Including self-care in your hectic schedule can be challenging to say the least. First of all, there are so many other priorities to attend to in a day. Remembering to fit self-care in between work, family, friends and household chores can feel like adding another task to an already overly full schedule. So, what is self-care, why is it important and how can you get more of it? Read on to discover.
It’s going to be slightly different for everyone but self-care is taking deliberate action to address physical, mental or emotional health. It is something you do that helps you feel better.
Now, there is a slippery slope in that last statement. Not everything that feels good is self-care. Sliding into addictive behaviours like alcohol or food abuse is not self-care. For example, a single glass of wine may be restful, enjoyed with friends or in the quiet of a good book, however, drinking the whole bottle does not count as self-care.
Self-care is also not something that you force yourself to do, at least not once you get started. If you hate running and force yourself to drag your body around the neighbourhood for 40 minutes feeling miserable while swallowing back physical pain, that is not self-care. On the other hand, if you currently don’t feel like running but once you get out there and find your rhythm, feel the air in your lungs and get focused you actually feel great about it, that is self-care.
Finding the types of self-care that work best for you, means paying attention to the things that make you feel good physically, mentally or emotionally. If you spontaneously catch yourself enjoying a moment, make note of what you are doing. If you see someone doing something and think that looks awesome, make a note of that. Go back to your notes later and find ways to slip those things into your daily life, regularly.
Most self-care activities create a balance in your Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). General life stress puts an intensity into your body that tells your nervous system to shift into the Sympathetic (fight/flight/freeze) branch of the ANS. Balance requires that you spend wakeful time in both the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic (rest/recuperate) branches of the ANS. Thus, many self-care activities eventually help you to make the shift to Parasympathetic.
Doing intense exercise is like coming alongside the Sympathetic branch. The intensity of the exercise kicks your nervous system into the sympathetic gear. The exercise actually encourages or physically keeps pace with the already existing intensity. Then when you stop exercising, the system naturally balances itself by switching over to the Parasympathetic (rest/recuperate) branch. You feel at rest and are more able to allow yourself to recover. I would call this an up activity because you physically match the up energy to get balance.
The flip side of that is when you coax your nervous system into a parasympathetic state. You can do this by concentrating on something calming like long exhalations or focusing on something like a beautiful piece of music. This type of concentrated focus guides you into a flow state which also switches your nervous system into rest and recuperate. I would call this a down activity because you are actively cultivating slowing down.
It does not matter which way you choose to get your nervous system into balance. What matters is that you enjoy what you choose. Enjoyment will increase the likelihood of choosing to engage in self-care more frequently.
You do You
For some people, the sympathetic branch of the nervous system is most often dominant. These people find that productivity comes easily, they are always on the go and even when they find “free time” they’re not quite sure how to settle and rest. This means that the nervous system is placing most of its weight in the sympathetic fight/flight/freeze response. If this is you, you might initially lean toward up activities for self-care.
The other side of that is people who easily settle into rest, can keep themselves busy for hours without getting much done and are content to let the to-do list wait. Interestingly, this does not result in a rest/recuperate overload. Rather, procrastination creates an underlying stress that also shifts the nervous system into the sympathetic branch. This time it’s more of a freeze than fight/flight quality.
However, you might find that you do both. There are days when you are super productive and days when you are more chill and content to let the to-do list wait. When you are choosing a self-care activity, consider where you are at today so that you can choose something that will feel good for you. Then consider would it feel better to do an up activity or a down activity?
Here’s Your 5 Quick Ways to Squeeze Self Care into a Hectic Schedule
- Set your alarm to wake you 10 minutes early. You don’t even have to get out of bed. Just sit up and practice some breath work. Consider it brain hygiene. You don’t leave the house without brushing your teeth and hair. Start your brain out positive and clean too.
- When you drink your coffee or tea, savour the first 5 sips. Sit down, feel the warmth of the cup, breathe in the humidity and scent before each sip. Feel the warmth in your mouth, notice the sensation of the swallow. Do it for all 5 sips. This one is super simple but, super challenging if you’re used to drinking on the run. Hang in there – you’re worth it. You can also do this for the first 5 bites of any meal – if you’re not a regular hot beverage drinker.
- When you park your car, stay in it for 5 minutes. Listen to an inspiring piece of music or set a timer and focus on your breath. Give yourself some solid transition time before moving onto the next thing in your day. This will allow you to show up feeling organized and present.
- Whenever you are in an elevator or waiting in a line, think about something that you do want to happen. Engage your mind in detailed positive visualizations that include specifics from all 5 senses. This will feel good and it can help to get your energy going in the right direction, especially if you’re having a negative day.
- Give yourself a 1-2 hour buffer of screen-free time before bed. Use the time to get organized and/or connect with yourself, your family/roommates/partner. Screens affect your brain activity. Giving yourself the slow down period before bed will not only allow you to get organized and connect with others, it will help you fall into sleep better.
The thing about self-care is that you have to make it into something that you practice. It won’t necessarily be something that you nail. You may have to remind yourself a few times and it will get easier with practice. Choose a few from the list above or make up your own and give yourself a timeline, say 40 days. You commit to practising self-care daily, just for 40 days. See how it feels and if you like it, add more practices for a 2nd 40-day challenge.