We all read the headlines. We know that self-care can make it easier to cope with high levels of stress. But too often, we feel we are already stretched so thin, it would only make matters worse if we stopped what needs doing and spent any time on self-care.
To get some tips and tools for squeezing self-care into a busy day, we consulted self-care specialists Samantha Kristoferson and Emilio Jose Garcia Rodriguez, the husband-and-wife duo behind KW Professional Organizers in Waterloo, Ont., along with New Dundee, Ont. health and well-being educator, Rebecca Byers.
Byers makes a good case for prioritizing self-care for not only our personal health but also for the success of the farm business. “Self-care is the foundation of a healthy life. We can’t be, feel, or do our best — and this includes work, relationships, health, happiness, everything — when we short-change or sacrifice our own health and well-being for prolonged periods,” says Byers.
Feeling rundown, getting sick, having trouble focusing or remembering things, becoming emotionally reactive, having low energy — these are all signs that you need to recharge, Byers says, and they are signs, too, that your business must be suffering.
Garcia agrees. If you find yourself feeling frustrated, overwhelmed and anxious, it may be time to practice some self-care, he says. “Our mental health influences how we think and feel about ourselves and others and how we interpret events.” This, in turn, has an impact on our resiliency and ability to adapt to change.
We hear the term “self-care” tossed around, but what exactly does it mean? Kristoferson explains: “Self-care is about identifying your own needs and taking steps to meet them. It is taking the time to do some of the activities that nurture you.”
Right now, you may be shaking your head and thinking, that would be all well and good if I lived in the city, maybe, but here on the farm, I just don’t have the time.
Even in the city, though, Byers says a lack of time is the first barrier people usually mention. “I get it,” she says. “People are usually juggling many responsibilities and commitments, including serving as caretakers for others, so it’s hard to do all the things and have time to look after yourself.”
The main challenge, she says, lies in not recognizing the necessity of self-care. “If you deem something essential, you find a way of making time for it.” Her advice is to start by focusing on the basics: Eat, sleep, move, make healthy food choices. “Be sure to regularly move your body, ideally doing something you enjoy.”
Byers offers these additional tips for finding ways to fit self-care into your schedule:
- Do something for yourself first thing in the day. Make it a practice to pay yourself first by regularly doing something that makes you feel good, be it exercise, enjoying a peaceful coffee or breakfast, or working on something you love to do.
- Piggyback it with something you’re already doing. Go for a walk or read a book while waiting for kids in their activities. Have a long talk with a friend while doing other chores. Listen to educational audio books and podcasts while you’re driving.
- Sneak it in. Have quick go-to options at the ready and squeeze in mini-breaks during transitions or dead time. Take a quick walk, talk to someone special, read a few pages, sit quietly with a lemonade, do something that makes you smile or laugh, do a favourite activity.Sometimes it’s about not doing something, continues Byers. “Self-care may mean skipping something and going to bed a bit earlier.”In their self-published book, A Recipe for an Extraordinary Life, Kristoferson and Garcia describe some helpful tools for making self-care a habit. (More detail is available in their book listed in the Resource section.)
- Create a self-care list. List 10 activities that nurture you. These will be different for everyone and might include walking in nature, reading for pleasure, cooking a favourite meal, working out, meditating, doing a favourite hobby or craft. Ideally, these are activities that don’t cost a lot of money and don’t require anyone else in order to do them, says Kristoferson.
- Do a time audit. Many of us perceive that we don’t have time to do anything for ourselves but by doing a time audit for a week or two you can see where your time is going and where there are empty spaces, says Kristoferson. If there is truly not enough space for self-care, are there things you can give up such as reducing the amount of time you spend watching Netflix or scrolling mindlessly through your social media feed? Are there things you have to do that can be done more efficiently?Self-care doesn’t have to require big blocks of time, continues Garcia, who has seen the benefits of practising piano for just 10 minutes a day.
- Journaling. Every day, Kristoferson records in her journal three things she is grateful for and one positive experience that happened in the past day. Research has clearly shown that practising gratitude improves psychological and physical health and enhances sleep, says Kristoferson. To make journaling a habit, she recommends choosing a consistent time of day that works for you, such as early morning or before bed.
- Reflect and set priorities. Every three to six months, Kristoferson and Garcia recommend taking time to reflect on what you want to prioritize for the next few months. Ask yourself questions such as what brings you joy? what motivates you to get up every morning? what are your dreams? what does your ideal day look like?Then consider the Seven Key Ingredients of body, mind, family, social, work, stuff, and giving back. On a scale of one to 10, rate how you feel about each of these key components and then set a few goals to improve areas where you scored low. This method is demonstrated in their YouTube video.
- Create an ideal week schedule. Build a schedule incorporating time for the self-care practices you’ve identified. Kristoferson adds that it’s important to consider your natural energy levels. If your best time for concentration is in the morning, for example, try to schedule activities that require concentration at that time. Then use calendar reminders to help you stay on track. See Kristoferson and Garcia’s YouTube video for more details.
- Communicate your plan to others and explain why it’s important.
- Use a habit tracker. Monitor up to five self-care activities to determine if you are following through. If you aren’t, why aren’t you. This practice is not meant to make you feel bad but to help you figure out why it’s not working, says Kristoferson, who cautions that it can take up to 21 days to form a new habit. For an example, see this YouTube video.
While all of these self-care strategies can be helpful, it’s important to keep your expectations realistic, says Kristoferson. Unrealistic expectations can lead to feelings of never having enough time in the day, frustrations with life satisfaction, depression and conflict with others.
Five ways to say “No”
Not being able to say no to activities that will get in the way of reaching our goals can result in not having enough time for self-care. KW Professional Organizers offer these suggestions to make it easier to say no.
- Right now is not a good time. Can you follow up with me (insert future date)?
- Thank you for thinking of me. May I have some time to think about it?
- That’s not ideal for me, but I know someone who would be great.
- I appreciate your time, but this is not something that interests me.
- Based on my previous experience, I know that is not a good fit for me.
A Recipe for an Extraordinary Life by Samantha Kristoferson and Emilio Jose Garcia Rodriguez. The KW Professional Organizers also offer coaching and online courses.
The Bullet Journal Method: Track the Past, Order the Present, Design the Future, a book by Ryder Carroll.
Find more information on the science-based approaches to achieving well-being offered by Rebecca Byers on her Live Well. Be Happy website.
Self-care Tip Sheet from the Canadian Association for Mental Health.
Breathing exercise videos (YouTube)
Workout Videos at fitnessblender.com.