“I don’t have the time to exercise.”
“My mind is too busy to meditate.”
“My meetings start early so I skip breakfast.”
Does your work come before your health? Do your clients come before yourself? Does your chore-time come before your me-time?
It would be unreasonable for anyone to expect that self-care would always come first, but for most people, it rarely does. Self-care is usually the last thing on our list of priorities. We squeeze in a meal where there’s a 10-minute gap in the schedule, scarfing down food as fast as we can without even thinking about what we’re eating or how it makes us feel or we rush to the gym for a HIIT workout on the odd days when we actually get out of the office before 7 pm.
The hard truth is that living a healthy lifestyle is a matter of priorities, not time. We all have the same 24 hours in a day. It’s our choice of what we choose to do with them.
And if you decide that your work is your priority there’s nothing wrong with that. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise (including myself) but you will have to face the consequences of sacrificing your self-care down the line. It might be heart issues and regular trips to the doctor's office. It could be burnout and anxiety. It could be depression and constant fatigue. Maybe a mixture of it all.
The beauty of prioritizing self-care is that it actually makes us better at caring/working for others. When we’re burnt-out, fatigued, or anxious the quality of our work is poor. no matter how many hours we put in. However, when we’re feeling fulfilled, energized, and excited (the fruits of a regular self-care practice) we will find ourselves needing less time to get our work done because we are sharper and better focused.
Working hard is important, but working SMART is more important, and self-care is a huge part of smart work. Healthy people are also productive people.
I typically have 2 self-care sessions every day. The first two hours of my day are dedicated to me. I wake up and do a bit of journaling/sketching (because I love it), I take a hot/cold shower, stretch a little, sit for meditation, make a big healthy breakfast, and then eat it while listening to favourite podcast (which right now is a 3-way tie between Tea With Gary Vee, the Alan Watts Podcast, and PBS SpaceTime). I literally put self-care first every day. It means that I always have the energy to get through the day with focus and ease, even when I'm scheduled back-to-back. Plus I'm excited to tackle whatever projects/tasks/clients I have that day. In the afternoon or evening, I have another session dedicated to my movement practice during which I focus on enhancing my physical skills or learning new ones. It is a luxury to have this much time for self-care, believe me, I know… but I have it largely because I have made choices over the past few years that have put me in a position to do so, not only because I'm lucky (but that is certainly a contributing factor too).
I sacrificed a steady paycheck and stable job to have this time (you can read more about my journey from corporate consultant to health coach), but you don’t need to do that to make self-care fit your lifestyle and you certainly don't need an extra 2-3 hours to do so. If you’re looking for ways to prioritize self-care and do it effectively, so it doesn’t feel overwhelming or overly time-consuming, here are a few simple tips:
Do something in the morning that’s just for you. Wake up a bit earlier to do so if need be.
Do something that you like and is productive or creative. Some suggestions: reading, writing, drawing, dancing, solving puzzles, going for a walk, listening to your favourite educational podcast… there are lots of options.
Leave time to eat mindfully.
For some people, this means actually scheduling your meals right into your calendar so that you know when you’re going to eat and you have time to make a healthy choice. Try to avoid chatting the entire time so you can actually taste what you’re eating and feel when you’re full.
Take regular breaks and use them to move a little bit.
You really don’t need an hour in the gym if you take regular breaks throughout the day to move (unless you want to look like Arnold or move like Bruce Lee). Plus, it’s much better to spread your movement through the day than sit for 8 hours and then go hard for an hour at the gym. Doing the latter will actually contribute more to burnout than it will to feeling healthier. Remember, the goal is balance. The work hard, play hard life is not at all sustainable (or more like work hard, train hard, sleep maybe life).
When your mind is racing or blocked, breathe.
Trying to push through the blocks is usually counter-productive. Pause, close your eyes, take 3 deep breaths, and see if the block clears up. Maybe if you’ve gotten good at leaving space for self-care, you'll have a few extra minutes for a little walk around the block to get some fresh air or even just a walk around the 3rd floor of the office.
Making self-care fit a busy schedule isn’t as hard as it may seem. It's really about the little things; waking up a bit earlier to do something you enjoy, taking short breaks throughout the day, and being a little more mindful of your work habits will make your lifestyle a heck of a lot more sustainable. In the long run, it could prevent stress-induced diseases, mental health issues, and even add years to your life.
Your future self will thank you for making YOU a priority.
Thanks for reading. Wishing you well,