Whether your life is crazy busy or not, self-care is critical. It’s not indulgent or selfish, it’s simply putting on your own airmask first. We cannot fully be present for other people, provide loving care for the relationships in our lives, or do great work if we don’t first take care of our own needs.
Self-care doesn’t need to be time consuming, complicated, or cost money. Self-care looks different for everyone but it should meet the following:
- It is something you enjoy.
- It revitalizes you and helps you relax.
- It slows down your thoughts, your breathing, and lifts your mood.
For some people, taking time to do something nice for themselves or take breaks when needed is really difficult. I used to be this person who always felt guilty taking time to relax because my to do list was never-ending (it still is). I confused my productivity with self-worth which led me to overload my day and run myself down. If I woke up tired I was already upset because I couldn’t accomplish what I wanted to and therefore felt poorly about myself. This led to martyrdom and always putting my needs last.
Perhaps you’re reading this and thinking, self-care is a nice idea but who really has time to take a bath or meditate every day? I have to rush around just to make it to the gym! Sometimes it’s easier to see just how badly it’s needed when we step into someone else’s shoes…
Imagine, you’ve been putting in 60-70 hours per week all month long for a big project at work. You’ve averaged 4 cups of coffee each day and can only fall asleep with the assistance of sleep aids or alcohol. The only thing that mellows you out after work is TV or social media. You find it impossible to shut off your brain anymore and feel wired but tired all of the time.
Or imagine it’s 5:30pm, you don’t know what to make for dinner (again), the kids are getting hungry and all you want is a massage and a nap. You haven’t had more than 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep in as long as you can remember and you’re pretty sure that if your kids whine one more time you might scream.
These imaginary scenarios describe people who desperately need a break (and they also describe segments of my own life). If you recognize yourself in these scenarios, it probably doesn’t even occur to you that you could take a break. However, if you feel like you don’t have time for a break, YOU ARE the person who needs a break the most. Have you been running non-stop and put self-care on hold indefinitely?
The truth is, your to do list has no end. There will never be enough time to get everything done that you want to get done. Much like pacing a tough workout, we have to pace ourselves throughout the day. We can’t expect to max out for 8 hours straight at work and then be equally focused and driven at home. It’s unrealistic and we will slowly but surely burn out.
Here are some suggestions for pacing yourself throughout your day:
- Morning relaxation (5-20 min):
- Sip coffee and pet your dog
- Eat your breakfast without your phone and stare out the window
- Read a book
- Mid-morning break:
- Get away from work/emails/kids and go for a walk
- Do 1-5 min of slow deep breathing
- Lunch Break:
- Go sit at a table (not your desk) and eat a meal slowly. No checking emails!
- Lay down and take a 15 min nap
- Go sit quietly and close your eyes for 5-10 min. Set a timer if needed. You’re not allowed to do anything!
- Create a bedtime ritual that relaxes you
- Do not use electronics within 1 hour of sleep or read emails. In fact, don’t read/talk about anything that would cause stress. The day is over and it’s time to rest!
Here’s the kicker – I want you to take ALL of these breaks. Not just one or two of them. Try taking 5 short breaks throughout your day and notice how you feel. You will not only be more relaxed but you were probably equally or more productive because you took rest. Go on, you deserve it.