You creep quietly towards the bathroom, holding your breath as you silently pray you’ll miss the creaky floorboard. Closing the door with a click, you breathe a sigh of relief. You made it to the bathroom without waking the kids!
You know you’ve probably got, at most, 10 minutes of peace. So, following the inevitable minute (or two) on the loo, you do your best to make yourself presentable. Clothes, hair and a dash of makeup — since having kids, you’ve got your routine down to a fine art. In 6 and a half minutes, you’re ready to meet the day.
But nobody is stirring yet. You know it’s inevitable at least one of them will wake when you open the door, and once one is up, they’re all up. You’ll be lucky to get some alone time — even in the bathroom — before 10 p.m. tonight. You take a deep breath and let your mind wander to your favorite daydream — a beach holiday where you begin every day with a massage, and finish it with cocktails by the pool.
You hear a thud as one of the children springs out of bed, and it snaps you back to reality. Breathing a heavy sigh, you think to yourself “If only I had time for self-care… Maybe once the kids leave home.”
As the remnants of the daydream dissolve, you reach for the door to begin your busy day.
When You’re the One Who Takes Care of Others
Parents and personal trainers are very similar in one respect: by nature, they’re hard-wired to look after other people first. This quality is what makes trainers so good their jobs, and parents great parents.
Unfortunately, this giving nature can mean many women find themselves on a fast-track to burnout because their own dreams, goals, and self-care happen once everyone else’s needs are met.
Many women don’t pursue what’s important to them because they feel guilty about taking time out for themselves. For parents, it’s easy to feel like self-care time should be spent with your children instead. For coaches, there’s always a session to plan, an email to write, social media to check, and often children to spend time with too. Naturally, those responsibilities come first, so self-care in particular often falls by the wayside.
The trouble is, frustration builds when you don’t achieve your goals because it feels like there’s never any time left at the end of the day to complete the actions required to achieve them. Before long, you find yourself riding the rollercoaster of resentment, wishing you had more time to pursue your personal achievements, then circling right back to guilt for wishing you had a few child-free — or client-free — hours to look after yourself.
But you don’t. To top it all off, after running at a hundred miles an hour, day after day, you hit the wall. One morning you wake up feeling so exhausted you’re not so sure you have the energy to drag yourself out of bed.
If you’ve ever run head first into the wall of exhaustion, you know what I’m talking about, and you likely don’t want to go there again. By taking steps to add a dose of self-care to your day, you can keep exhaustion, frustration, and guilt at bay.
What Is Self-Care?
The term “self-care” often sparks visions of a day at the spa wearing a fluffy robe, with a glass of champagne in hand, chatting with your bestie while a beautician gives you a pedicure. What’s worse, self-care sounds like it requires expensive studio memberships, Instagram-worthy outings or childcare that costs more per hour than you earn in a day.
While a spa day, a five-course brunch or a Caribbean holiday sounds lovely, it’s simply not realistic that this vision of self-care can happen daily; nor does it have to.
In reality, self-care is so much more (or less) than this.
Day to day self-care is the basics:
- Getting enough sleep.
- Eating nutritious food that fuels your body.
- Exercising a few days per week.
- Spending focused quality time with your partner, children, family, and friends.
- Getting the medical care you need.
- Participating in leisure activities.
- Even doing absolutely nothing.
We all know we should be completing these activities almost every day. But unfortunately, many women don’t tick these boxes, be it because even doing the bare minimum feels inaccessible, or because their many responsibilities leave them with little time for themselves.
If you’re struggling to make self-care a priority in your life, try these seven tips to improve your self-care.
1. Start Slowly
Trying to change your whole life at once will likely be your downfall. Instead, focus on one self-care task at a time. Depending on the task, try taking five minutes per day (for example, to prepare a healthy lunch) or an hour per week (for example, to start a new exercise routine) to prioritize your self-care.
In approaching self-care this way, you set yourself up for success. It’s a lot easier to find five minutes in a day than it is to set yourself a goal of an hour per day when you’ve hardly had time to visit the bathroom alone for the last five years.
2. Choose the Easiest Option
Success breeds success, and failure spreads like the plague. That’s why it’s so important to choose the self-care strategy you love and hence, are more likely to complete. For example, if you hate running, it’s probably not the best choice for beginning your self-care strategy.
If, on the other hand, you love to read, you’re far more likely to be successful if you try to read a chapter of a novel one night per week. When it’s something you’re looking forward to, you’re far more likely to prioritize the task (and prioritize your self-care). So choose something you love and set yourself up for self-care success.
3. Make It a Habit
Depending on the difficulty of the habit, it can take between two weeks and three months to get into a habit of doing something new. Once you’ve chosen your first self-care task, work on it — and only it — until it becomes a habit. Try to schedule the task at the same time each day, or each week so you develop a regular routine.
In time, you’ll notice you look forward to your weekly yoga session, nightly reading or fortnightly catch up with friends. Once this happens, you’re likely ready to add a little more self-care by introducing another task that will, in time, also become a habit.
4. Book Self-Care Time in Your Calendar
Until it becomes a habit, treat self-care time as a set appointment. If you want to exercise more, book it into your calendar. If you want to meditate often, add it to your daily to-do list. Then remember, you wouldn’t skip a doctors appointment or an eye test because you had too much work to do, so once it’s scheduled, don’t skip your self-care time either.
Set the time in your calendar to “busy” and don’t book other appointments during this time. Don’t be tempted to constantly reschedule either. Book self-care time, then use it. You’ll thank yourself later.
5. Plan Ahead
When you’re busy, planning ahead is essential for maintaining a self-care routine. There’s plenty of things you can plan ahead, like:
- Deciding what you’re doing on the weekend by Friday evening at the latest, so you don’t waste a day trying to decide what to do.
- Writing a menu, shopping and preparing meals in advance so you’re eating healthy meals throughout the week.
- Creating your own (or hiring a coach to create a) workout plan so when you arrive at the gym, you know exactly what you need to do to make the most of your session.
When you make healthy decisions in advance, you remove the last-minute decision-making that may take you further away from your goals, like grabbing Chinese takeout on your way home from work on a Tuesday evening.
6. Take Your People
One of the biggest barriers to self-care — for parents in particular — is feeling like they have to give up time with family in order to look after themselves. Rather than seeing self-care as taking time away from others, consider how you can get them involved instead.
Want to be a little more active and spend more quality time with your kids? Try planning an active weekend outing with your family, like stand up paddle boarding or cycling.
Need some time out from home or work and feel like you need to spend more quality time with your partner? Make a reservation at your favorite restaurant and make it a date.
Struggling to fit in workouts and catching up with friends? Rather than going for coffee and cake with friends, ask them to meet up at a local park and go for a walk instead.
While “alone time” is an important part of self-care, you don’t always have to be alone to look after yourself.
7. Ask for Help
As someone who’s always supporting others, it can be hard to ask for help. In order to make self-care a reality, you have to. Ask a family member to watch the kids for an hour so you can take some time out. Hire a babysitter. Talk about self-care with your partner. Just because you’re looking after yourself, doesn’t mean you have to go it alone.
The Key to Making Self-Care a Reality
The key to adding a dose of self-care into your life is letting go of visions of perfection. Don’t wait until you have enough time on your plate to meditate daily or exercise five days per week. Start with as much as you can do, even if it’s five minutes per week, and build up from there. Because five minutes per week is always better than nothing, and starting is better than waiting for the perfect time to start.
So, what self-care task will you make time for today?