq=well+being+physical+activity&lr=
 Johnson, Sarah. “’Creativity improves wellbeing’: art transforms mental health ward.” The Guardian. February 15, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/healthcare-network/2017/feb/15/creativity-improves-wellbeing-art-transforms-mental-health-wardhttp://www.start2.co.uk/files/downloads/Start_MC_downloads/Reports_on_Starts_work/Start_evidence_base_March_2015.pdf
 Kohll, Alan. “5 Data-backed Ways Working Outdoors Can Improve Eployee Well-Being.” Forbes. June 25, 2018. https://www.forbes.com/sites/alankohll/2018/06/25/5-data-backed-ways-working-outdoors-can-improve-employee-well-being/#41f5603b4eb8
 “Spending time outdoors is good for you.” Harvard Health Letter. July 2010. Harvard Health Publishing. Harvard Medical School. https://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/spending-time-outdoors-is-good-for-you
 Seppala, Dr. Emma. “Connectedness and Health: The Science of Social Connection.” Stanford Medicine, The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. May 8, 2014. http://ccare.stanford.edu/uncategorized/connectedness-health-the-science-of-social-connection-infographic/
 Bergland, Christopher. “Maintaining Healthy Social Connections Improves Well-Being.” Psychology Today. February 14, 2014. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201402/maintaining-healthy-social-connections-improves-well-being
 Krentzman, Amy R. “Why is Spirituality Important?” Taking Charge of Your health and Wellbeing, University of Minnesota. https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/enhance-your-wellbeing/purpose/spirituality/why-spirituality-important
 Smith, Bruce W., J. Alexis Ortiz, Kathryn T. Wiggins, Jennifer F. Bernard, and Jeanne Dalen. “Spirituality, Resilience, and Positive Emotions.” The Oxford Handbook of Psychology and Spirituality. : Oxford University Press, November 21, 2012. Oxford Handbooks Online. Date Accessed 2 Aug, 2018. http://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199729920.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780199729920-e-28 Black, James, “12 Scientific Benefits of Being Outdoors.” Wilderness Redefined, WordPress blog dedicated to making the outdoors accessible to all. Date accessed, October 19, 2020. https://wildernessredefined.com/benefits-of-being-outdoors/
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