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Four steps to prioritize self-care in busy times

In the hustle and bustle of modern life, it's all too common to find ourselves caught in a whirlwind of work and personal commitments, juggling an ever-expanding to-do list with precious little time to tend to our own well-being.

For many of us, the story is all too familiar: during those frantic periods, we anticipate relief once the chaos subsides. Paradoxically, we often emerge from such busy phases feeling drained, experiencing a dip in energy, or even falling ill.

This raises a fundamental question: why do we tend to neglect self-care precisely when we need it most? And how can we avoid the post-busy period recovery phase, which only prolongs the exhaustion we've been grappling with?

Forgetting ourselves

The "doing mode," characterized by an incessant drive to accomplish tasks and solve problems, exerts a powerful pull on our lives. When we're laser-focused on productivity, our perspective narrows, and we tend to view self-care as a luxury we can ill afford. We become trapped in a tunnel vision, only seeing the immediate challenges before us and convincing ourselves that self-care can wait until a more convenient time. We mistakenly prioritize urgency over importance, disregarding the fact that failing to invest in self-care depletes our energy reserves, much like drawing from an overdrawn bank account.

This postponement of self-care can trigger a downward spiral. The more exhausted we become, the less inclined we are to take care of ourselves, leading to decreased concentration, reduced productivity, heightened anxiety, and negative thought patterns. These negative thoughts and emotions feed off each other and can manifest as physical tension, sometimes resulting in unexplained somatic pain. Before we realize it, we find ourselves caught in a cycle of exhaustion and depression.

1. Start by taking a pause

What if, in those overwhelming moments, we simply paused? What if we temporarily stepped out of the relentless "doing mode" and embraced a state of "being"?

Perhaps, in this moment of pause, we'd become more aware of stress symptoms like poor sleep, bodily tension, or increased anxiety. In mindfulness practice, individuals often compile a list of their stress symptoms and share them with a trusted friend or loved one, who can help them recognize these signs. This external perspective is invaluable, as we often overlook or dismiss our own stress indicators.

During such moments, we can ask ourselves: "What do I need right now?" We can also challenge the persistent thought that we have no time for ourselves. Is it genuinely accurate that there's no time for self-care? Is this thought beneficial, and how might our well-being improve without it?

Moreover, it's crucial to remember that we can only be there for others when we're adequately caring for ourselves. You cannot give from an empty well. Much like the airplane safety protocol advises passengers to secure their oxygen masks first before assisting others, prioritizing our well-being is paramount. When we're depleted, we cannot effectively care for anyone else.

2. Identify what feeds you

To sustain well-being and reduce overwhelm, it's vital to recognize the activities that recharge and nourish us personally. Here are some of my personal self-care practices:

  • Nature Walks and physical exercise: Physical activity in nature reduces obsessive thinking and stress. After just 20 minutes in nature, endorphins kick in, providing a sense of refreshment. Try leaving your phone behind during these walks or runs to fully engage with the sensory experiences of nature.
  • Healthy nutrition: Pay attention to how the food you consume affects your energy levels. Mindful eating, free from distractions, can enhance your connection to nourishment.
  • Meditation: Embrace meditation as a moment for yourself rather than a task on your to-do list. Consistency in daily meditation can have profound effects on your well-being.
  • Social Connections: Meaningful interactions with friends can be deeply nourishing. Sharing your worries often diminishes their impact.
  • Retreats: Periodic retreats offer valuable moments of silence, free from daily roles and tasks. They provide an opportunity to rest, reflect, and make adjustments to your life priorities.
  • Hobbies: Investing time in hobbies, whether playing a musical instrument, reading, or pursuing any other passion, contributes significantly to well-being.
  • Learn something new: whether it is a new language, a new skill or a new type of sports or dancing learning can be truly nourishing. Why not check out our courses and see if there are some mental skills you would like to learn? 

Daily small self-care matters:

Don't underestimate the power of small, daily acts of self-care:

  • Completing chores in the evening can reduce morning stress, setting a positive tone for the day.
  • Taking short breaks throughout the day for deep breaths, stretches, or enjoying a cup of tea to reset your focus.
  • Listening to nourishing podcasts or uplifting music while tackling chores or tasks.

3. Setting healthy boundaries

Self-care also involves assertiveness, safeguarding your boundaries, and gracefully saying "no" when necessary. Failing to establish healthy boundaries is akin to pouring your energy into a bottomless pit. Healthy boundaries encompass declining excessive workloads, disconnecting from digital devices, and shielding yourself from toxic environments or individuals.

Compassion teacher Kristin Neff aptly describes this as "fierce compassion," combining tenderness with determination—an essential mix for maintaining your sanity.

4. How you do it matters more than what you do 

Regardless of the activities that replenish your energy, perform them mindfully. Approach them with a sense of presence, stepping away from the relentless pursuit of tasks. Prioritize these activities in your schedule just as you would a work appointment, because self-care isn't optional; it's vital for your well-being.

In moments when exhaustion or despondency looms, remember the French saying, "l'appetit vient en mangeant" (appetite comes with eating). Trust that as you commit to self-care, you'll begin to enjoy it more—just as endorphins kick in after 20 minutes of exercise. Maintain a list of nourishing activities as a reminder of what rejuvenates you, especially during challenging times.

Gandhi's wisdom encapsulates this sentiment: "I have a lot to do today. I need to meditate twice as much."

Why wait for the storm to pass to recharge your energy? Start now, indulge in self-care, and savour the moments that nourish you—eliminating the need for post-busy period recovery and gifting yourself with true "me-time" to relish.