26 Ways to Nurture Mind and Body: revisit the 2021 Alphabet of Hope
Monday January 17, 2022
Throughout 2021, our fourth Alphabet of Hope shared top tips for practical action to reduce stress and nurture mind and body. Bilateral Rb Survivor and WE C Hope Volunteer CEO, Abby White, introduces our complete 2021 alphabet, and offers suggestions for creating your own Self-Care Action Plan to help ease stress through difficult moments and tough days.
Life with retinoblastoma is tough! All three of our previous alphabets illustrate this very well. The COVID-19 pandemic has only added to the stress, dramatically altering our lives, from interactions with one another and the world around us, to our medical care, education, and workplace experience.
Sustained stress, anxiety, and intense negative emotions can severely impact mental and physical health. We may not be able to change or avoid the stress-inducing events, but we can choose specific actions that alter the degree to which they impact our wellbeing. When we reduce stress, we are more able to think clearly, process information, make rational decisions and healthy choices, and support ourselves and one another through these difficult experiences.
While serving the retinoblastoma community through this global pandemic, the majority of our international WE C Hope team have been, and continue to navigate significant personal challenges. Those of us living with lifelong effects of retinoblastoma are acutely aware of the need for self-care to reduce the risk of overwhelm and burnout, especially when the road is tough.
So our 2021 #AlphabetOfHope gathered together our top tips to support mental and physical health. Each letter entry shared one practical tip, published every two weeks throughout the year, with further information, valuable TED Talks, and other resources on the topic.
This video showcases the complete 2021 #MindAndBody Alphabet. A text-only version is shared below, with a description of each image shared. A link at the end of this page will take you to the 2021 Alphabet Page, containing individual letter entries with their further resources, shared throughout the year.
Complete Alphabet - Text Only (with image descriptions)
Ask Questions and Ask for Help, because you can’t and shouldn’t do this alone. We all need information and support to grow, to find our way through tough times, to weave our darker threads with beauty into the tapestry of life, and gain inner calm. Identify what you need, take steps to get the answers, and put supports in place for your own well-being.
Image: a silhouette of two hikers climbing up a mountain at sunrise. One hiker is reaching down to help the second hiker climb up.
Breathe! When we’re anxious or angry, we tense up, hold our breath or breathe fast and shallow, increasing stress even more. Slow, deep breathing almost instantly diffuses tension, helping us feel calm, clear-headed and in control. Add some aromatherapy or a mindful walk in fresh air for a greater oasis of calm.
Image: a young girl in profile, holding a bubble wand and blowing bubbles. The background is filed with bubbles in clear focus against the blurred gold and green of a natural landscape.
Community is the best way through tough times, and friends who cross the valley with us are often central to our healing. Find others who can support you, and stay well connected. Choose your people carefully, in the physical world and online. Tell people how they can help you, show your appreciation, and support one another.
Image: a multicultural group of children stands in a large well-spaced circle on a lawn, verdant foliage behind them. They are holding hands, passing a hula-hoop from one child to the next, without breaking their circle of hands held.
Do Something New! Cancer can quickly shrink and devour our lives. Activity changes our focus. Learn something every day to keep your mind sharp and open your world. Stretch beyond your comfort zone, and set aside your worries for a while. Be surprised, entertained, enthralled. It’s never too late to begin something new.
Image: a woman facing away from the camera, reaching one arm up to the sunrise.
Exercise helps us relax, increases brain power and is proven to overcome depression. As little as 15-20 minutes of physical activity, 3 times a week can have sustained positive effects on mental health. Find what works for you. In tough times, that may be just 10 minutes of yoga, or a walk down the street. Start where you can and build from there.
Image: a toddler taking tentative steps on park path during a family walk. Behind, her mother and father are knelt down encouraging and cheering for her. It is a bright sunny day, with tall green trees in the background.
