Oof. The data bots have us pegged: we’re tired, crazy-busy-yet-unproductive, overextended, stressed out people…and the list goes on…
It feels like everywhere we turn on the internet, we’re bombarded with self-care reminders, advice, #inspo, and products, yet nothing really seems to fit the bill.
Why don’t these options resonate? Perhaps because when we happen upon a few sweet minutes of “free” time these days, we’re praaaaaabably not likely to “give” that time to ourselves. Am I right?
We find 3 minutes here, 5 minutes there, that we can sometimes use for ourselves, but more often than not, the time fizzles away.
Those precious few minutes “free” are spent dealing with other matters, usually priority “urgent” and the “me time” falls by the wayside. Sometimes the time is lost down the phone-in-hand social media drain, other times, it’s staring off into nothing (or into Netflix), or spinning around trying-finish-this-one-last-necessary-thing.
Time that might have been used to refuel (or time that is used to refuel) is lost to the abyss of THINGS taking up our mental space.
Possibly the worst though, when we’re in this sacrifice pattern long enough, we start to sacrifice the time we need to meet our most basic needs, and then things can really get dicey…and hard.
Anybody else forget to eat on particularly hard days? Or have days where the best we can get is 2 minutes alone in the bathroom, if that? Why is taking care of ourselves so hard?!
I swear, I’m not trying to be a martyr, I just CANNOT figure out how to fit stress relief in my day!
If this sounds familiar (especially given our year in pandemic-mode), you’re not alone on that groundhog day carousel.
It’s a slippery ride downhill, just gradual enough that we barely notice the passing scenery or the mounting velocity, and before we know it, we’re so far down the mountain that taking a different path can feel unfathomable, unchartable…impossible.
So what do we do about it? How do we “self-care” when we have zero time, zero bandwidth, and a gazillion other things that feel (or are) higher priority?
How this self-care guide is different from the rest
Less than ideal self-care is something I’ve struggled with for many years, and I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been encouraged to “choose” myself, or put my needs “first” — as a rule.
I dunno about you, but when I’m advised to “choose” and “prioritize” my self-care, I have to scoff a little.
I can’t help but feel that this well-intentioned advice is tinged with a little judgment and frankly, some lack of insight into my situation. I’m already struggling to juggle a gazillion proverbial balls, and this “choice” — or even, “responsibility” — to “put myself first” feels like an anvil was thrown in the mix.
Ok, I get it, there is a sound message in there, but it just doesn’t land in a helpful way for me when I’m THIS DEEP in the lack-of-self-care pattern.
So what do we do when we’re on that slippery downward spiral, desperate for self-care without a clue how, when, or what to implement?
When we don’t have time for a course, a challenge, a checklist, or a beautiful planner that we REALLY don’t have the brainspace for, how do we “choose” ourselves then? When stress levels are off the charts, where the hell do we even start?
If I see another ad on my feed for a self-love journal, click-bait to a life coach’s secret, or face mask self-care tips, my head might explode. No shade here if that works for you, and there is definitely a place for the THINGS in self-care (to be fair, I do love a good face mask), but the help we need is NOT about the stuff you can buy.
So how is this self-care guide different?
In pharmacy, my goal is to find the simplest option to conquer a problem (i.e. the fewer the medications and interventions, the better!). When it comes to self-care though, finding the SIMPLEST and most effective activity to nourish the soul is easier said than done, especially for overextended folks, like us.
THUS, my goal for this self-care guide is to help you QUICKLY find some REASONABLE self-care options that fit your needs and help you recharge, rather than just kill time.
How to use this self-care guide
It wasn’t until I started really delving into this blog that I started becoming aware of HOW MUCH we talk about self-care.
There are actually several self-care tools for measurement and improvement in the literature, like the self-care wheel, the NAMI self-care inventory, and others. Sadly though, like so much of what I find “out there” on the internet, these tools just aren’t cutting it for me.
I don’t need to measure my current amount of self-care….I know I’m deficient, so how can I change that? What about when I’m in that moment of need?
Searching for the perfect soul replenishing activity DURING the moment of need can be a little overwhelming, even if it would be worth the effort for my mental health. I hate to admit it, but there are times where I just can’t spend those last few precious drops of energy simply to FIGURE OUT what to do.
I need ideas readily available, at my fingertips, and preassembled so I can use the LEAST amount of mental footwork to make it happen.
THIS SELF-CARE GUIDE IS HERE TO HELP
- I’ve listed a bunch of easy, practical ideas for getting multiple daily doses of self-care.
- Read through the categories and suggestions below. Pick one that resonates today. Then, time allowing, put your phone down and go do it!
