“Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths.” – Etty Hillesum
Self-care. Few people practice it, many overlook its importance. But one thing is clear: if we don’t take care of our mental and physical needs we suffer.
Self-care could also be referred to as self-love or self-compassion. Nowadays few of us consciously make time for it because we undervalue its importance and feel that something as trivial as taking a walk, journaling, or meditating is non-productive and wastes valuable time. But a lack of self-care can lead to a breakdown in relationships, high levels of stress at work, and, eventually, illness.
The ironic thing about self-care is that people are often “too busy” being productive to take time out of their day to do something they see as non-productive. But when self-care is regularly practiced, productivity levels actually increase. It may seem inconvenient to take five minutes out of your day to sit in silence and do some deep breathing, but that five minutes will often lead to increased focus and higher motivation levels and for the rest of the day.
Self-care doesn’t need be time consuming. Earlier this year I taught a journaling workshop in which one of the participants seemed to live such a high-output stressful life that the rest of us wondered how she wasn’t out cold on the floor. When we questioned how she did it, she calmly answered, “I meditate many times per day. If I didn’t, I couldn’t do this.” In fact, she had mastered the art of being able to meditate while others were going about their busy lives around her. Whenever she started to feel overwhelmed she stopped and went deep into her own awareness, placing a shield between herself and the outside world.
So how do we avoid burnout and make self-care a simple part of daily living? The word simple is key here—if it takes too long, the reality is it won’t get done.
Here are 21 quick and easy options for making self-care a part of your daily routine:
1. Deep breathing. The beauty of this exercise is you can do it at any time in your day, no matter what you are doing. Begin by inhaling through your nose for a count of 4 or 5 and hold for same count. Exhale for the same 4 to 5 seconds, count and hold again for the same count. Make sure to exhale all of the air out of your lungs. Repeat at least 3 times.
2. Check in with yourself. Close your eyes, take a deep breath and centre yourself in your body and the present moment. Then ask how you’re doing. What do you need right now?
3. Five-minute journal write. You’ll be amazed at the difference checking in with yourself on the page will make in your day. Do this first thing in the morning or before you go to bed at night
4. Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is all about focusing on the present moment. We’re so good at multitasking nowadays half the time we don’t know what we did ten minutes ago. Taste your food. Really listen to a song. Walk the dog and notice your surroundings. There really is nothing more than what you have right here in this moment.
5. Walk around the block. Take five minutes out of your work day to walk around the block. Do this two or three times during your day to give your mind a break.
6. The awareness exercise. Find a quiet place (or close your office door) and relax in a chair. Close your eyes and bring your awareness into your body. What do you notice? Tension? Rapid breathing? A headache? Name (either out loud if alone, or in your head if not) everything you notice. Next, open your eyes and bring your awareness to your physical surroundings. Name the major things you can see and hear. Repeat this three times and note how you feel by the third time around. The effect should be a sense of calm and renewed clarity. This exercise also brings you fully into the present moment.
7. Meditate. Meditation doesn’t have to be fancy. It can simply be about sitting quietly for a couple of minutes and focusing on your breath, an image, a word or a phrase. You could even take a line from literature or a favourite poem. Focus on the image or words, allowing any thoughts that enter your mind to come and go. With practice these intruding thoughts will lessen.
8. Just say no. A big part of self-care is knowing your limits. You can’t be everything to everybody— first you must be true to your own needs and capacity. Begin practicing saying no to those things that aren’t a “Hell Yes!” and you won’t regret it one bit.
9. Carry a quote book. One of my personal favourites is Brave Enough by Cheryl Strayed. If ever I feel overwhelmed I take out this book and read over the quotes I have underlined. Often doing this will revive my thought process completely. Here’s one I love:
Ask yourself: What is the best I can do? And then do that.
10. Plan something special for the weekend. This could be anything from taking yourself on a creative date ( take a painting class, spend the day taking pictures, go to the beach…etc) The point is that once a week you incorporate something bigger than the smaller everyday self-care strategies that have kept you going throughout the week.
11. Listen to music, read, sing…whatever gives you a creative outlet. This could be on your commute or while you make dinner. I personally love to listen to audiobooks. It helps me relax while I do something mind-numbing like driving or cleaning the house.
12. Sit down to drink your morning tea/coffee. We’re used to our “to go” cups but sitting down and enjoying a few sips of tea/coffee before you begin your routine is a great way to ease into your day. If you have a porch, sit outside and really taste that drink!
13. Call someone you love. I communicate with most of my friends and family via text, but often find that conversation is broken and I’m not really present. Picking up the phone and hearing someone’s voice—really taking time to listen—helps to nurture close relationships.
14. Put your device away for one hour. I am so bad for checking my phone while I’m spending time with friends or my children. My goal is to really be focused on what I’m doing.
15. De-clutter. Yes, this is a daily practice! If we take a minute each day to clear away the small things that clutter our lives, we avoid build up and the onerous task of one huge clear out. Keep your counter tops clutter free, your desk, your car…Studies show that the less cluttered your personal space, the less cluttered your mind.
16. Be aware of what you put into your body. You don’t need to do a cleanse or make a drastic change—the likelihood is that won’t stick anyway. But if you are simply aware of what you put into your body each day, and make a decision to be kind to yourself, over time you will make better choices. Make sure, though, that you allow yourself some of the things you enjoy—guilt-free.
17. Create a vision board and add to it regularly. Granted, this requires some up-front effort that may consume some time. Set aside a couple of hours on a weekend and have fun flicking through magazines and thinking about your goals for the next five years. Put the board somewhere you will see it often (your office, the kitchen) and then add it it regularly. This is a great way to keep you on track with your life goals.
18. Overestimate. One of the things that makes us feel rushed and amps up stress levels is when we underestimate how long it will take us to get somewhere or complete a task. If we overestimate, which allows time buffers in our schedule, we stop rushing from one task to the next and have some breathing room in our day.
19. Acquire an essentialist mind. I just read a great book called “Essentialism” and really learned the importance of giving our best to a few important things rather than spreading ourselves thin over many tasks.
20. Plan, plan plan! To take good care of ourselves we need to plan ahead. I know I would never see my friends if we didn’t check our calendars together and then make a plan for a night out. Planning ahead allows us to make room for the things that help us feel good.
21. Stop “should-ing” on yourself. How often do you tell yourself you “should” do something, but don’t really want to? Remove should from your vocabulary and decide instead that you will or won’t do something. But take the pressure off. The things we “should” do are often the things we don’t want to do. If you have many of these, ask yourself why you feel you should do those things. What would happen if you didn’t?
Which of these strategies could you incorporate into your life right now? Pick as many as you feel you can manage and make a commitment to practice them over the next week. Then take out your journal and write what comes to mind in answer to the following prompts:
- What do I need more of in my life?
- What do I need less of?
- In what ways do I resist taking care of myself right now?
Photo credit: Lauren Rushing