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A Busy Person's Guide to Self-Care

By Carley Schweet

In this article:

It’s no secret that we need self-care now more than ever before. A well-rounded self-care practice can be the key to creating a less stressful and more intentional life—one that feels manageable during the most overwhelming of times. 

Our society often touts self-care with hopeful intentions and as a “fix-all” to our individual struggles, but accessibility to this practice isn’t always easy or equal. For busy parents, healthcare workers, teachers, and other essential professionals in the workforce, taking time to pause and tend to personal needs can feel impossible in such a high-demand time. Still, the difficulties many face to create self-care doesn’t mean that it’s any less critical. It’s the times that we resist self-care the hardest that we need it the most. 

While it may feel tempting to multitask during your moments of self-care, you won’t produce the profound benefits of healing that can happen when you approach self-care from a different angle. For example, instead of responding to emails while in the bath or taking Zoom calls from the treadmill, try the below tips to change the foundation of self-care. Doing so will set you up with a more sustainable and accessible practice, especially when you’re short on time.

‌‌‌‌5 Tips to Create Self-Care When You Don’t Have the Time

1. Drop the All-or-Nothing Mindset

Feeling like you have to have an elaborate self-care routine to be effective can create a barrier to practice when you’re short on time. Here’s the good news: any amount of time spent on self-care can be helpful. 

Instead of ditching self-care altogether because you don’t have the hours in your schedule, try taking a minute or two throughout the day to reap the benefits, all while staying on top of your busyness. When you find yourself with a longer chunk of free time, you can then slow down and tune into your self-care practice, but until then, accept that even a little can go a long way.

Ultimately, remember that a little bit of self-care can help. As we all know, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither should your self-care practice. Start with small but impactful self-care practices that can build on each other to support your mind, body, and soul.

2. Ask for Specific Support

When you have a lot on your plate, this tip can be the most critical. Asking others in your life for specific support around your self-care is essential. While it may be a hard pill to swallow, there’s no way you can get everything accomplished and take care of yourself without asking for others’ help. Like many, if you struggle with asking for support, try to be as clear and concise as possible without overexplaining yourself.

Try this: “Hey, I’m feeling a little burned out right now and don’t have it in me to cook and clean tonight. Any chance you could pick up dinner on your way home?”

Or this: “I’ll need you to put the kids to bed so I can take a bath tonight. I’m running on empty and really need some alone time. Thanks for your support on this.”

Notice how both examples include specific asks for support (picking up dinner and putting the kids to bed). By telling the other party what you need them to do to pitch in and support you, you’re saving time and frustration on both ends. 

You can also swap out your requests for help as needed, but always emphasize how you’re feeling in addition to a specific request. Adding in a vulnerability level helps the other person understand where you’re coming from and how pitching in is supporting you.

3. Flex Your ‘No’ Muscles

Take an honest look at your day. Do you have to be the one doing everything that you’ve taken upon yourself? Some days, sure, there’s little that can change, but if that’s the reality for your life every single day, it’s time to reevaluate how much you’re taking on.

If you’re up to it, make a list of three things you can begin to say no to in your life. Releasing these responsibilities will help to create more time in your schedule to care for you and your needs. Just make sure not to use that newly-found time to cram even more work or household chores into your day; focus on getting in that necessary you-time.

With time, saying no and asking for help (revisit tip number two, if necessary) can help you carve out more time within your day and, hopefully, relieve some of the pressure and overwhelm you feel. Here are some easy ways to start incorporating no into your vocabulary:

  • I’ve taken on too much, and I can’t handle any more right now.
  • Unfortunately, I can’t commit to that at the moment.
  • Thanks for thinking of me, but it’s a no right now.

4. Make Adjustments on the Fly

When your schedule is jam-packed, you’re probably used to making last-minute changes and adjusting to how you spend your time. Try to approach your self-care routine with the same mindset to ensure that you can still care for your needs and handle what’s on your list.

Allow yourself to find flexibility within your self-care to not fall into the all-or-nothing mindset trap mentioned above. The more flexible you are, the higher your chances of creating some sort of self-care throughout the day, hopefully paired with fewer feelings of guilt and overwhelm. Do your best to be prepared for self-care when the opportunity presents itself (have a protein bar, a water bottle, or your supplements on hand) and be open to what you might learn or discover when you veer from your original “plan.”


5. Let Go of the ‘To-Do List’ Mindset

The moment that self-care becomes an item to cross off of your to-do list is the moment that you’ve lost touch with what it means to self-care. When you add self-care to your list of tasks to accomplish for your day, you’ll instantly feel more overwhelmed and won’t reap the profound benefits that self-care can provide.

Instead, work on approaching self-care as non-negotiable and something that you will aim to practice daily—no matter how big or small—to help support your overall health and wellness.

‌‌‌‌Supportive Self-Care Ideas When You’re Short on Time

If you’re ready to create self-care during your busiest days, keep the above tips in mind to feel more grounded and confident in your practice. Then, select a few of the below self-care ideas to get started on crafting your short-on-time self-care routine.

Notice how you can complete many of these within five minutes or less.

  • Take a few deep belly breaths
  • Tongue scrape morning and night

  • Make your bed every morning
  • Complete a few simple stretches
  • Take a high-quality multivitamin daily

  • Drink plenty of water
  • Ask for support in something
  • Speak up and say no
  • Use a sheet mask while getting ready for the morning
  • Eat lunch away from your desk

Once you’ve gotten comfortable practicing some of these small self-care acts, begin to think of what you can do to create an even more intentional self-care practice. Consider what you need the most right now and what actually sounds supportive if time wasn’t a consideration. Then, do your best to make those things happen.

‌‌‌‌Self-Care is Non-Negotiable So Don’t Feel Guilty

When you’re a busy person, sometimes feelings of guilt and overwhelm can feel common. I cannot stress enough that any level of self-care is better than no self-care at all. So, if you find yourself squeezing in a quick walk outside while on a phone call or slapping on a face mask while putting the kids down, know that’s perfectly fine. What’s important is that you’re tuning into your needs and acknowledging they exist, rather than pushing them away until it’s all too much to handle.

If you find yourself doing only the quick-fix self-care moments, try your best to balance them with a more profound, more supportive practice when you have time. This way, you’ll ensure that you can better care for yourself and those you love most because you’ll meet your needs in many different ways.

Keep in mind that the more profound self-care practices might require you to ask for help or let go of some tasks currently on your plate. That doesn’t mean that you are not worth it or the acts are too grand or time-consuming. Speak up and ask for support, delegate tasks as appropriate, and try to come back to the mindset that self-care is a baseline requirement for health and happiness, not a luxury.

No matter how busy you find yourself, remember that your self-care is non-negotiable. Remember, one can never pour from an empty cup, so use self-care practices—big and small—to refill your cup before pouring it out into others. Your mental, physical, and emotional health are extremely important, and self-care can help.

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