Self-care is more than just a trendy buzzword. Setting aside time for yourself can make a huge difference in your physical, emotional and mental health. But sometimes, your self-care routine may not be so caring after all.
A recent study found that the way some people schedule time for leisure can take the fun out of it. Doing things like setting rigid time limits on activities and worrying too much about what you’re going to do afterward can put a damper on your time to unwind, according to research.
In other words, your habits may be turning your relaxing routine into anything but. We consulted experts on how to make time for yourself without turning it into a chore. Take a look at their suggestions below:
Do things you actually want to do
“Plenty of people have an idea of what self-care looks like ― yoga and quinoa might be involved ― but if those aren’t your things, you won’t stick with it,” said Laura Vanderkam, author of Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done.
While there’s nothing wrong with getting your daily dose of downward dog, doing something you have no real interest in defeats the purpose of self-care.
One of the first things you should do when creating your routine is to ask yourself what makes you feel like the best version of you, according to Vanderkam. “What makes you feel whole and energized? And then, what are some little ways you can build these routines into your life?” she added.
Vanderkam emphasized the importance of being reasonable when choosing what to include in your practice. She also suggested that including short activities that take 10 to 15 minutes can make you more likely to keep up your practice than if you do something that takes hours.
Get back to the basics
“Self-care can involve basic rituals that ensure health and optimal performance,” said Leah Lagos, a clinical and sports psychologist based in New York. One of the biggest, most essential ones? Sleep.
While the American Sleep Association states that there is no universal number of hours you need to sleep, not getting enough will result in sleep deprivation, which could also affect your diet. Lagos personally tells her clients to map out their sleep schedule ahead of time and plan the rest of their day around it.
A proper eating schedule is also important to maintain. Lagos recommended eating three meals and two small snacks at the same time every day. A regular eating routine can stabilize your body and make it feel secure, she added.
Focus on the present
Amalea K. Seelig, a clinical psychologist based in New York, said that when you are doing something you enjoy, you should try to stay as connected to the experience as possible.
“One of the best ways to remain in your experience is to notice when you are having thoughts that are unrelated to it,” Seelig said. “This is the practice of mindfulness.”
Being mindful simply means paying close attention to what’s happening in the moment and learning how to take pleasure in activities related to your self-care without worrying about all of the things you have to do when they’re over. So instead of stressing over your to-do list while you’re hanging out with a friend, try putting that energy into having a good time.
Make the most of the free time you do have
The early bird catches the worm ― and also has a great opportunity to recharge before beginning the day.
“Mornings tend to be a great time to get things done because the day’s work and personal emergencies have yet to come up,” Vanderkam said. “Before you turn on your phone, spend 15 to 20 minutes doing something fun for you.”
If your schedule permits you to have some free time on the weekends, Vanderkam said, you should be intentional about that time too.
“A few days ahead of time, think about three things you could do over the weekend that would add to your energy levels,” she said. “Think about where these can go [in your plans] and the logistics that need to happen.”
By carving out time in advance for some self-care hobbies, you’ll be saving yourself from feeling overwhelmed when you have multiple events happening during the weekend.
Hold yourself accountable
The best thing you can do to show your loved ones that you care for them is to care for yourself first, said Naomi Ben-Ami, psychologist and assistant director at Williamsburg Therapy Group in New York. To illustrate the significance of prioritizing your own well-being, Ben-Ami said, she likes to use the metaphor of the airline safety message, “If you’re traveling with a child, please put on your own oxygen mask first.”
“We have to make sure that our own selves are nourished and whole in order to show up for our other responsibilities,” she stressed.
But If you feel as though you really don’t have any space in your schedule for some personal TLC, Vanderkam suggested finding an accountability partner.
“You can check in with each other [to make sure] that you’ve done your self-care routine,” Vanderkam said. “Sometimes knowing that someone else expects something from you can nudge you to do it.”