In today’s age, we have an unlimited amount of distractions and obligations vying for our attention. We are tasked with doing more, being more, and having more. We feel the pressure to “have it all” – which may include owning a home or business, being employed full-time, running a household, caring for our aging parents, being romantic with our partners, raising children, being active in our community, and more.
Despite these amazing opportunities to create and engage in the world, we still don’t have any more hours in the day than we did 20 years ago. Time and energy are precious resources and they are stretched thin.
So what happens when self-care is the last thing on your mind?
What is self-care?
Self-care is not necessarily about getting manicures and massages weekly (unless that’s your thing). It’s about prioritizing what makes you feel alive and joyful. It’s about recognizing your limitations and basic needs as a human. It’s putting your ego aside so that you can replenish yourself and be present in your life.
Self-care is putting your oxygen mask on first, before you help others.
How can you be a loving partner, present parent, or devoted friend if you are not taking care of yourself?
When you don’t take care of yourself, your work and contributions suffer. Your relationships grow more difficult or taxing. It’s harder to feel joy or motivation. You may feel numb, lonely, or overwhelmed.
When you have a busy schedule, finding time to practice self-care may be the last thing on your mind. If you feel overwhelmed or tired, your response may be to “push through it” or “tough it out”. But this approach will only lead to burnout, fatigue, unhappiness, and maybe even resentment.
Next time you tell yourself to just “grin and bear it”, try one of these self-care tips instead:
1) Question the busy.
Wait a minute, isn’t this a post about how to fit things into a busy schedule, and you’re asking me to make myself less busy? Not happening.
It may feel this way. If you believe you are too busy for self-care, then that will be your truth. No amount of time management will allow for self-care if you don’t believe it’s important.
I invite you to question the busyness of your life. Do you see busyness as a sign of productivity? When did you learn the importance of being busy? When was the last time someone asked you how you were…and you didn’t use the word “crazy-busy”?
2) Consider a morning or evening routine.
Even just three minutes of silence or time sitting in the sun doing nothing can be a tremendous way to take care of yourself. Consider getting up 5-15 minutes earlier so that you have the time to greet the morning, drink coffee, meditate, or take a walk. Try getting to bed 15 minutes early so that you can have some screen-free time as you journal or read. When self-care becomes part of your routine, you won’t see it as another task on your list, but as a regular part of your day. After a while, you’ll see the benefits and it will be become a non-negotiable.
If you have a pet, spend a few extra minutes playing with them or petting them as part of your morning or evening routine. When I take my dog out in the morning, I take an extra 5 minutes to just look around me, appreciate the sky and sounds around me. My dog loves the extra time to romp around outside.
3) Schedule it!
If you have a full schedule, chances are that your calendar is your best friend. Use this to your advantage. View scheduling your self-care just as important as any other commitment on your calendar.
What would happen if you treat self-care as a non-negotiable in your schedule? Try it this week. Schedule a self-care activity. See what happens. What about blocking out 30 minutes every day for a screen-free lunch? What about blocking out time on the weekend to call your family (instead of fitting in it when you have time)? If your calendar helps you manage your time, it can certainly help you manage your self-care.
4) Set limits and boundaries around technology.
Do you check your phone or email first thing in the morning? This can be a recipe for feeling frazzled before you’ve even dressed. See if you can start your morning and have 15 minutes of being awake before you check your phone.
Can you commit to having your meals, family time, or commute be phone free? What happens if you put your phone in another room when you’re eating? What about leaving it in the car when you meet a friend for coffee?
This may be one of the easiest self-care tips because you aren’t technically “adding” anything. However, it may be the one of the more challenging ones due to our technological addictions.
Setting limits around technology may not seem like self-care, but it is. Having certain activities to be phone or screen-free shows your commitment to balance and will allow you to be and feel more present. It will result in you being able to deeply participate in your experience with yourself and those around you.
5) Consistency is more important than duration.
What you do every day is more important than what you do once in a while.
If you can commit to spend 3 minutes meditating every day, that will be much more beneficial than meditating 30 mins once a week. What about taking an extra 5 minutes on your daily walk with your dog?
Ask yourself: what can I commit to do every day? Perhaps eating your lunch without distractions or writing down a gratitude list at the end of the day are good places to start.
Bottom Line: you DO have the time.
If you have the time to read this article – or even skim it – you have the time to fit self-care into your schedule.
Try one small change today to see what happens. You may be surprised at how easily you’re able to incorporate self-care into your schedule once you’re able to shift your mindset.
If you continue to struggle with prioritizing self-care, consider the help of a trusted friend, online or in-person group, or therapist to hold you accountable or work through any beliefs that hold you back from taking care of yourself.
What are you biggest barriers to self-care? Are they logistical – such as being a single parent or working 2 jobs? Unrealistic expectations from your boss? Beliefs you have about yourself?
Arianna Smith, MA, LPC