Life is busy. Whether you feel like a taxi driver for your children’s after-school activities, you’re working long hours at the office, you’re raising a newborn, or maybe all of the above, free time can be hard to come by.
So when someone suggests that you take time for self-care, no wonder you laugh and say, “when do I have time for that?”
Practicing self-care is an important part of taking care of your mental and physical health. In particular, if you struggle with anxiety, depression, trauma, addiction, or other mental health issues, self-care is an essential part of healing. Even if you see the need for self-care in your life, it’s easy to feel like you don’t have the time to make it happen.
Perhaps it’s an issue of cost. Trendy “self-care” tells you to go get a massage, take a vacation, or otherwise spend exorbitant amounts of money with the promise of “relaxation and rejuvenation.” For most people, this isn’t practical or realistic. While sometimes you might want to “treat yo’ self,” for the most part you can do good quality self-care for free.
Maybe you’re over the trend of self-care justifying selfish and self-centered behaviors. I get that. It’s not meant to be “I do what I want” or “I do what feels good” all the time. True quality self-care Is not designed to replace loving other people and being the best parent, friend, spouse, partner, child, employee, or person you can be. It’s meant to prep you to fill those roles well without burning out.
Self-care involves physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and relational health. Sometimes self-care feels exactly like what you don’t want to do, but it’s what will be good for you in the long-term. Think of it like training for a marathon: you may hate going on those longer runs, but you know in the long term your training will help you prepare your body for the race ahead of you.
How to Make Self-Care Work for You
Check your thoughts about self care. If you’re looking at it as if it’s selfish or wrong, you won’t be able to benefit from it, instead getting distracted by feelings of guilt. Reframe self-care as something you’re doing to take care of your mental health and better fill the roles in your life. See self-care as a discipline, something you consciously consider. Work it into your routine, like taking a vitamin.
When you’re short on time, get creative about how you do self-care. In a recent training I completed on compassion fatigue, the trainer talked extensively about a concept she calls “flexi-self-care.” This type of self-care takes advantage of small bits of time you have throughout your day where you can pause for a moment and do something nurturing. Identify for yourself ways to practice self-care that take as little as 1 minute and make a practice of trying these things lately.
Take a look at some of these examples of self-care on a time budget.
1 minute of self-care
Take three long, slow, deep abdominal breaths. (It can help to place a hand on your abdomen to feel it rising and falling.)
Do a yoga pose.
Give a loved one a hug.
Feel your feet flat on the ground, supported by the earth beneath them.
Read a favorite quotation, affirmation, mantra, or Scripture verse.
Look out a window and observe what’s happening outside.
Identify what emotion you’re feeling currently and where you feel it in your body.
Squeeze a stress ball.
Look at a picture of a loved one.
5 minutes of self-care
5-4-3-2-1 grounding exercise: name and describe 5 things you see, 4 things you feel without moving, 3 things you hear, 2 things you smell or like the smell of, and 1 thing you taste or like the taste of.
Write a list of 10 things you are grateful for.
Send a text to a friend.
Stretch out sore muscles.
Four-square breathing: breathe in for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts, breathe out for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts. Repeat 10 times.
Complete one small item on a to-do list (ie. making a phone call, responding to an email, scheduling an appointment).
Visualize a place that feels calm and peaceful and enjoy the sensations associated with it.
Open a window and take a few deep breaths of fresh air.
Drink a glass of water.
Listen to your favorite song.
Light a candle and watch the flame.
Play with a pet.
10 minutes of self-care
Do a 10 minute YouTube workout. (I like this playlist from Yoga with Adriene.)
Eat a healthy snack.
Write in a journal.
Put on a dance music playlist and dance around your space.
Clean out your email inbox.
Tidy a space in your home.
Watch a YouTube tutorial for an activity you’re interested in learning.
Work on a crossword puzzle or a word search.
Play catch with a dog or child (or even with a wall!)
Do a Headspace meditation.
Watch a video that makes you laugh.
Read a magazine article.
20 minutes of self-care
Go for a brisk walk outside.
Read a chapter in a book.
Listen to a podcast, lecture, or sermon about a topic that interests you.
Call a friend, family member, or significant other on the phone to chat.
Work on a craft project, draw, or paint.
Write a thank-you note to someone.
Make yourself a cup of tea or coffee and sip it slowly.
Take a hot shower.
Play a musical instrument.
Clean a room in your home or your desk at work.
Create a photo collage of images that help you feel loved, inspired, or that bring you joy.
Take these lists and make them your own. Pay attention to how long it takes you to do these activities: you may find that prayer can be as short as 1 minute, or your one yoga pose develops into a 10-minute yoga practice. Be willing to be creative and try out some of these tools to make self-care something you can do every day, not just as a special treat.
Are you struggling to find time for self-care? Have you been dealing with anxiety or depression and aren’t sure how to shake it? Maybe you’ve tried some of these self-care practices before, but they’ve fallen short of what you need. At Restored Hope, I offer counseling services to help you explore the roots of your anxiety and depression and begin to feel like yourself again. Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to set up your first appointment.