I posted this video recently and your hundreds of follow-up comments across social media made me realize something: self-care is hard for you.
At least for many of you.
Whether you feel you don’t have the time to do something for yourself or you feel guilty when you do, scheduling time to be completely selfish is not part of your practice.
I get it.
Most of your messaging in childhood trained you to believe that your role in life was to serve others- whether through relationships or at work.
That message continued as you aged into adulthood. Most cultures around the world value a solid work ethic. America was founded on the belief that idleness was evil.
But little mention is ever made about the energy required to expend all this effort.
You can’t pour from an empty cup.
It may be cliché but it’s the truth.
You may have heard me say in the past two years that I’ve been the most booked female speaker in the world. That may sound impressive but it’s exhausting. It means I’ve been on trains, planes, and automobiles nearly every week while trying to run a media company with my business partners and be the most present mom I can be.
Maybe you’re a parent or a caregiver for an aging parent. Maybe you have multiple jobs so you keep food on the table. Or you’re working full-time while you start up a side business. Or you’re a student with a lot of academic responsibility.
Whatever it is you’re owning, I need you to own one more thing.
Trust me. I paid for those weeks I didn’t practice my own self-care.
I got sick. I was sore. I could only stay focused and awake by drowning myself in coffee and sugar. My neck and shoulders felt glued to my ears. The kids made me cranky.
Hell, everything made me cranky.
I had nothing to pour because my cup was empty.
I knew if I didn’t change my routine, my family and my work would be impacted.
If this sounds like you, I want you to know something important.
Taking time for yourself is not bad.
It’s not shameful.
It’s nothing to be embarrassed or feel guilty about.
It’s 100% necessary, doesn’t have to take a lot of time, and I know your doctor would agree.
So I want to share some of the practices that are now part of my regular routine.
It takes time to reprogram a brain that’s been taught self-care is the same as self-absorption, so be patient with yourself. Choose one thing you can do today, and move forward from there.
1. Take 5.
You’re breathing right now but it’s likely shallow breathing, from the chest. Right now, I want you to take it deeper. Belly out on the inhale, pull it in on the exhale and breathe the stress all the way out. Repeat 5 times and again later in the day.
2. Leave your phone outside the bedroom.
If you’re still scrolling through emails or social media before you go to bed or when you wake in the morning, I want you to cut that habit out right now. You’re making your brain slower and setting yourself up for depression. I started leaving my phone in my closet overnight a few years ago as part of my anxiety treatment, and it’s made such a difference.
3. Make tea. And enjoy it.
I usually start my mornings with coffee but these days that’s the only time I drink it in order to get a good night’s sleep. Make yourself a cup of tea and instead of work or laundry or whatever, just sit with that warm cup for two minutes. That’s it. Just two minutes to take in that tea with your entire collection of senses.
I know you know how good exercise makes you feel. I also know that you are probably waiting to feel like exercising before you do it. Stop waiting. You may never feel like it, but you have to do it anyway. Not only does exercise boost energy and overall health, but research also continues to find that it’s the best treatment for depression.
I start my day with The 5 Second Journal because it helps me to set the one goal for the day that will move me forward on whatever my latest project is. That keeps me focused and prevents procrastination. But journaling serves many purposes and sometimes it feels good to use a journal for venting or sharing the stuff swirling around your brain. By getting those things down on paper, you have less to referee in your mental game.
6. Get outside.
Fresh air means more oxygen for your blood cells. Bonus points if your outside includes a park or a forest where you get an instant boost of whole-body benefits.
7. Take 5 pictures of nature.
May sound crazy but while you’re outside, bring your camera. Taking pictures of nature–whether it’s puddles on the sidewalk or ants in your backyard–requires mindfulness and research shows time spent being mindful helps reduce anxiety and boosts your mood.
8. Sit on a bench and watch people.
For 5 minutes, sit where you can watch people walk by. Maybe it’s at the mall, or a park, or out your window. Make up stories about who people are and where they’re going. Research finds activities like these boosts creativity and reduces blood pressure.
9. Eat to fuel.
Did you know you have a second brain? Yep. It’s in your gut. More specifically, your intestines. Scientists call this the enteric nervous system, and this brain is communicating with the one in your head all day. Eating foods that help to fuel your gut– especially lots of vegetables, leafy greens, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds–will keep both brains working properly.
10. Watch the sunrise.
When was the last time you did this? Maybe you can’t see it come over the horizon, but you can catch it as the sunlight starts moving across rooftops. There is something special about being part of the beginning to a brand new day.
11. Meditate for 10 minutes.
My husband, Chris, has been practicing for more than 7 years and let me be the first to tell you what a difference it’s made. Chris used to be high stress and we fought often. Now his zen makes him an incredible father and business partner. He’s definitely the yin to my yang. But a meditation practice doesn’t have to be for long. Even 5 minutes can help to improve your mood and your focus. The trick is to practice every day, so for Chris, that means every morning at the same time.
12. Get 7-8 hours of sleep.
Get to bed early enough that you feel rested in the morning and get out of bed as soon as the alarm goes off. Lack of sleep depletes the immune system and robs your brain of willpower.
13. Stop multi-tasking.
It may seem like an efficient way to get things done, but neuroscientists have found that we’re not actually doing more than one thing at once–we’re doing many different small things. Each time we move to another activity that requires our mental focus, the brain uses more glucose and there’s only so much to go around during the day. Too many distractions = energy zap. Today, focus on one task at a time and call yourself out when you aren’t.
14. Drink water.
Ditch the soda and stick with water today because every cell in your body needs it.
15. Read a book.
The best way to learn more about the world and about yourself is through reading. Doesn’t matter if it’s fiction or non-fiction, and audiobooks totally count. Whether you listen while you commute, or take a few minutes before you go to sleep, reading is the cheapest way to travel.
16. Post an anchor thought.
Sometimes life is hard. It’s part of being human. For those times, I want you to cheer for yourself. Post your favorite quote where you can see it and read it aloud every time you pass by.
Self-care doesn’t have to take a lot of time, but it has to be a consistent practice in your life.
You deserve the time you take and those around you will benefit, too.