- Give yourself a break…from the burden of getting this done. This is not another thing to add to your list, but rather, a sneaky way to put the list away for a few minutes. You’re here, thinking about yourself, and that’s a great start!
Why is it that our own needs so easily fall by the wayside? The struggle I have, especially when I’m snowballing toward burnout, is finding the Oomf (for lack of a better word) to actually do it without getting overwhelmed by ANOTHER THING.
So many resources tell me to prioritize self-care, but like….how? How many times do I need to read that before I can do anything about it?
Here are some options micro-mindset shifts to try in your self-care journey:
- Reframe your self-care as a responsibility you have to those you love and care for. I’m a lot more inclined to keep up with a difficult habit if it means setting a “good” example for my son.
- You give a lot of yourself to others. It’s ok to consciously decide to use a fleeting moment of “free” time to give back to yourself.
- Give yourself some credit for recognizing that you have this need, even if you can’t act on it. There are times I’ve been so lost in the weeds of stress that I don’t even recognize the warning signs (or wailing sirens) indicating the need to slow down and practice some self-care. I firmly believe that awareness is the first step to this tricky-but-should-be-easy practice. You have NOTICED, and you deserve some recognition for that. Look at you, rocking some self-care awareness today!
Highlight where you’re thriving
Early in the pandemic, a good friend (who I have yet to meet in-person, BTW) taught me about “capitalizing on the exception.”
When things are feeling messy, or awful, or when it seems as though life is a one-way crazy train to chaos city, “capitalizing on the exception” means noticing when it DOES go right, even if it’s rare.
When things are hard, it is SO easy to see the flaws, the imperfections, the weaknesses (or “opportunities”) in life and want to FIX them. This is another slippery slope, because when we notice things that supposedly need fixing, it’s hard not to totally fixate on them.
“Capitalizing on the exception” gives us a chance to flip the script. We might notice all the things that are wrong, and that’s okay, but when we notice the exception to all the crap, it can be powerful.
An example: I might have a meltdown 3 days in a row, followed by a mostly-okay day, just to have another meltdown the following day. On the one hand, this looks like I freaked out on 4 out of 5 days (cue the inner script that I’m a failure, I suck, etc.). On the other hand, I had one day — amidst a bunch of difficult days — where I did NOT freak out, and maybe that’s a reflection of my resilience, my strength, my confidence, my [insert feeling you’ve been lacking lately].
Give it a try next time you notice an onslaught of negative patterns or thoughts. Capitalize on the exception, friend. Find those spaces where you ARE thriving, and celebrate them! Even if they feel tiny and inconsequential, they are anything but!
Maybe you’ve had a hundred repeat days in a row that were lacking in self-care, and yet, here you are, reading up on self-care and thinking about your next move. Today is the exception to the no-time-for-self-care rule. You’re awesome. You got this.
Head-to-soul self-care guide categories
From my point of view, there are six domains of self-care that make up the framework of our needs: the physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, sensory, and social.
The categories are symbiotic and overlapping, each carrying some of the weight of supporting us in this life.
On our best days, it’s possible that all the categories are functioning at top notch, full throttle teamwork capacity, allowing us to shine with ease.
The beautiful thing is that these categories of self-care don’t need to achieve “perfect system” status in order to continue supporting us. When we’re lacking in one area, we’re probably shining in another.
The real challenge comes when we feel deficient in all these areas. We have to dig deep to find resilience, often pushing through by abandoning one (or all) of these arenas of life as we focus on the plain and simple: survival-mode.
Hope is not lost though…and this is where the self-care guide comes in. These categories are not meant to burden, but rather encourage exploration of your needs with fresh language and perspective.
Quick definitions of the self-care categories (in no particular order)
Physical self-care: Whether activity or rest focused, this category is all about supporting your body’s needs, and includes everything from healthy nutrition, to hygiene, to fitness, to sleep, to hydration, and everything in between.
Emotional self-care: Honoring feelings and inner-most thoughts without judgment or limitations.
Intellectual (a.k.a. mental) self-care: Embodying the more detailed, analytical, and technical side of ourselves. Self-care in this arena might mean engaging with order, or abandoning it.
Spiritual self-care: Deeply personal and varied, spiritual self-care is hard to define broadly. It can encapsulate all other categories, and describe the features that don’t fall in the other domains. Spiritual self-care is rooted in connectedness…to what? You’ll put your own spin on it.
Social self-care: The making or the challenging of boundaries in our relationships and communities.
Sensory self-care: Engaging in any activity with heightened awareness of the experience within all available senses. Tuning into the details here can help alleviate stress or fatigue we have in other categories. Environmental factors and setting often fall into this category.
