When you have a never-ending to-do list to attend to, it's easy to let self-care fall by the wayside. But by making self-care a priority, you'll be better equipped to handle every stressful hurdle that's thrown your way in your professional and personal lives. And luckily, there are a number of self-care routines that can be easily integrated into your daily schedule.
Not sure where to begin? Here are some ideas try.
Plan something to look forward to
Dr. Jennifer Guttman, clinical psychologist and author of the new book A Path To Sustainable Life Satisfaction, tells SheKnows that having something to look forward to can do the mind a world of good. "Making a plan in the future gives us the forward momentum to get through boring or difficult days and reminds us that we care enough about ourselves to make a plan to do something nice for ourselves in the future," Guttman says.
Whether it's a vacation, going to the theater or spending a day on the ski slopes, any enjoyable activity that requires some advance planning can lift your spirits.
Spend time outdoors
Becky Howie, a registered psychotherapist at NatureWise Counseling in Colorado, emphasizes the importance of spending time outside. If you're rushing from one building to another in an attempt to get it all done, chances are you rarely get the opportunity to appreciate your natural surroundings. If you're not the outdoorsy type, don't worry — this routine can be as simple as taking a moment to appreciate your natural surroundings rather than rushing right past them.
"Studies have shown that time spent in nature lowers the level of cortisol (the stress hormone) in our systems," Howie tells SheKnows. "So next time you’re on your way to work, stop and look up at the clouds in the sky for 30 seconds and just let yourself feel the sun on your face and enjoy it."
Start a pride journal
Karen R. Koenig, a licensed clinical social worker, recommends starting a pride journal, which tracks everything you're proud of doing. "Nothing is too small to include," she tells SheKnows. As an example, Koenig explains she uses this practice with clients who have overeating disorders and are extremely hard on themselves.
"Mostly, they see only the behaviors that they did wrong and are ashamed of — not the ones they did right and are proud of," she explains. "A pride journal helps them track these proud moments daily and is a great self-esteem booster."
Of course, pride journals can be applied to all aspects of our lives.
Practice loving-kindness meditation
There are many forms of mindfulness and meditation, but Howie says the most effective for self-care is loving-kindness meditation.
"It's a particular form of mindfulness that invites us to treat ourselves with gentleness, the same kindness and gentleness that we might offer to a dear friend or a child in pain," she explains. Begin by wishing positive things for yourself, such as "May I be healthy," "May I be happy," and "May I be peaceful and at ease."
Howie provides the caveat that many people struggle with offering such kindness to themselves, so she typically encourages clients to start with a beloved person or pet in their life where the positive thoughts flow naturally.
"Begin there, and then if you can move towards offering the same kindness to yourself, wonderful!" Howie says. "If not, that’s OK too. Just spending time wishing another well will also boost our spirits and can be an act of self-care."
Learn to say no
"This one might not seem obvious, but I find it makes so many other forms of self-care a possibility," Howie explains. When we default to saying yes to all the things we think we "should" be doing, we end up devoting a great deal of time to the whims of those around us and are left with inadequate "scraps of time" to take care of ourselves.
"When we learn to say no to requests from others, whether it’s a friend wanting to go out for drinks or your boss asking you to take on yet another project at work, then we make room to say yes to ourselves and our own needs," Howie says.
Finally, remember self-care is a necessity and not a luxury — so don't feel guilty about planning something special for yourself or saying no to an event or project that will leave you too depleted to engage in self-care.