Feelings: You don’t have to be positive all the time. It’s perfectly OK to feel sad, angry, annoyed, frustrated, scared, or anxious. Having feelings doesn’t make us a negative person, it makes us human. Be aware of your emotions; name and respect them, so you can let them go in a healthy way.
Image: the view through the barrel of a breaking wave. Golden tones of a distant sunset reflect in the arching water, merging with rich blues and greens of sea and sky, and sparkling silver droplets at the crest. The palette changes from black flecked with gold in the depths to azure and turquoise high above.
Gratitude filters the toxic sprawl of negativity. Daily practice helps combat depression, enhance wellbeing, outlook and relationships, and improve focus and productivity. Keep a Gratitude Journal – recording the story of small daily gifts and their impact on your life nurtures personal growth and inner peace.
Image: two hands reaching up into the sky. They appear to be holding the sun. The sky is a beautiful canvas of pink and purple tones.
Hydrate to keep your mind and body balanced. Most adults and children don’t drink enough or hydrate steadily throughout the day. Dehydration causes fatigue, headaches, muscle aches and mood swings, and negative emotions become harder to manage. Put water by your bed and drink when you wake up. Aim for at least 2 litres (8 glasses) throughout the day.
Image: a white man propped up in bed on one elbow, using his other hand to drink water from a glass that was clearly sitting on the bedside table.
Imagine something better than this moment – a comforting place, memory, future event, or fantasy world. Children process experiences, explore new ideas and escape reality through play and art. As we grow, we lose our daydreaming skills and may need some prompts such as guided meditation and creative arts. Give your imagination wings today.
Image: the wondrous milky way rising in an ethereal purple-blue sky, above a silhouette of a single tree in full-leaf on a hill top.
Joy is soul-food. Don’t let your heart’s nourishment be an accident. Don’t wait for the perfect time “after…” to treat yourself or share special activities. Create sparks of light in these messy moments right now. Rest, breathe, and notice one another. Savour the small daily gifts. Pay attention to the experience and how you feel. Be enriched by joy.
Image: a joyful young white girl in pale pink dress, extending both arms upwards, offering the peace hand gesture. The background is a blurred field of wild yellow flowers.
Know Yourself – thoughts, fears, judgements, habits, needs, joys and stressbusters. To understand our choices and actions, we must look objectively at ourselves. Our thoughts and personal bias are potentially destructive filters, and self-awareness is the best antidote. There’s always more water in the well, but we have to know how to tap into it.
Image: a red butterfly is reflected in water as it hovers above, against a pale blue sky.
Love Yourself and #LetGo! Self-discovery, compassion and acceptance are pathways to peace. Releasing our burdens of blame, guilt, shame and regret is tough, but liberating. Show yourself the same kindness, patience, and supportive words you give others who are hurting. Know your worth, celebrate you, and let your light shine.
Image two hands wrapped around a flickering candle. The candle’s light illuminating the hands forms the shape of a heart against a black background.
Mindfulness: the deliberate act of slowing down to notice everything within and around you, without judgment, It can profoundly enhance mental health. All we ever truly have is this one present moment. When we fixate on past events or future worries that may never be, we lose the abundant gift of calm available right now. Be aware and invite calm in.
Image: a stack of stones alone on a beach, and crashing ocean waves in the distance, under a sky merging from blues to sunset orange.
Nourish your mental and physical health with a balanced diet. Disrupted routines, changing appetite and increased stress affect when, what and how much we eat. When nutrition suffers, we have less energy and become prone to illness; we’re less able to manage strong emotions and make difficult decisions. Take action to eat well in tough times.
Image: a colourful array of fruits, vegetables and pulses.
Outside heals within. As little as five minutes in green space can release physical and emotional tension, boost positive mood, expand thoughts and improve working memory. The longer we spend in nature, the greater the health benefits. If you can’t go outdoors, bring Mother Nature in to soothe body, mind and spirit. Take your Vitamin N today!
Image: a curving walking path lined with greenery and white and pink flowers, under a blue sky filled with light clouds.
