Self-care is a hot topic these days — but as any busy person knows, it can be hard to carve out “me time.” When exactly are you supposed to squeeze in hourlong massages and elaborate pampering rituals? Well, here’s the thing: Self-care isn’t all bubble baths and meditation retreats. It actually refers to anything you do to tend to your mind and body — whether that means scheduling a checkup, meditating for 60 seconds before bed, or following through on that friend date you keep meaning to make. Think you’re too crazed to find time for yourself? Think again! Here are five ways you can sneak in micro-moments of self-care.
Time Saver: Rethink Your AM Routine
“The morning shapes how you feel for the rest of your day,” says Gretchen Rubin, a habits and happiness expert whose most recent book is Outer Order, Inner Calm. Think about remaking your routine. Start with a simple audit: Jot down everything you do on a typical morning, and identify snags. “Are you always struggling to find your keys? As dumb as it sounds, commit to putting them in the same place,” Rubin says. Does getting dressed involve multiple trips between the bedroom, laundry room, and hall closet? Try pulling together everything you need the night before.
Self-Care Sneak: Stretch It Out
Streamlining even one or two snags in your morning routine can help you get back 10 more minutes of freedom before you head out the door. Resist the urge to hit snooze on your alarm clock and instead roll out your yoga mat. Yoga offers a staggering number of health benefits, and may help lessen symptoms of depression, migraines, and chronic back pain. Recent research suggests that yoga may even improve heart disease and metabolic syndrome risk factors as much as other types of exercise.
Time Saver: Tame Your Inbox
A dead-simple tactic you can use to take back more of the time you spend stuck in your email, says Jocelyn Glei, author of Unsubscribe, is to “email block.” Check your email at set intervals throughout the day — say, right when you hit the office, just before lunch, again in the early afternoon and before you sign off. It might seem like dealing with emails in batches would take the same amount of time as fielding queries as they come, but don’t underestimate the power of distraction. Every time your inbox alerts you to a message, it pulls your focus away from the work at hand. All of those little interruptions add up.
Self-Care Sneak: Take a Stroll
If fewer distractions from your always-on inbox shift a few more minutes back to your corner, do yourself a favor and get away from work. Every break “you give yourself will help, by calming the autonomic nervous system, lowering your blood pressure and allowing you time to recover,” says Alice Domar, PhD, a psychologist and executive director of the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health in Boston. Take a loop around the block. Research suggests that simply moving your body — going for that quick walk, climbing stairs, or doing light chores — may help protect against depression, even if you’re not pumped to get started.
Time Saver: Become a Meal-Prep Pro
Eating in makes it easier to eat healthier. You know exactly what’s going into each dish, can tweak recipes to cater to your dietary needs, and control portion sizes, says Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, a nutritionist and author of The Superfood Swap. But preparing meals takes time. One way to slash your kitchen time significantly is to get a week’s worth of prep work done at once. Clean, peel, and chop veggies, pre-cook grains, hard-boil eggs, roast sweet potatoes, and pre-make sauces or dressings. Investing an hour on Sundays could buy you back 20 minutes every other night of the week.
Self-Care Sneak: Schedule “You” Time
Now that you’ve got 20 extra minutes to spare, grab your calendar and get ready to plot out some self-care. When Laura Vanderkam, author of I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time, studied the time logs of women who were able to balance demanding careers with healthy habits and positive relationships, she found that advanced scheduling was key. It starts with getting super specific. “Most people make very nebulous goals, like ‘see friends,’” she says. Instead, schedule defined activities. With a little bit of preplanning, “see more friends” becomes “lunch date with Jen on Tuesday.”
Time Saver: Run Errands at an Off Hour
Between 4 pm and 6 pm, you’re more likely to encounter crowds and traffic, says Andrea Worooch, a consumer savings expert. That’s because many people are getting off work during this window and hoping to run “one quick errand.” To knock out your to-do list without jostling elbows with other like-minded shoppers, aim to do errands at offbeat hours. Pick up dry cleaning over your lunch break, or hit the grocery store in the early morning or late evening, after 8 pm.
Self-Care Sneak: Breathe Deep
Take the time you would’ve spent running around to decompress from the day you’ve had. When we get stressed, our breathing tends to become more shallow, says Domar. “Deep, diaphragmatic breaths increase your oxygen and create a sense of calm.” To make sure you’re breathing from your diaphragm, Domar recommends resting one hand an inch above your belly button. As you inhale, she says, your hand should rise an inch. Count down from 10 to zero with each inhalation, then exhale slowly. Make this simple exercise a daily habit by building it into your morning routine: Practice breathing deeply before you start your engine to drive to work, or after you board the train.
Time Saver: Put on Your PJs After Dinner
Most Americans watch between two and three hours of TV a day, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While we’d never suggest that you kick that habit to the curb entirely (this is the new Golden Age of Television, after all!), there are some clever ways to make sure that it’s interest — not inertia — that has you watching. Some people set an alarm to remind themselves it’s time for bed, says Rubin. For her, prepping for bed before she turns on the tube works even better. “I used to feel too tired to take out my contacts, brush my teeth, change into pajamas and all that, so I’d just stay up,” she says. After switching off the TV, take 30 minutes or so to wind down without screens with a book or some gentle stretches. Research suggests that blue light from digital devices may suppress the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, making it harder to get a good night’s rest.
Self-Care Sneak: Go to Bed Already!
After you’re done reading or stretching, now actually get in bed. Most adults need seven to eight hours of sleep a night — but many of us get less than 7 hours, according to the CDC. And there’s more at stake than grogginess: The CDC points out that lack of sleep raises the risk of asthma, heart attack, and depression. Research also suggests that chronic poor sleep may increase a person’s risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. The bottom line? Hitting the hay a bit early may be one of the best self-care moves you make all day.
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