“There are days I drop words of comfort on myself like falling leaves and remember that it is enough to be taken care of by myself.” ~Brian Andreas
Do you ever forget to take care of yourself?
I know. You’re busy, and finding the time to take proper care of yourself can be hard. But if you don’t, it won’t be long before you’re battered from exhaustion and operating in a mental fog where it’s hard to care about anything or anyone.
I should know.
A few years ago, I had a corporate job in London, working a regular sixty-hour week. I enjoyed working with my clients and colleagues, and I wanted to do well.
But I had no life.
I rarely took care of myself, and I was always focused on goals, achievements, and meeting the excessive expectations I had of myself. My high tolerance for discomfort meant I juggled all the balls I had in the air—but at the expense of being a well-rounded human being.
So I made an unusual choice. I quit my job and moved to Thailand to work in a freelance capacity across many different countries and companies, which enabled me to set my own hours and engagements.
I began to take care of myself better, scheduling in time alone, for exercise and for fun.
I got to know myself better and know what I needed—not just to function, but to flourish.
But guess what?
At the end of last year, I spent Christmas alone in bed, completely exhausted.
Why did this happen?
Well, I had been running my busy website and consulting in seven countries in just two months. I forgot to take care of myself again, and I got a nasty case of strep throat.
Self-Care Isn’t a One-Time Deal
The strep throat was a harsh reminder that self-care isn’t something you do once and tick off the list.
It’s the constant repetition of many tiny habits, which together soothe you and make sure you’re at your optimum—emotionally, physically, and mentally.
The best way to do this is to implement tiny self-care habits every day. To regularly include in your life a little bit of love and attention for your own body, mind, and soul.
The following ideas are tiny self-care activities you can fit into a short amount of time, usually with little cost.
Pick one from each category, and include them in your life this week.
Tiny Self-Care Ideas for the Mind
1. Start a compliments file. Document the great things people say about you to read later.
2. Scratch off a lurker on your to-do list, something that’s been there for ages and you’ll never do.
3. Change up the way you make decisions. Decide something with your heart if you usually use your head. Or if you tend to go with your heart, decide with your head.
4. Go cloud-watching. Lie on your back, relax, and watch the sky.
5. Take another route to work. Mixing up your routine in small ways creates new neural pathways in the brain to keep it healthy.
6. Pay complete attention to something you usually do on autopilot, perhaps brushing your teeth, driving, eating, or performing your morning routine.
7. Goof around for a bit. Schedule in five minutes of “play” (non-directed activity) several times throughout your day.
8. Create a deliberate habit, and routinize something small in your life by doing it in the same way each day—what you wear on Tuesdays, or picking up the dental floss before you brush.
9. Fix a small annoyance at home that’s been nagging you—a button lost, a drawer that’s stuck, a light bulb that’s gone.
10. Punctuate your day with a mini-meditation with one minute of awareness of your thoughts, feelings, and sensations; one minute of focused attention on breathing; and one minute of awareness of the body as a whole.
11. Be selfish. Do one thing today just because it makes you happy.
12. Do a mini-declutter. Recycle three things from your wardrobe that you don’t love or regularly wear.
13. Unplug for an hour. Switch everything to airplane mode and free yourself from the constant bings of social media and email.
14. Get out of your comfort zone, even if it’s just talking to a stranger at the bus stop.
15. Edit your social media feeds, and take out any negative people. You can just “mute” them; you don’t have to delete them.
Tiny Self-Care Ideas for the Body
1. Give your body ten minutes of mindful attention. Use the body scan technique to check in with each part of your body.
2. Oxygenate by taking three deep breaths. Breathe into your abdomen, and let the air puff out your stomach and chest.
3. Get down and boogie. Put on your favorite upbeat record and shake your booty.
4. Stretch out the kinks. If you’re at work, you can always head to the bathroom to avoid strange looks.
5. Run (or walk, depending on your current physical health) for a few minutes. Or go up and down the stairs three times.
6. Narrow your food choices. Pick two healthy breakfasts, lunches, and dinners and rotate for the week.
7. Activate your self-soothing system. Stroke your own arm, or if that feels too weird, moisturize.
8. Get to know yourself intimately. Look lovingly and without judgment at yourself naked. (Use a mirror to make sure you get to know all of you!)
9. Make one small change to your diet for the week. Drink an extra glass of water each day, or have an extra portion of veggies each meal.
10. Give your body a treat. Pick something from your wardrobe that feels great next to your skin.
11. Be still. Sit somewhere green, and be quiet for a few minutes.
12. Get fifteen minutes of sun, especially if you’re in a cold climate. (Use sunscreen if appropriate.)
13. Inhale an upbeat smell. Try peppermint to suppress food cravings and boost mood and motivation.
14. Have a good laugh. Read a couple of comic strips that you enjoy. (For inspiration, try Calvin and Hobbes, Dilbert, or xkcd.)
15. Take a quick nap. Ten to twenty minutes can reduce your sleep debt and leave you ready for action.
Tiny Self-Care Ideas for the Soul
1. Imagine you’re your best friend. If you were, what would you tell yourself right now? Look in the mirror and say it.
2. Use your commute for a “Beauty Scavenger Hunt.” Find five unexpected beautiful things on your way to work.
3. Help someone. Carry a bag, open a door, or pick up an extra carton of milk for a neighbor.
4. Check in with your emotions. Sit quietly and just name without judgment what you’re feeling.
5. Write out your thoughts. Go for fifteen minutes on anything bothering you. Then let it go as you burn or bin the paper.
6. Choose who you spend your time with today. Hang out with “Radiators” who emit enthusiasm and positivity, and not “Drains” whose pessimism and negativity robs energy.
7. Stroke a pet. If you don’t have one, go to the park and find one. (Ask first!)
8. Get positive feedback. Ask three good friends to tell you what they love about you.
9. Make a small connection. Have a few sentences of conversation with someone in customer service such as a sales assistant or barista.
10. Splurge a little. Buy a small luxury as a way of valuing yourself.
11. Have a self-date. Spend an hour alone doing something that nourishes you (reading, your hobby, visiting a museum or gallery, etc.)
12. Exercise a signature strength. Think about what you’re good at, and find an opportunity for it today.
13. Take a home spa. Have a long bath or shower, sit around in your bathrobe, and read magazines.
14. Ask for help—big or small, but reach out.
15. Plan a two-day holiday for next weekend. Turn off your phone, tell people you’ll be away, and then do something new in your own town.
Little and Often Wins the Day
With a little bit of attention to your own self-care, the fog will lift.
You’ll feel more connected to yourself and the world around you.
You’ll delight in small pleasures, and nothing will seem quite as difficult as it did before.
Like that car, you must keep yourself tuned up to make sure that you don’t need a complete overhaul.
Incorporating a few of these tiny self-care ideas in your day will help keep you in tune.
Which one will you try first?
About Ellen Bard
Ellen Bard’s mission is to help you be your best self at work and in life. A Chartered Psychologist, she’s published two books on self-care, works with those who are too tough on themselves, and loves all things that sparkle. For the free cheat sheet: 5 Unusual Tips to Take Care of Yourself, click over to EllenBard.com.