Plan Ahead for greater calm. Manage your space and time. Create a procedure support plan for/with your child. Identify possible stressors and solutions early, rather than reacting to events as they happen. Plan for tomorrow the night before, so your brain can rest lightly. Plans may change, but a little prep time is a huge investment in your wellbeing.
Image: a notebook and pen on a blue wood table. Around the notebook sits a pair of glasses, a cup of coffee, and a small plant with green leaves.
Quality Time holds magic. Savour these moments of self-care, shared and private joy. When you do, you can take them courageously forward as bright gems of hope through the day. How can you open up daily space for yourself and those you love? What can you do with that time to ensure true delight, healing and peace may thrive?
Image: two women chatting over cups of tea. The woman on the left is smiling and looking at her friend as she listens. She is facing the camera. The woman on the right is moving her hands as she talks to her friend. Her back is the to camera.
Read well to protect your mental health. Facts inform, enabling us to be better advocates, make good decisions and practice self-care. Escaping into fictional worlds can be very cathartic and enlightening. But mindless reading stokes confusion, fear and anxiety. Choose what you consume carefully.
Image: a man with a serious expression sitting on his couch at home, reading his tablet.
Self-Care is vital in our over-stretched world. No one can serve from an empty cup. When we replenish our spirit, we nourish peace, hope, and ability to care for others. Listen to your body, go slow, gather your energy, and take small compassionate steps for YOU. That may be as simple as showering and putting on clean clothes to feel yourself again.
Image: a photo taken from the ground, looking up through tall, green trees. The gap in the tree tops forms a heart, framing a blue sky and a scattering of clouds.
Traditions that mark life events and annual holidays shape our identity and wellbeing. Familiar customs bring refreshment and joy or solace and a way through. Tough times may impact those comforting rituals, but we can also create new ones as beacons of hope through and beyond the storm. How can you adapt and create traditions to help you restore?
Image: a family eating together at a table in a backyard. One child is running around the table. A woman is walking out of the back door carrying a plate of food. Lights and rainbow coloured bunting are strung across the trees.
Unplug regularly from devices and pressures to create breathing space. Social media can be full of negativity and misinformation. Over-commitment stretches us too thin. Learn to say No without guilt, and put down your phone during meal times or before bed. Be aware of how you feel, so you can set boundaries to protect your freedom and wellbeing.
Image: a woman swinging with her arms outstretched. The picture is taken from below and behind her as she wings into the sun against a bright blue sky.
Volunteer! People who give consistently to the world are happier, less burdened by life, and more successful. Give freely from your heart, without expectation of anything in return, and joy will flow back to you. Support a friend in need. Extend a hand of kindness to a stranger. Donate, serve, share hope, and help build a brighter future for our world.
Image: a diverse group of 9 people – different ages and ethnicities, etc. They are standing in a row, arms around each other, all wearing the same shirts with the word “volunteer” written across the front. The background is grass, trees, and a hazy, sunlit sky.
Write! Liberate your tired mind through journaling, poetry or fiction. Writing is a magical act, drawing silver stands of mental clutter to the pensive page. Find a quiet space and time to write, Begin with just 3 minutes daily. Try dictating on your phone. Let go of heavy thoughts and emotions, or take flight to fictional worlds, and feel the tension release.
Image: a black woman sitting on a couch, smiling as she writes with a pen in a journal.
eXpectations influence how we experience life. Rigid expectations may be unnecessary burdens and pressure points that set us up for failure, disappointment and pain. Embracing life requires us to evaluate, and understand what we truly want and need. Let go of ideals, and be flexible with yourself and others to welcome this day with all its unseen possibilities.
Image: sun shining through the clouds as it rises over green hills against a bright blue sky.
You Matter! When life is messy and intense, we can still find beauty and calm by recognising and honouring our needs. You are the author of your life, and you deserve peace and joy. So do what YOU need. Create your own doors to walk through, and help others through them as you go. Take responsibility and be the change you want in your life.
