How many of us are guilty of chugging through the day, attending to our kids, crossing things off our to do list, driving from here to there to get errands done, only to find ourselves at the end of our day feeling completely drained?  I have a feeling many of us are raising our hands. Day to day life for loads of us only seems to be getting busier. Our list of commitments and “have to’s” is growing. With that, we can be left feeling like our metaphorical gas tank is empty.  

Most of us have heard about self-care. We know it’s important. We may even know a few things that we “should” do for self-care. But one of the things I hear over and over from women, especially, is “how do I fit self-care into my already packed day?!” This is such a valid question. Women often find themselves giving and giving to others all day long, at work and at home, and wonder how they can possibly fit time for themselves into that full daily schedule.

You are not alone if you are asking yourself this same question. Many of us tend to prioritize our day to day duties in something similar to the following order: family, work, chores (cooking, shopping, laundry, etc), activities or other commitments, and last but not least self-care. Rinse and repeat. We consistently put self-care as our lowest priority. When it is last on the list, it is the one that can most easily be skipped entirely if we run out of time.   

So, what happens when we don’t fit in time for self-care into our daily schedule? I don’t know about you, but I know when I am not making time or prioritizing self-care into my day, my patience level heads south. It is much easier to become snippy and less understanding when interacting with others. What else happens when self-care isn’t a part of our daily life?

Consequences of not practicing self-care:

  • Low energy
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Less patience
  • Increased headaches, stomach aches, and other physical symptoms of stress
  • Difficulty falling and staying asleep
  • Challenges in choosing healthy food and urges to eat “comfort” foods
  • Worsening mental health symptoms like depression or anxiety
  • Feeling “burnout”
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Strain or distancing in the relationship with your spouse or partner
  • Less patience with your children
  • Reduced performance at work
  • Less motivation to engage in social activities

It’s no surprise that when we neglect our own self-care, it catches up with us. All of the above symptoms and consequences that happen when we don’t take time to better care for ourselves can add up quickly. Have you noticed any of these symptoms or reactions in yourself? Maybe you have but aren’t sure how to actually change it. Changing habits we’ve been stuck in for a long time can be challenging. But you CAN do it.

“But how?” you may be asking yourself. The best way to make any behavior change is to make it as simple as possible, realistic, and achievable. What does this mean? It means making sure you’re not expecting something that isn’t going to be feasible in your day to day life. For instance, in a perfect world, most of us would love to get an hour-long massage every day, take a bubble bath every night, and enjoy a relaxing gourmet meal each day. Is that possible for most us? No. Instead, we need to take a good look at what actually is possible. Start small.  

Below is a list of self-care ideas. Choose even one item that you think you could squeeze into your day. Maybe try to implement something in the morning so you know you won’t run out of time before you have a chance to do it. The key here is just to try. Are you going to do it perfectly every day? Of course not. Maybe you try one of these ideas, and it just didn’t give you the peaceful boost you were hoping for. Then try another idea below. Keep trying until you find something that give you the result you’re looking for.

Pay attention to how you feel after you take time to attend to yourself. What do you notice in the rest of your day? Are you finding you are calmer and more patient with others? Are you sleeping better at night? The more we do something, the more likely it is to become a positive habit. This is the secret with self-care — making it a habit so it’s something we wouldn’t second guess doing, just like eating dinner is something we don’t typically feel guilty prioritizing.   

Self-care ideas:

  • Make a gratitude list
  • Listen to upbeat or relaxing music
  • Take five minutes to sit down and put your feet up
  • Stand in the shower with the hot water pouring over your back
  • Ask your spouse or partner for a foot rub or back massage
  • Go for a walk over your lunch break
  • Listen to a meditation (“Insight Timer” is a free app for meditations)
  • Take an Epsom salt bath
  • Schedule a date night with your spouse, partner, or friends to connect without distractions
  • Enjoy a hot cup of tea
  • Spend five minutes taking deep breaths
  • Get a manicure or pedicure or give yourself one
  • Turn your phone off for 30 minutes
  • Participate in a yoga class
  • Light a yummy smelling candle
  • Write in a journal for five minutes
  • Read a book for 20 minutes
  • Go to bed 15 minutes early
  • Unfollow someone on social media who is negative or makes you feel badly

If you are feeling overwhelmed in thinking about how to make changes to better prioritize your own self-care, help is available.  Especially if we are struggling with mental health concerns, it can be really hard to find the energy or motivation to start making changes to better ourselves. Seeing a therapist can help you break down your goals into easier, achievable steps, and support you in this goal of making yourself a priority.