The idea that self-care needs to look like the cover of Yoga Journal or SELF Magazine is a myth. There is no rule book that says you need to makeover your guest bedroom into a Himalayan salt sauna, or that you need to give the kids to your sister for the weekend in order to get out of town for some self-care. You also do not need to leave the house to go to Bikram Yoga in the middle of winter in order to take care of your mind, body, or soul.In the world of 21st-century technology, there is no reason for anyone to make such over-the-top gestures just to tend to the soul. What is needed, however, is attention to productivity, time, and habits. With just a few changes to your time management and focus, the incorporation of some simple self-care habits is absolutely possible.
A quick note of empathy before diving into these potential self-care options: One of the most difficult things to do when you suffer from anxiety, depression, grief, hopelessness, or pain is to practice self-care. If you do not operate from a place of ease and innate self-love, it is hard to say “Yes” to things that place value on yourself and your time.
While this article is here to offer some “simple” ways to incorporate self-care into your life, it is not here to gloss over the fact that for many people (most people, actually), the practices and habits listed below are actually huge challenges. If this is hitting your heart, and you feel very vulnerable by this acknowledgement, that is okay. Take a deep breath. You are not alone.
These practices might help you along your personal path of healing and coping. Look and see if any of them are achievable long-term goals for you. Step one is knowing that this “self-care stuff” is hard to incorporate for the first time. Step two is taking a breath. Step three is getting the professional and personal support you need to accomplish your long-term goals of self-care, and by association, self-love.
5 Steps to a Simple Self Care Practice
1. Identify your available blocks of time.
This is first on the list because it is the most common excuse and the biggest challenge. So many people use the excuse “I don’t have time for that” to shut down the vitally important conversation about self-care.
We are a country that suffers from culturally lauded addictions to exhaustion, busy-ness, achieving, and overworking. Any time not spent towards career achievement, lifting an extra fifty pounds at the gym, or being the best Mom ever (even if that means practicing self-neglect most of the time), is “wasted” time according to popular standards.If you were to remove the phrase “I don’t have time” from your lexicon and had to come up with replacement responses to the idea of incorporating self-care into your life, what would your options be? What if you assumed that you do have time and space for the incorporation of new habits?
If you can make time for the other priorities in your life (work, socialization, recreation, family, hobbies, etc.), then surely you can make time for self-care. You just have to decide it is worth prioritizing. You have to decide that you are important. You deserve some of your own time.
We spend our days in output/productivity mode. It is important to our mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional health to turn that switch off for at least a few minutes each day and switch into the input/recharge mode. You deserve to press ‘pause’ every now and then to refuel, much like you stop for gas every three to four hundred miles when you drive a car.
2. Create a self-care plan.
Once you have identified how much time you have to devote to your wellbeing, you can select an appropriate self-care habit that is achievable in that amount of time. What can you actually see yourself doing on a daily basis for the long-term? For some, a meditation session during your lunch hour is possible because you truly only have ten minutes available in your day. If that’s the case, commit to it fully.
Find some guided meditation content that seems unthreatening to you (the CALM app and the HEADSPACE app both offer free curated meditation content), and put your meditation sessions in your calendar with a reminder. Find some Scripture passages on peace, faith, and trust or any topic you may be struggling with or want to improve upon.
Meditate on these verses throughout the day. If you are re-allocating your nightly television or Netflix binge sessions to practice self-care (good choice!), then you might have more time – maybe even an hour. You could certainly find a free twenty-minute restorative yoga video to follow on YouTube and get yourself a journal to write in afterward for some self-reflection.
Or, if you only have time during your bus or train commute, then maybe you make use of the BREATHE APP on your Apple Watch, and bring a postcard-sized Adult Coloring Book with you for the ride to relieve your mind and brain of the early morning social media scroll.Maybe you don’t even have a commute time because you drive to work. So, maybe self-care looks like meal planning on Sunday nights so that you know your body is getting fuel and nutrients throughout the week.
Or, maybe you turn your Monday morning shower into a Sunday night bath for ten minutes. You can also listen to a meditation app while driving. Put on the Calm station with Sirius XM or listen to Jazz to reduce the stress and frustration of other drivers.
As you can see, there are no excuses, only possible plans. You just have to choose the one that works for you and do your best to stick to it.
3. Find a self-care accountability partner.
It’s a great idea to have the support of a trusted friend, spouse/significant other, sibling, therapist, or parent as you enter this new chapter of making time for yourself and your needs. The best part? You will unknowingly give your chosen accountability partner a gift just by allowing them to witness your journey. If you’ve never had an accountability partner before, here is how it works.
First, choose someone you feel like sharing this experience with. Someone you trust, who you can be vulnerable and honest with. Then, tell that person that you are working on a new goal of making time for self-care, and ask them if they are willing to hold some accountability space for you.
If that person says yes, let them know what kind of support you need from them. Maybe you can send them a text at the end of each day and share a short run-down of what you did to incorporate self-care that day. Perhaps you can send them an email at the end of each week, with a checklist of which days you practiced self-care. You should figure out a regular check-in system that feels good and is sustainable over the long-term as you cultivate your new healthy routine.
You will be incredibly grateful and happy to have an accountability partner on days when self-care just seems too great a challenge. Hard days are inevitable, and that is why an accountability partner is a game-changer.
4. Designate and clear some physical space for your self-care practice.
This step does not have to be as intense as the world tells you. Clearing physical space does not mean you should “Marie Kondo” your whole house. It just means designating a specific place to get the work done. In the same way that you usually do administrative work from a desk, so should you do your self-care practice in an appropriate space.This could mean that you get a new lap desk to use for your early morning journal practice, or a comfortable chair to sit on to meditate, or a window ledge with a candle and an inspiring/comforting photo to look at as you sip your first cup of coffee with no blue screen devices in sight.
It could mean purchasing absolutely nothing but simply identifying a spot on the floor that seems like a great place to do a restorative stretch before bed so you can improve the quality of your sleep.
It could also mean that you deep-clean your bathtub so that you can provide your body with some relief each week in the form of a ten-minute bath. Try not to make this step an excuse – clearing space is easy and affordable if you decide it’s for something important like self-care.
5. Establish an easy and affordable reward system.
The best way to motivate yourself when you are trying to incorporate new habits is to plan out a reward system. Asking yourself to change your current routine in favor of a healthier routine can be hard without something to look forward to. If you don’t really want to do those restorative yoga stretches, or start a new journaling practice, or give up TV for meditation, then you definitely want to think about putting a reward system in place.
Maybe use TV as the reward: for every week that you meditate three times, you get one night of Netflix or On-Demand binge-watching. Perhaps you can reward yourself with a massage, manicure, a new book, or a bottle of your favorite wine. Keep track of times you followed your self-care plan despite not feeling up to it and give yourself verbal praise.
Take it one day at a time, knowing that tomorrow you can choose to do better. This will help motivate you and keep you on track. If you’re not used to rewarding yourself and saying positive affirmations, you can write a script or create statement notecards to recite in the moment.
As you can see, these rewards do not have to be expensive or time-consuming, they just have to motivate you. Pick a reward that you really want. It might feel a little like how you discipline a child, but learning new habits is the same no matter your age.
Motivation to do the things that we don’t already want to do requires some creative incentives. Get real with yourself about what you need to look forward to in order to make some major strides towards self-care and a healthier life. You will be so glad you did.
“Writings in a Planner”, Courtesy of Bich Tran, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Waterglass”, Courtesy of Daria Shevtsova, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Friends”, Courtesy of Elle Hughes, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Coffee and a Movie”, Courtesy of John-Mark Smith, Pexels.com, CC0 License