Creating a self-care practice takes time, but once you commit to taking better care of yourself, everyone around you will benefit
I reached severe burnout by the time I was 42 years young, and my daughter was 4. How it happened isn’t important, but how I got myself out of it and saved myself from more burnout IS important and I hope you find something helpful and hopeful to create your own self-care practice. My life was changed by the choices I made to stop listening to society and the negative voices in my head.
You can do it all! is what I was told my whole life. You can be anything you want. What they left off at the end of these phrases was, “just not all the time, and not all at once.” I do not want my daughter to be limited in her opportunities, however, I do want her to know her limits. I had to change my ways for myself, and I wanted to change my ways for my daughter to have a role model that was free from burnout.
So how did I go from a driven career woman, stressed-out new mom, to a woman who put herself first, her family second, and accepted my work as an educator? How did I accept myself as ENOUGH?
The answer. PRACTICING SELF CARE
I don’t know why it took me two and half years of graduate school to realize I needed to take better care of myself. I didn’t think I wasn’t taking care of myself. After all, I ate healthily, exercised, and got plenty of sleep. However, I also said Yes to everything and everyone. I operated on autopilot and in survival mode, my calendar didn’t have any white space in it.
Thank goodness my husband recognized my exhaustion and we were in agreement that something had to change. This is when I discovered the widely known practice of self-care. It’s now a commonly used term and if you need to learn how to do it, there’s an entire industry. But here’s the thing, it doesn’t cost a lot of money or time to start practicing self-care. Here are 3 simple steps to create a self-care practice.
Step 1: Carve Out 20 Minutes
Carve out 20 minutes a week and tell the people in your life that you’re unavailable for those 20 minutes.
You don’t have to quit your job, like I did, or go on a big vacation to get started. Here’s how I started my self-care practice 3 years ago and continue going strong today. Since I had just finished graduate school, instead of going to classes once a week, I was now going to be unavailable for 20 minutes once a week in our home. The nights I usually had class and my husband picked our daughter up from daycare, now became my evenings to have some quiet, uninterrupted time to myself. And my husband appreciated that it was only 20 minutes instead of 4 hours.
At first, I lit a candle and took a bath for 20 minutes once a week. But it can be 20 minutes to do anything that makes you happy and stress-free. Nowadays, I read a book, listen to music, exercise, lay down and close my eyes, or catch up with a good friend on the phone.
Step 2: Find the Right Kind of Exercise
Find the right kind of exercise for yourself. Throughout my life, I’ve always exercised. I was a big runner pre-mommyhood, but running was what I was doing through my days. So, I signed up for a yoga class and I found out that this slower-paced exercise was just what I needed at the end of my busy days. I replaced those evenings in the bathtub with getting to the yoga studio once a week. It was in those yoga classes that I learned the art of conscious breathing. Slowing down my thoughts, my body, and finding comfort in my discomfort with stillness. Being in constant motion caught up with me and I had to stop. I literally had to learn how to be still.
Gradually I added another yoga class to my routine. I fit it in while my daughter was at school. I began to incorporate conscious breathing into my daily life. While I sat in the car rider line in the afternoons waiting to pick up my daughter, I sat in the driver’s seat, closed my eyes, and took a few slow, deep breaths. This was the transition from being able to get stuff done while she was at school, to go into Mommy-mode until bedtime.
I signed up for some mindfulness workshops and started reading more about practicing mindfulness. I know some of you are thinking, “but that’s not me, all that love for yourself stuff is just not my personality.” Mindfulness and loving yourself don’t have to be sitting on a cushion, chanting. Meditation doesn’t have to be that either. That was the next step I took. I downloaded the Insight Timer app on my phone and started meditating every morning for 3 minutes. Three minutes doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you’re learning to be still, it can feel like forever!
In March 2020, when the Coronavirus pandemic hit, so many of my colleagues were more stressed out and fighting against this new reality. I swiftly shifted into being a virtual teacher. Yoga, meditation, and breathing saved my sanity. I was able to go with the flow of the current times. My self-care practice taught me not just to be flexible in my body, but now my mind was more flexible and able to deal with the uncertainty of being out of control. I use this practice to take mini breaks throughout my day.
Step 3: Incorporate a “Less is More” Mindset
For most of my life, the loud voice in my head chanted, “Do more, do more, do more”. However, once I got comfortable with being still, and consciously took slow, deep breaths, I realized that less REALLY is more. The art of minimalism is going viral right now. With everything, there are extremes, but once you begin telling yourself that less is more, you start to realize the abundance you have, and that you are doing enough.
In the Spring of 2020, with everything locked down, I couldn’t go to my weekly yoga classes at the studio, so I had to learn how to do it in small moments at home. I incorporated the “micro-moments” mindset. Less is more. Instead of doing an hour-long yoga class, I found minutes here and there throughout my day to practice. In between live teaching on Zoom, I would get into a downward dog and take 5 slow, deep breaths. I stand in a tree pose while blow-drying my hair. I get into pigeon pose at the end of the day and write down 3 things I’m grateful for or read a book while I stretch.
Creating a self-care practice takes time, but once you commit to taking better care of yourself, everyone around you will benefit. It takes about 2 weeks to make something a habit. Be kind to yourself and give yourself time to make these a habit. Take step 1 and practice it for 2 weeks. Build with step 2 and practice it for 2 weeks. Step 3 will gradually develop. Within a month or so you will begin to reap the benefits of a self-care practice that will stick with you. You are worth it!