Any and all things that support your literal physical health. This could be literally any activity that you find physically nourishing. Some activities to support your body’s needs today might include:
- Noticing and acting on your basic needs: food, shelter, safety, basic hygiene, etc.
- This might seem trite to include, and there is a valid argument that such activities shouldn’t be classified as modern-definition self-care, BUT these are very real needs that are very easy to let-slip in one way or another. If the basics are a struggle, then it can feel like an indulgence to complete them, and that’s okay.
- Resting when we are tired or ill…or frankly, if we just WANT to rest.
- Taking one day (or more) to each lunch without working at the same time OR eating lunch when you’d otherwise work through it and skip the meal.
- Making (and keeping) appointments for preventive care (or any medical care, for that matter).
- Hydration with a capital H(two-oh).
- If you’re reading this and it’s been X minutes since your last sip of water, PLEASE, go refill your glass (or get a new one if you can’t find it…I get that life, friend).
- Balancing healthy, nourishing meals and enjoying indulgent treats when the time (and portions) are right is a long game, but maybe there is a condensed version that you need to try today?
- Anybody else groaning as they read this? In school I was the kid who’d feign illness on gym day, so for me, this isn’t my favorite activity…but still it’s so necessary. For me, this might look like taking a walk, or parking in the booneys and then relishing the slow walk into the store…baby steps, right?
- Physical intimacy and release
- Yes, read into this. Or don’t. Whatever floats your boat.
- Just, in general, getting sleep is self-care, especially if it’s something we’re lacking. If sleep is hard to get, it COUNTS as self-care.
- Hands-on therapies like massage, acupuncture, or hands-on reiki
- Literally, almost any activity outside.
- Full-on alone time (5 min alone in the car, sitting in your driveway counts!)
- Collect images to assemble into a vision board.
- This is in the physical category because it’s a PHYSICAL representation of your vision for yourself and your future.
- Wearing clothes you like or an accessory that brings joy
- As a toddler mom with at least 20 lbs to lose, I know this is SO much easier said than done. Sometimes something as simple as wearing my favorite color can help me shift my mindset and my day.
Some poor googling tells me that emotional health is being “in control” of thoughts, feelings and behaviors and I have to EMPHATICALLY disagree with that verbiage. Emotional health is a moving target, and not necessarily something that is rigid or controlled. In my mind, emotional self-care is the act of respecting our feelings, regardless of our control over them. Embarking on emotional self-care is not always “the easy way,” but it can really open up our human capabilities. Chaotic or controlled, how can you honor your emotional health today?
Here are some potential activities to augment your emotional self-care:
- Take a moment to appreciate yourself. Think about: what are your talents, accomplishments, and strengths? Can you take 5 minutes to honor and celebrate that?
- Self-reflection, self-awareness, self-love.
- This might include chatting with a friend, writing in a journal, or meditating.
- Feeling your feelings, express them, give them space to breathe
- Sometimes, the only way to get myself out of a crappy mood is to let myself FULLY BE in that crappy mood.
- Give yourself permission to say “no” to the guilt.
- Research suggests that women are more prone (than their male counterparts) to feeling pervasive guilt due to societal norms and natural skills in empathy. Regardless of the details of your burden of guilt, whether self-imposed or society imposed (or both) we need not feel as guilt-ridden and shameful as we often do. If/when you notice the guilt gremlin taking over, tell them to shove off. (easier said than done, I know, but something to practice as emotional self-care).
- Participating in therapy.
- Reading, writing or reciting positive affirmations.
- Noticing your self-esteem without judging yourself. Where are you selling yourself short? Where are you rocking it? Treat yourself with same compassion you’d give your best friend.
- Journaling, drawing, doodling
- Practicing forgiveness
- Seeking out nature
- Giving yourself some time to enjoy a hobby.
- Honestly, I hesitated to include this one. There was a delicate time late in my pregnancy and early post-partum where I couldn’t even remember my own hobbies, and it was discouraging. If the idea of hobbies are daunting or sad, go ahead and move on to a different suggestion or category.
- How can you honor your emotional health today?
This category embodies the logical, technical aspects of life, but it’s not all organization and planning. Yes, order itself can be juicy and satisfying, AND it can be burdensome. Our need for self-care in this arena could mean more order, or less — it’s your choice!
Some activities that might support your intellectual self-care might include:
- Planning anything…even if it’s “just” a daydream.
- Reading or engaging with content for your personal growth.
- Asking for help, and then receiving it. You don’t need to have it all figured out! Your helper can HELP you figure out what kind of help you need. When someone offers help, accept it, or at least consider it.
- Abandoning a system that isn’t serving you anymore.
- Yes, it can be lovely to have perfectly folded towels in a konmari’d closet, but if it’s more trouble than it’s worth, a basic fold will do just fine.
