Crazy Busy? Try Incremental Self-Care

When I was in my 30s and working in a hectic corporate job with long hours, I would attempt to make it to the river trail for a walk, to the yoga studio for a class, or to my meditation cushion for a 20-minute sit—but then usually I’d “abort mission.” My thinking was that, since I couldn’t find the time to successfully pull off one of these wellness activities (as I had envisioned doing them), I might as well not do anything at all.

This shifted in 1999, when I began researching, studying, practicing, and teaching the art and science of self-care—what I define as attuning and responding to your needs and desires moment to moment—and realized how wrong I was. Self-care isn’t about self-improvement, becoming You 2.0, or following the advice of a health guru—it’s about acknowledging where you are right now and making choices that support a kinder, gentler way of being with yourself. I call this practice “incremental self-care.”

 When I introduce this practice to newbies, they often sigh and say that this sounds like one more thing to add to their to-do list (although for some of my clients, scheduling “dates with yourself” can be a powerful way to keep your well-being a priority). But when I share that it’s more about cultivating a new way of being and taking baby steps towards developing an allegiance to yourself, they become curious.

Some of you have been reading my self-care blog for 15 years, and others are new to this life-altering practice. If you’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and tired of running yourself ragged, pause, close your eyes, put your hand over your chest, and ask, “What do I need?” Then consider weaving a few of my favorite five-minute self-care pearls into your busy day.

Eight power-packed self-care “dollops” to try this week:

Just breathe. Breathe in for three, hold for three, exhale for three, breathing through your nose with your mouth closed. Repeat eight times, going at your own pace. Conscious breathing is the most powerful way to come into the present and calm our fight-or-flight response lightning fast.

Sit and do nothing. Our minds crave stillness (not to mention our hearts, bodies, and souls). Turn off all electronics and rest in stillness with your eyes closed for five minutes. Stay with your breath and watch your thoughts float by like twigs going down a fast-moving stream. Your only job is to just BE.

Walk. Walking is great for stress relief, idea generation, problem-solving, and integrating our left and right brains. Just five minutes of brisk walking has been shown to have a positive impact. The longer the better!

Write. Guided journaling offers tremendous benefits. It helps us connect our inner and outer worlds and release our troubles. Try my three-question quickie journaling exercise: How do I feel? What do I need? What do I want? Repeat as often as needed; I do this every morning.

Lie down with your legs up the wall. Feeling overwhelmed and don’t have time for a yoga class? Close your office door and try Legs up the Wall, which is great for instantly calming your nervous system and offers a whole other host of benefits. I love this pose. No need for a pillow or special equipment; take off your shoes first though.

Try self-massage. It’s surprising how soothing it can feel to kindly rub your upper and mid-arms (rotate your wrists and fingers, too) to release tension and help bring you back to the here and now. Also, I just love these Yoga Tune Up balls to use behind my lower back and under my thighs when sitting or traveling for long periods of time.

Practice “earthing.” Find the nearest green space, take off your shoes and socks, (who cares how this looks, how bad do you want to feel good?!), and get your feet on the grassy ground. Walk around or, if you have time, lie down on a blanket on your stomach. A lot of research is coming out about the benefits of communing with mama nature in this way. For me, dirt always puts everything in perspective!

Drink water. Most of us are dehydrated all the time, and we underestimate the side effects of not drinking enough good, clean, filtered water: irritability, headaches, fuzzy thinking, and lethargy. Shoot for 64 ounces a day and try sipping throughout the day rather than chugging after a workout (you can always tell when you’re getting enough water because your urine is clear and your skin looks amazing).

Feel inspired to try incremental self-care? Experiment with the ideas above, adopt a “baby steps” mentality and be compassionate with yourself. Taking regular breaks throughout the day and slowing down to a more humane pace can be a radical form of self-care for many of us.

Renée Peterson Trudeau is an internationally recognized transformational coach, speaker, catalyst, founder and president of Career Strategists, and the author of two award-winning books The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal: How to Reclaim, Rejuvenate and Re-Balance Your Life and Nurturing the Soul of Your Family: 10 Ways to Reconnect and Find Peace in Everyday Life.

Full Bio and Programs