By Lauren Presutti
In this day and age, many of us find ourselves overwhelmed with pandemic updates, political divides, heartbreaking news coverage, and economic changes. Feeling stressed and mentally drained has almost become a “new normal” for many people struggling to navigate social and systemic challenges on a daily basis. With mental health concerns rising in our communities, we must compassionately check in with one another and make sure we are creating time for self-care. In a previous blog, I discussed “what self-care actually means” and why it’s important (essentially, practicing self-care means that we are engaging in activities that are going to help us feel better – it’s about giving ourselves permission to find joy through activities, treating ourselves, taking breaks, or prioritizing fun and relaxation). Today, I will expand on this topic and address strategies for how to actually create time for it.
Break It Up
Dedicating a full hour every day for self-care sounds glorious, but many people do not have that much free time. It can make us feel frustrated and defeated, and we may develop negative thoughts that lead us to giving up on the prospect of self-care because we know that we don’t have enough time. But instead of giving up, please consider challenging your belief that self-care needs to be in a certain quantity of time. Who says that self-care has to be an hour? If you only have 5 minutes a day for self-care, I’m urging you to take your 5 minutes and embrace it. Even the smallest amounts of self-care can still make a difference.
Need help coming up with self-care activities that can be done in 5 minutes? I got you covered.
Breathe, Meditate, Step outside, Say no to something, Listen to a favorite song, Close your eyes, Stretch your body, Drink water, Text someone , Make a list, Doodle / Color, Look at a picture that brings you a happy memory, Watch a short YouTube video, Wash your hands, Put on lotion, Dance to a song, Hug someone, Daydream, Pray, Have a quick snack, Pet your dog/cat, Use a stress ball, Change your clothes, Use a calm app on your phone, Play a phone game, Pick out a movie for later, Try a yoga pose, Look out a window, Water plants, Grab a blanket, Light a candle, Find an inspiring quote, Book an appointment, Compliment yourself , Read a poem, Create a goal, Do nothing / just relax, Write down a happy thought, Look at funny memes / jokes
I recognize that many people have responsibilities that we simply cannot escape, but I’m willing to bet that you have at least a little bit of time that you can prioritize for self-care. Maybe you need to stay up an extra 10 minutes past your bedtime – or wake up 10 minutes earlier – so you can fit in 10 minutes of self-care. In that time, you might decide to journal, practice mindfulness, call a friend, or just sit in silence for a few minutes. Maybe you need to be a little more realistic about deadlines so that you can take an afternoon off for yourself once in a while. The work will always be there the next day. Maybe you need to assert your boundaries with friendships or relationships that are consuming too much of your time. If they really care about you, they will understand that you need a little more alone time.
Maybe you need to give up social media so that you have more time for hobbies. You might be surprised at how much time you can save from logging off. Or maybe you need to have an honest conversation with your teenagers about how mom needs just a few minutes of quiet time each evening and they will need to respect that. Everything we do with our time is a choice. It might feel like we “have to” do certain things, but, in reality, we have control over how we structure our lives, how we communicate our needs, and how we take care of ourselves.
Remember It’s Not Selfish
Self-care needs to come first. One of my favorite metaphors is, “You can’t pour from an empty cup,” meaning that we can’t possibly take care of others or fulfill our responsibilities and life if we are running on empty. Many of us were taught growing up that we should be modest, we should be giving toward other people, and that it’s polite and respectable to sacrifice our own needs for others. While showing compassion toward others is a beautiful trait, an unintended consequence of these childhood lessons might be a misguided belief that self-care is selfish. From a mental health perspective, this misguided belief can be damaging and I often urge my clients to challenge this thinking pattern and consider the idea that we need and deserve to give ourselves the same compassion and care that we may give to others.
It’s not selfish. It’s not a luxury. It’s not something to feel guilty about at all. Quite the opposite, self-care is a mental health necessity. The truth is that we all have mental health needs that we have to take care of, and if we are neglecting our own needs, then we may become resentful, exhausted, or totally burned out. Self-care helps us recharge our batteries so that we can show up for ourselves and others in authentic ways. When we take care of ourselves, we are able to bring out the healthiest, most energized, strongest version of ourselves. When our needs are met, we radiate with more positivity, kindness, and joy that overflows to all people around us. Our relationships flourish, our school or work performance improves, and we are more likely to find ourselves handling adversity in more effective ways.
Always remember that self-care is not selfish and give yourself permission to create time for it.