- Taking breaks from [some of] your responsibilities. In pandemic times, when we aren’t taking vacations, when we can’t get time away from our spouses, and when there seems to be too much of everything all at once, we NEED to find ways to take breaks from our responsibilities from time to time, even if it’s only selectively. This might look like:
- Delegating your grocery shopping
- Ordering take-out
- Doing the barest of bare minimum chores (like, even less than you’re doing now if that doesn’t make your head explode)
- Reading something unrelated to work, growth or your current mental load (e.g. if clutter in your house is a stressor right now, don’t read about home organization)
- Exploring something new to learn about, just for fun.
- Writing a review of your favorite book or movie (for fun, or to post).
- Reset any professional boundaries that need to be reestablished. This might look like leaving work at work, avoiding signing on or answering emails during your off-time, or getting creative to fit in time for your basic needs during the workday.
From 10,000 feet, spiritual health is really a balance of all the other domains, plus the things we can’t describe with those categories. It can be hard to put our finger on, and harder still to describe to a stranger, but we don’t need to meditate for months on a mountaintop to practice spiritual self-care. The simplest activities can alchemize our humanity and enhance our experience in the world.
Spiritual self-care comes down to connectedness to something(s) determined by each person; connection to self, to a higher power, to nature, to others, to art, music and creativity, to all of the above, or anything in between.
Activities for spiritual self-care might include:
- Thinking about and embracing your positive qualities, the gifts you give to those you love just by being “you”
- Noticing your inner experience – Without making an effort to change it, just notice what your inner voice is commenting.
- Appreciating beauty
- Practicing gratitude, especially when it is hardest to do so. Noticing the meaningful parts of life that are all-too-easy to take for granted
- Shelter, food, annoying-yet-loving spouses, etc
- Seeking out and appreciating nature
- Engaging in a loving, supportive community (whether giving or receiving)
- Practicing meditation
- Honoring any religious traditions or engaging in prayer
- Giving in to play. Have fun!
- Recognizing and cherishing your moments of strength, resilience, inspiration
- Volunteering or giving of yourself in a way that refuels you, too.
Oy, social self-care is an elephant for me. As a naturally extroverted, social person, I often recharge through relationships and community, and the “new normal” is a bit of a monkey wrench in that habit. These days, striking the “right” balance to refuel is so challenging, if achievable at all. For my social wellbeing, it’s all about making boundaries (or challenging existing boundaries).
Some things I’ve tried for social self-care include:
- Turning off my cell phone
- Limiting social media use
- I recently cut back DRASTICALLY on my use of Facebook.
- Engaging in a supportive group or community; stepping away from the group when needed
- Seeking out nature
- Connecting with people in a meaningful way (as you define it)
- For me, this means cutting back on social media to leave more time for phone calls, texts and 1:1 conversation
- Communicating your needs: encourage discussion and negotiation in your family.
- Engaging in service to others in a way that refuels you or helps you grow.
Depending on how we look at it, sensory self-care can be the simplest AND the most daunting category to incorporate.
These days, when it is SO HARD to do one thing and give it our full focus, for me, sensory self-care is all about simplicity. Since multitasking is an unfortunate necessity of life, sometimes I just need to do ONE THING at a time, fully immersing myself in the experience, even if it’s mundane.
The key for me with this category is to limit distractions and consciously use all my available senses to explore the scenario. Some of the ways I’ve tried to reset my environment and experience include:
- Taking a bath/bubble bath
- Smell the soap, feel the bubbles, see the steam, hear the water….using the sense of taste might be a stretch, but that’s what the accompanying beverage is for. 😉
- Tuning into a single sense (e.g. using aromatherapy to engage your sense of smell). In the moment, try to focus only on that sense, and redirect any thoughts or distractions back to your experience through that sensation.
- Creating an immersive sound experience; dual headphones are best
- Listen to your favorite song
- Tune-out and listen to alpha waves or binaural beats
- Getting your hands dirty
- In nature or your garden
- In your kitchen. Cook or bake without the TV or a podcast on. Engage all your senses.
A final word on this self-care guide
It probably (hopefully) goes without saying that this list of suggested self-care activities is neither complete nor exhaustive, but rather a compilation of things that have worked for me (sometimes) as I drive this self-care struggle bus.
At the end of the day, though, this is about YOU. The way that you find the time and energy to care for yourself is deeply personal and dynamic. Your perfect list of self-care activities may look vastly different, and that’s okay!
It’s my hope that this post inspired your self-care action today. I care less about how you do it, and care much more that you somehow act in service to yourself and your self-care.
What will you do for yourself with your next “free” 3 minutes?