Image: a lantern with lighted candle and heart-shaped cut-outs casting a heart-shaped rosy-gold glow on the wood wall behind it.
Zzzz Sleep aids physical healing, focus, productivity, and calm. Well rested, we are more able to recall pleasant memories, think clearly and positively, and manage negative emotions. Sleep is cued by diverse factors, from light and mealtimes to physical and social activity. When routines crumble, sleep cues falter. Take action to protect your sleep.
Image: a young black girl sleeping, a teddy bear wrapped in her arms. She has a peaceful smile on her face.
Create a Self-Care Action Plan
Self-Care encompasses all the things we do to support our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. From personal hygiene, healthy eating, exercise, and restorative sleep to socialising, journaling, mindfulness, and creativity. From daily acts of self-care to supports that can ease our stress in difficult moments and throughout tough days. Many of the #MindAndBody entries highlight specific self-care actions.
Self-care is not indulgent or avoidant self-soothing behaviour when it truly refreshes the individual without harming their future (for example, it isn’t paid for with credit that will cause future stress). True self-care helps the person cope better with life’s challenges, even between active participation in the activity.
The specific approaches you choose may differ from your partner, siblings, other relatives, friends, neighbours, and colleagues because we are all unique. Our needs, tastes, interests, habits, abilities, time, and other factors differ.
A positive daily self-care practice includes activities that nurture body, mind and spirit. We recommend selecting several tips that you think may work for you, rather than trying many. Consider how you already include self-care in your regular routines, and where new practices can be added so they easily become part of your day.
Create a Self-Care Action Plan to support your coping in difficult moments. List 5-10 actions that can help relax your body, calm your thoughts, and/or comfort your heart. Place the list somewhere easily accessible, and when you notice you are becoming stressed, pick one action from the list that you can easily do in the moment.
Place your Self-care Action Plan somewhere you will frequently see it throughout the day so you are regularly reminded of its content. For example, a printed card on your nightstand, or a digital file on your phone for quick access from anywhere.
As I have limited sight, a printed page on my fridge door is pretty useless. So my Self-care Action Plan is both a file on my phone’s Notes App, and a page at the top of my daily plan, which is linked from my desktop for quick access. Here is my Self Care Action Plan:
- Slowly drink a big glass of cool water.
- Focus on a few calming yoga poses, with affirmations – whatever I need in that moment.
- Take a 20 minute walk around the park. I’m blessed to live right next to the community park – perhaps you have a garden, or green space close by.
- Breathe in for 5, hold for 7, out for 9. I find this the most effective deep breathing technique to restore calm and balance fast.
- Spend time with Ritzie (my gorgeous guide dog), cuddles or playing.
- Listen to a guided meditation podcast. Meditation Minis are less than 10 minutes.
- Play a few rounds of Scrabble or Hearts.
- Create something (writing, colouring, music).
- Journal about the stressful thoughts, starting with a question, and the intention to end on a more positive note. I usually dictate, as this better matches the flow of thoughts, and prevents my habit of back-reading and editing that arises from writing for work.
Things I Can Do to Feel Great is a cut-and-paste craft activity children can do to create their own Self-Care Action Plan. This printable PDF includes space for children to write down the things that help them cope in difficult times.
Practice and Be Prepared
Creating calm when we are already stressed is not easy. By practicing self-care strategies daily when we feel calm, they become familiar and natural, and through regular practice, we build up coping skills to face the difficult times more effectively.
Don’t wait until life becomes stressful to test them out. Start using them when life is calm to gain confidence, reap their benefits, and strengthen your ability to cope through tougher times. We are more likely to use these self-care tools when they are most needed if we have already prepared, practiced them, and established a degree of comfort and familiarity with them.
Visit the 2021 Alphabet of Hope page to explore the further reading, TED Talks and other resources shared with each individual letter entry throughout the year.