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How to Use Self-Care for a Brighter, Less Stressful Life

Girl Doing Yoga

“The time to relax is when you don't have time for it.” ~Sydney Harris

I was working myself into the ground and I knew it. Balancing a full-time job, my fledgling business, studies, home life, and relationships, I was constantly feeling the pressure and slowly, the cracks were showing.

I was exhausted, I was argumentative, I wasn't taking care of my health, and my business had transformed from my creative outlet to a source of incredible stress.

I kept thinking, “I just need one day to relax, just one day!” but even when I had the chance, I couldn't let go of the pressure I was allowing to take over my life. I felt like I was stuck in a never-ending cycle and I couldn't escape.

Of course, I knew I needed to take better care of myself and my health. Deliberately not getting enough sleep so I could work more, skipping yoga to write articles, eating breakfast at lunch time and relying on coffee could only ever take me so far.

Eventually, I realized that if I wanted to create a life I loved, I needed to start taking self-care a little more seriously. Even though I was ticking the boxes professionally and in my business, I knew I wanted so much more that that.

What about adventure? What about long baths and good books? What about eating regularly and moving my body? What about sleeping in and taking my dog for walks? I was replacing all of these things that light me up with a cycle of stress, fear, and overwhelm.

It was time to change.

I started off small, with a daily five-minute meditation. I figured that no matter what was happening, I could take just five minutes for myself each day!

After a couple of days, I started to notice how much I was looking forward to my meditations. They refreshed and refocused my mind, uplifted my spirits, and gave me the chance I needed to take a break (even if it was for just a short time).

As I noticed how these meditations positively affected the way I felt, the way I worked, and the way I thought, I decided it was time to dive deep into this mindful, self-care thing. And I haven't looked back.

To bring more mindfulness and self-care into your own life (even when you're busy!), feel free to try the tips below!

Take a deep breath, regularly.

It really is amazing what a simple breath can do! Whenever I'm starting to feel overwhelmed or stressed, my first act of self-care is to take one, deep breath. Straight away, I feel any tension in my body begin to release.

Sometimes, that simple breath is enough to refresh and refocus. Sometimes, I feel like I need to take a few more breaths. Sometimes, I realize that I need a proper break because I'm feeling so overwhelmed that I won't be doing my best work, anyway.

The beauty of taking a deep breath is that it's one of the shortest forms of self-care I know! Even if I were to practice it fifty times a day, it would still only take a minute or two, altogether.

The other wonderful thing about deep breathing is that you can do it anywhere, at anytime. Whether you're halfway through an exciting meeting, on the cusp of finishing a project, dealing with conflict, or anything in between, you can allow yourself to take that little bit of time to breathe.

Journal with gratitude.

Embracing gratitude is another simple way to show yourself some meaningful self-care and inject happiness into your day. I noticed that the more I looked for things to be grateful for, the more I found.

The wonderful thing about keeping a gratitude journal is that it starts to train your mind to notice the good in your life. Whether you have a safe home, access to nutritious food, an encouraging support network, a healthy body, a beloved pet, or a stable job, gratitude helps you to acknowledge those wonderful things.

Before I started deliberately practicing gratitude, it was natural for me to focus on the negative aspects of my life because I believed that's how I would fix them.

If I kept thinking about not having enough money, it would drive me to make more. If I focused on not going to the gym often enough, I would guilt myself into showing up. If I noticed the things which weren't going well at work, I would motivate myself to make meaningful changes.

While that kind of thinking can be useful sometimes, it's important to keep our eyes open to the good things, too. Our strengths. Our family and friends. Realizing that even if we want more, we actually do have enough.

Simply note down a few things you're grateful for at the end of each day to start flexing that powerful gratitude muscle!

Listen to your body and its needs.

You know when you're exhausted, but there's just one more email to answer? Then, you realize that the dishes need to be washed. And you really should take a shower… Suddenly, it's after midnight and your alarm is set to go off in less than six hours and just the thought of another exhausting day tomorrow is enough to make you want to cry.

It doesn't have to be like that.

Yes, life gets busy. There might be lots of things to do. However, I noticed that my life started to feel a whole lot lighter when I decided to prioritize my needs above everything else.

When I'm tired, I try to head to bed early or take a nap. When I'm hungry, I eat. When I'm feeling particularly stressed, I go to yoga or meditate.

All I had to do was start listening my body and choosing to honor what it was telling me.

After all, the emails can wait until morning, I can ask someone else to do the dishes and as for a shower—well, that's what dry shampoo and deodorant is for!

Learn to say no.

There's a big reason why I often had so much going on that I felt like I was drowning—I just couldn't say no.

Not only did I struggle to say no to others, I also found it harder to say no to myself. New idea for an upgrade to my website? Sure. Home-cooked meal and dessert? Why not. Exercise? Of course.

Learning to say no to others, but more importantly, to myself, was one of the biggest stress relievers and forms of self-care I've found.

It's quite simple, really. “No, thank you.” You're allowed to say it! You know you want to…

Go for a mindful walk.

Sometimes, we just need a good, old break. Time to be alone, away from technology, in nature and in the moment.

There are several ways to go for a mindful walk, but my favorite method is to really tune into my sense of sight.

You can easily try this, too. When you go for a walk, notice all the things you can see. What colors are there around you? What have you not seen before? What does the weather look like? Which natural things do you notice? What about man-made things?

Simply choose to experience the wealth of sights around you for a refreshing, mindful walk.

Bonus tip: Remember, you're in charge, here.

If self-care is something you want, or need, then go for it! Do what feels good for you, lights you up, and reduces stress and overwhelm.

If one minute a day is all you can manage, that's okay!

If you need a week to unwind, take a break and do some of your favorite things, that's okay, too!

It's entirely up to you.

Girl doing yoga image via Shutterstock

About Rachael Kable

Rachael is a mindfulness mentor, blogger, and host of The Mindful Kind podcast. When she's not writing or helping women create meaningful mindfulness practices, you'll find Rachael cuddling her fun-loving pooch, creating zen on her yoga mat, or lovingly cooking up a storm! For more mindfulness inspiration, head over to www.rachaelkable.com or connect with her on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

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  • Really it is difficult to take out time for yourself and do the things you want to do..especially if you have kids and family to take care of. For me, besides the points mentioned in this post, spending time with friends, either talk or meet…is also a key stress buster.

  • Rachael Kable

    Hi Neha,
    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts! Absolutely, a family and kids can make finding time for self-care even more challenging. However, I also believe we are great at adapting and finding new ways to take care of ourselves! I love your idea of meeting or speaking with friends, such a great way to connect and debrief xx

  • Love this piece. I think the reminder about taking a breath is so simple, and yet so helpful – it’s amazing how often I seem to be holding my breath (even when I’m just reading a stressful email). Thanks for sharing <3

  • Rachael Kable

    Hi Ellen, thank you so much for your lovely feedback! I agree- I often find myself short of breath whenever I’m slightly stressed out and I feel so much better by just taking that one deep breath. It really does make a difference! xx