When things get busy, it's often our self-care that gets put lower on the to-do list. Sleep, eating, exercise, and rejuvenation take the back seat to extra errands, travel planning, kids home from school, or parties to attend. Ironically, the very things we let slide are the things that will help us though busy times the most.
Here are some easy tips for taking care of yourself when life gets hectic:
- Listen to your body's need for sleep. Nothing throws our day off more than not getting enough rest. Erratic sleep and wake schedules leave us feeling like we're in constant jet lag - because essentially we are! If you usually go to bed at 11:00 PM and you stay up until 2:00, it's like flying from L.A. to N.Y.! Do your best to go to bed and get up at the same time each day. Rather than trying to power through a difficult task when tired, do tasks low in mental demand at that time or go to bed. You work more efficiently when alert, so save cognitively demanding tasks for high energy times. Work smarter, not longer.
- Eat Breakfast. It's tempting to sleep an extra 15 minutes, grab our coffee, and run out the door when things get busy. If you have to do that, stock your bag with nuts, dried fruit, or low sugar protein bars. Or, dig deep and find the discipline to get up on time and take that 15 minutes to eat a satisfying breakfast.
- Just say NO (Ho Ho)! With all the extra activity and events, it's easy to become over booked. If you are an automatic "Yes" person when asked to take on a task or accept an invitation, practice saying "Let me check my schedule and get back to you." Give yourself some time to really assess if you can do it. If the answer is no, say no. Nothing builds resentment and sucks our faster than saying yes to something we don't really want to do.
- Take an exercise break. You don't have to spend an hour in the gym to get exercise. Getting your heart rate up for 10 minutes, three times a day also does the trick. Try taking exercise breaks throughout the day. Studies show that our attention span is about 50 minutes long. Rather than power though our day and feel worn out at the end, take an exercise break every 50 minutes to help you maintain your energy levels. If you work sitting down, take a brisk walk, do some stretches, do sit-ups and pushups, or crank up the music and dance. (Enrolling family members or co-workers has the added benefit of laughter!) If you stand to work, sit down, stretch, or elevate your feet.
- Do double duty on self care. Combine activities that bring you joy and nurture your body. Exercise or share a meal with a friend or loved one. Practice mindfulness when doing necessary household chores. Listen to an audio book during your commute or read if you take public transit. Make sure it's a pleasure read and not things that might stress you out (like work-related articles or news)!
- Give and receive hugs. For most people, physical touch has a relaxing effect. Give hugs freely throughout the day to those who are opening to receiving. Trade foot, shoulder, and head massages with friends or partners. Make time for sex. The benefits of physical touch greatly outweigh the time you would have spent crossing "one more thing" off the to-do list.
- Lower your expectations. Having standards of excellence is commendable. Expecting excellence or perfection in all things is detrimental. Practice the "plenty good enough" principle when time is limited. Most often, a task that is done adequately is just as good and less draining than a task you are putting off or spending copious amounts of time on to make perfect.
- Celebrate your accomplishments. We are often disappointed when all of the things on our to-do list didn't get done. Try taking a moment to reflect on your day and to celebrate everything you did get accomplished. Give yourself permission to reschedule needed tasks that didn't get done, and delete optional tasks from the list. Hold on to the internal sense of satisfaction that you can make a choice to complete, delegate, or delete tasks.
- Make self care a priority. If we don't care for ourselves, we can't care for anyone else. In a culture that deems it "selfish" to make our physical, spiritual, and mental health needs a priority over caring for others, it can be difficult to take the time for self-care. Yet, you are the only one who can eat, sleep, exercise, and rejuvenate yourself. Put your care at the top of the priority list for a week and notice how much more you have to give to others.
Therapy can be a great way to regain balance in stressful times. If you find yourself wanting to make some of these changes, but are finding it difficult to do so, consulting a mental health professional may help. Give me a call! I'm here for you.
Dr. Sandy Peace