Self-care is a bit of a buzzword these days. Women’s magazines, self-help journals, and yes, even caregiver websites counsel the importance of seeing to your needs so you can care for others. But when you’re stretched to the absolute limit and you don’t have a minute—or a penny—to spare, being told to take care of yourself can be infuriating and demoralizing. Drop several hundred dollars on a spa day? Take an hour for a yoga class or coffee with a friend? Who are these people kidding?
So let’s revise the definition of self-care. Forget about activities that require carving out a lengthy block of time or spending money you don’t have. Instead, think of self-care as something you can do to make your life just a little bit easier.
Try to take a minute for yourself every day the first week, then see if you can find five minutes the next. Ten consecutive minutes might be impossible, but can you fit in two five-minute breaks?
Instead of trying to keep track of the plot twists in the latest murder mystery, revisit your favorite books from childhood. Or flip through a magazine that’s heavy on pictures, light on articles.
If your family assumes that you’re always available, they may need reminders as you start taking time for yourself. Encourage your kids try to solve their own problems (age-appropriately) before you interrupt your self-care routine to jump in to help. Your spouse or parent may also be able to wait a few minutes rather than expect you to drop everything immediately.
Saying no and standing up for yourself are really hard! And if these actions are out of character for you, people may push back. If you decide it’s easier to give in, remind yourself that doesn’t mean you’re a self-care failure. Instead, congratulate yourself for your attempt and consider it practice for the next time.
It’s okay to feel anger, sorrow, and fear. So acknowledge negative emotions, and let others know that they are (or are not) responsible for them. “I had a really bad day at work, and I’m scared about grandma. I’m sorry I yelled at you—I overreacted when I saw you hadn’t cleaned up after your snack. Let’s put this stuff away so we can start dinner.”
When you’re worried about finances or that dull ache that hasn’t gone away, get advice. At worst, you’ll take care of the problem before it gets too out-of-hand. At best, you’ll discover that things aren’t as bad as you thought.
Try not to use a good day’s “best” when you’ve had a bad day. Forgive yourself and move on. Because annoying as those articles are, they have a kernel of truth to them: Self-care isn’t a luxury, it’s a survival skill.