Practicing self-care sounds like it should be fun and easy, yet we consistently find ourselves overworked and feeling like we have no time. A young woman who died in 2013 from “overwork” has been in the news recently after one of Japan’s broadcasting companies, NHK, reported it. This woman, Miwa Sado, reportedly worked 159 hours of overtime in a month and then died of congestive heart failure. If she were already working a 40 hour work week, then 159 hours of overtime is equivalent to 80 hours a week. Which would leave her with about 11 hours a day to sleep, eat, shower, etc with no weekends off.
I’m sure we’ve all had weeks like that where it feels like we just need to keep going and self-care feels like a luxury. But ultimately we set ourselves up to fail when we don’t take time to care of ourselves. In the extreme example above, lack of self-care led to death. For most of us, no self-care leads to feeling overwhelmed, burnt out, and irritable. You might think you are getting a lot done but in reality, you are probably taking longer to complete tasks and not completing them as well as you could.
I recently set myself up for failure after traveling two weekends in a row. I knew that after the second trip I was going to feel exhausted and wouldn’t want to do much of anything. But I figured I could just keep going through the week and would rest the next weekend. This was a terrible idea. I was a wreck all week, couldn’t concentrate on anything, was irritable, and found myself too stressed to sleep well. And the worst part was, I ran out of coffee. I knew before going into the week I was running low, but stupidly convinced myself I’d be fine and would power through. If I’d actually followed through with my usual self-care routine, I would have gotten a lot more done and been a lot more enjoyable to be around.
Here are some ways to incorporate self-care into your life.
1. Plan and Prepare
Self-care isn’t just about bubble baths and being pampered. If you know you are going to have a rough week, plan and prepare as much as possible. Plan meals, go grocery shopping, write out your schedule, put gas in your car, pick out your clothes, make sure you have enough coffee. Anything that will make your week just that much easier.
2. Sleep Well and Eat Well
I am a crazy, angry person when I don’t get at least 8 hours of sleep a night. I know this about myself and try not to let anything get between me and my sleep. I also get incredibly “hangry”. When I’m busy, lunch is usually the first thing that goes which leads to a bad afternoon for me where I can’t concentrate on anything and end up getting nothing done. We think we don’t have time for a good night’s sleep or a good meal but really we make things worse for ourselves and get less accomplished.
3. Make Therapy and Doctor Appointments
Checkups are important. Teeth cleanings are important. Talking to your therapist is important. Taking that time and space to tend to your physical and mental health will give you the energy to get done what you need to get done. Googling symptoms for a month and stressing over that weird pain in your side isn’t going to help. Make an appointment.
4. Practice Mindfulness
Take a moment to pause and look around you. Check in with your body. Practice some deep breathing. Do what I just did and stare at a squirrel cleaning its tail for 3 minutes. Whatever calms your mind or slows it down for a minute can make big changes in your day.
5. Just Say No
You have to be your biggest advocate because no one else knows exactly how you feel. If taking on that extra work or going out to dinner with friends is going to stress you out, say no. If you are someone who automatically says yes to everything and the thought of saying no makes you break out in hives, practice saying “I’ll get back to you.” Then later, after giving yourself a pep-talk, say “no”/”I won’t be able to make it”/”I can’t take that on right now.” You don’t have to give an excuse.
6. Pamper Yourself
And of course, if bubble baths and manicures make you feel refreshed, go for it! Binge that new TV show and take a nap. Sometimes we feel guilty when we spend too much time watching TV, on social media, or even taking a nap. If you structure your day where you include time to do those things, it can be much more enjoyable.