- Written by Christa Melnyk Hines
My mother-in-law’s favorite saying is, “The secret to a happy life is lots of small treats.” Sadly for many of us, between our family’s needs and the never-ending to-do list, time spent treating ourselves feels like time squandered. Nonetheless, enjoying an indulgence now and then, even if it makes you feel a tad guilty, can help you relax and add a little sweetness to life.
“Guilty pleasures are very important if they are done in moderation,” says Laura Murphy, founder and president of Real Families, Inc., which provides marriage, parent and financial coaching. “Self-care is crucial to being the best... you can be. Putting yourself last is not healthy.”
Schedule time for yourself each week - even if it means putting it on the calendar. And it doesn’t have to be anything elaborate or costly.
“Walk around the neighborhood by yourself or meet with friends at the gym or a dance class,” Murphy suggests. “Then, look for ways each day that you can have ‘mini-moments’ that give you energy, such as a 10-minute power nap, reading a magazine for 15 minutes (or) calling up a friend just to share a good joke - laughter is a great indulgence!”
Play. Dee Kauffman plays puzzle games on her Nintendo DS to relax. “I feel... mentally fine-tuned. It’s a way to use my brain in a non-stressful way and helps me unwind after those long days,” she says. “I may be the only house on the block where the kids do not have a handheld game system, but mom does!”
In fact, studies show that video games, board games and mind puzzlers, like crosswords and sudoku, are excellent ways to reduce stress and improve brain function and memory. Researchers at the University of Rochester report that video games also improve players’ abilities in everyday life like driving, multi-tasking and quicker decision-making.
Healing Touch. Whether you spend a full day at the spa or sneak in a quick hand or foot massage, self-care can brighten your mood, boost your self-esteem and help you feel beautiful and relaxed. According to a study from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Swedish massage in particular reduces the stress hormone cortisol in the body and boosts immunity by increasing white blood cells, which fight infection and disease.
Watch TV. Set your DVR and schedule a time for your favorite television show. A little TV can take you out of your own reality allowing you to indulge in other people’s dramas. Kasey Weidman sets aside every Thursday night to watch Project Runway alone in the “grown-up room” (her formal living room) with a frozen mojito in hand.
Read. About once or twice a month, Caroline Winkler, following a hectic evening of extracurricular activities and homework, spends the next morning reading in bed after her kids leave for school. “ [Reading] takes you out of yourself and your daily concerns and brings you back refreshed and ready for more,” she says.
Get Creative. Try your hand at scrapbooking, sewing, knitting or cooking. Even if you feel creatively challenged, the act of focusing your attention completely on a project is meditative and calming.
Indulge Your Sense of Smell. Aromatherapy, which is the use of natural essential plant oils like lavender, clary sage and geranium, can play a subtle role in influencing mood and physical well-being. Some hospitals even integrate aromatherapy to create a more healing environment. Something as simple as the smell of cookies baking, for example, provides sick patients, anxious families and busy staff with a homey scent and a warm, delicious treat.
Catch Up Over Coffee. Join a friend for a cup of coffee and conversation. Not only is socializing with a friend good for your emotional health, enjoyed in moderation, coffee is an antioxidant-rich drink. Research reveals that coffee drinkers are less likely to suffer from Parkinson’s Disease, Type 2 Diabetes and liver cancer.
Go Shopping. Shop for yourself whether it’s bargain hunting or as Murphy suggests, indulging in a daydream. “Go into a very nice dress shop and just start trying on clothes. Think of the places you would dream of wearing it: Paris? San Francisco? London?”
Tickle the Taste Buds. Plan a special dinner out with friends or your family. Jennifer Gouteriez treats her family to a once-a-month dinner at an expensive, non-chain restaurant. “Fine dinner with a bottle of wine - $30 to $50 a plate.” She says after working hard all month, the special dinner is a way to treat herself and her family while also trying something new.
Take a Hike. Exercise is not only good for your body, it’s proven to lift your mood and clear your head. If you can, take your fitness routine outdoors and you’ll reap even greater benefits. A recent study out of Japan found that time spent among plants and trees improves the body’s immune function while also reducing blood pressure and lowering the stress hormone cortisol.
Head for the Hills. If you can swing it, escape for a day. Rebecca Rowley plans a once-a-year, late-season ski day with a friend following a demanding week spent with her children over spring break. The day restores her sense of adventure. “I like having time for myself and I think that it is good to know that my family will be fine for a day without me and that they appreciate it when I’m around,” she says.
Whatever you do, sprinkle your life with small treats to add a sense of delight to those otherwise routine days. After all, as Murphy says, “Taking care of yourself so that you are revived, energized and ready to lead your busy family is one of the best gifts you can give your family.”
For Christa, a freelance writer, wife and mother of two active boys, a little chocolate every day is an essential guilty pleasure.