By Heather Teater, See the Triumph Guest Blogger
In high school it was marching band and AP homework. In college it was studying for exams, reading a book a week for my English minor, and striving for the coveted 4.0. In grad school, it was homework, internship, doing research for clients, and a mess of other life issues. There was always a reason that I just needed to wait until the next stage of my life before I could finally have time to take care of myself. Yet, even now I find myself making excuses as to why I don't have time for myself. I work a full-time job, I need to make time for my husband, there are chores to be done, hobbies are too expensive... the list could go on.
I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels too busy or too tired to take better care of myself. So, what are we to do when the world seems to be asking too much of what little time we have? Is self-care just a lofty goal that only a privileged few can achieve? Should we stop kidding ourselves and give up? No. It may take a while, but even in this busy world in which we live, we all can find a little time to take care of ourselves. I have a few suggestions to start heading in that direction.
1. Make a list of positive things that replenish you. Do you enjoy exercise, reading books, meditation, painting, deep breathing, solving crosswords, grabbing lunch with friends? Whatever you enjoy, write it all down so that you have a list on hand when you find a moment in your day. If you don't know what is refreshing to you anymore, try something out! Ask your friends what healthy things they do to relax, search for suggestions on the internet, or just start doing something that catches your eye. The more activities you find that leave you feeling relaxed and refreshed, the more options you have to choose from when you find the time for self-care.
2. Look for small moments in your day. You might be surprised at how many five- to ten-minute periods of free time you have scattered throughout your day. Do you always take your full lunch break to eat your food, or do you finish with some time to spare? Do you arrive a few minutes early to work? Do you sometimes find yourself scrolling mindlessly through social media? These times can be used for a few minutes of self-care. You can't read a whole chapter of a book or go for a run, but you can read a news article about one of your interests, work on a sudoku, or do some jumping jacks. I like to use these quick bouts of time to do some deep breathing. I use a free app on my phone called Breathe2Relax, but you can guide your own deep breathing if you prefer.
3. Intentionally build some time into your schedule for self-care. Most of the activities on your list probably can't be done in five minutes, and it is unlikely that you find a spare consecutive half-hour or more just appears in your day on a regular basis. If you do, good for you! Protect it. If you are like me, however, you have to purposely set aside some time for yourself. Get up a little earlier, go to bed a little later, watch one less episode of your favorite show in the evening, say "no" to some requests people make of you (really, you don't have to do everything for everyone). I know from experience that this can be a difficult process and some days just don't have room for any more activities, but if you keep pushing to make time for yourself, it can become a habit!
4. Try to start eating healthier foods. Eating right makes your body feel good, and it doesn't necessarily take extra time. I often tell myself that eating healthy foods is too expensive, and it can be. However, it is possible to buy healthy foods on a budget. Look for fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats that are on sale. You can even buy more than you and your family will typically eat and then freeze some for another day. Also, look in your area to see if you have any discount food stores; many communities have grocery stores that sell food items that are about to expire at much cheaper prices.
Learning to take time for you can be a long and sometimes difficult process. The real first step in finding time for self-care is to decide that your health and well-being are worth the extra effort and decide to stop making excuses and start making changes. And we're all worth it, so let's get started!
Heather Teater recently completed her Master's degree in Couple and Family Counseling in the Department of Counseling and Educational Development at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.