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How to Practice Self-Care, Even When You’re Busy

by Elise Museles

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I haven’t been taking care of myself lately. I’ve pulled a few almost all-nighters, missed lots of workouts, and skipped many meals. I’m overcommitted creating recipes for not one, but two books and have fallen into the “busy” trap of working more and caring for self less.

It happens pretty easily and to the best of us. But when I woke up one morning after sleeping only a few hours, I reached my breaking point and decided that no matter how much work I have to get done, my own self-care cannot go out the window.

And, I hear from so many of you that you’re ridiculously busy and convinced you don’t have time to take care of yourself, too. So I have to lovingly, diplomatically call B.S. on all of us (myself included) who use “busy” as the excuse. How can you accomplish all those important, pressing things on four hours of sleep and mega doses of caffeine? How can you be a good friend/partner/family member, if you’re feeling sluggish and grumpy?

I’m far from perfect, but here are fours ways that I squeeze in self-care, even when it feels like I don’t have time:

1. Plan Easy Meals

When you’re in a temporary time crunch—finals week, shuffling the kids during sports season, big projects—it’s easy to fall into a cycle of takeout food and protein bars.

This is certainly not the time to make fancy, involved recipes, but I suspect you could find half an hour to chop up vegetables for a week’s worth of smoothies and salads. Or make a big batch of Immunity Soup. Or throw together some Chia Seed Pudding and Overnight Oats (which both take five minutes to make) for quick grab & go breakfast options. Keep things simple!

2. Create a ‘Holder’ Habit

A lot of people have worked really, really hard to develop good exercise habits, but those hard-won habits are often the first things to go when we get busy and stressed. This is the exact opposite of how it should be! We need the endorphins and focus to help us navigate our way through deadlines and anxiety.

If you can’t find time for your daily 5-mile run, at least take a 20-minute walk at the same time of day that you would usually run. If you don’t have the 90 minutes you usually reserve for your M/W/F yoga class, do 20 minutes of yoga at home when you would normally go to class. Any movement is better than no movement, and creating a ‘holder’ habit means you won’t fall off the wagon when you’re busy. Once things calm down, you’ll be ready to pick up where you left off!

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3. Let your friends and family know you need their support + TELL them how to support you

No one in your life can see the inner workings of your schedule quite like you do. Nobody else reads those emails from your boss or sees your long to-do list. Your friends & family probably won’t know you’re particularly busy or stressed unless you tell them, and they won’t know how to help unless you tell them how.

For example:

“Honey, I have a huge deadline, so I’ll be working 12-hour days for the next three weeks. Could you be in charge of dinner for the next month?”

or

“Best Friend, I’m up to my neck in planning this fundraiser and everything feels really overwhelming right now. Could you check in on me every few days and drag me out of the house once a week, even for a cup of tea?”

4. Use comfort food strategically

Let’s face it: many of us eat when we’re stressed. In a perfect world, we would run, meditate, or journal instead. But if we’re going to turn to food, let’s do it with intention. Rather than wolfing down a cupcake over the sink, let’s draw on food that really, actually makes us feel good. Maybe it’s the roasted chicken that reminds you of Grandma’s cozy house, or a turmeric latte that is just as healing as it is delicious. Choose foods that nourish and repair you—physically and emotionally.

To sum up: self-care is not an all-or-nothing gift—a little goes a long way. Do what you can. If you don’t fill up the love tank, you’ll have that much less to give. Everyone benefits from your commitment to self-care. It’s a brilliant litmus test—if you’re giving a lot of yourself, how much are you, in turn, caring for yourself? The two ideally want to match up.

And remember, self-care is not selfish!

Do you fall into the “I’m too busy to take care of myself” trap? Share your emergency plan for self-care when you’re crazy busy in the comments.

12 Responses to How to Practice Self-Care, Even When You’re Busy

  1. Julie March 26, 2015 at 3:12 pm #

    Hi Elise,
    Your article showed up as a good reminder for me. This is something I struggle with until I usually hit burnt out mode. Then that’s when the light bulb will go off in my head that it’s probably time to call my therapist to regroup. I understand and feel the benefits when I put self care first. I am a much happier person then. Sometimes it is just hard to quiet the voice in your head that keeps track of all the to-do’s for the day. Thanks again for these great tips!

    • Elise Museles March 26, 2015 at 3:22 pm #

      Thank you, Julie! I know all about that voice, and understand the struggle to turn down the volume. So glad that the post resonated with you.
      xx

  2. Lily March 27, 2015 at 4:29 am #

    I love, love, love #4! So often we’re told that using food to cope with stress is “bad,” when really it’s just one of the tools we have available. Comfort food definitely has a place in stress management – we just need to actually take a bit of time to truly ENJOY these treats. 🙂

    • Elise Museles March 28, 2015 at 12:08 am #

      Hi Lily! Love your perspective, as usual. Thanks for sharing it here! xx

  3. Desiree East March 28, 2015 at 7:12 pm #

    Hi Elise, I agree, it’s SO easy to put self-care on the back-burner, especially when you have business projects and deadlines. As soon as I found out I was pregnant (due July), EVERYTHING changed! I’ve definitely been taking better care of my self, fresher foods, lots of prenatal yoga, and plenty of rest.

    • Elise Museles March 29, 2015 at 12:30 am #

      Desiree! Congratulations on all of it…the growing family and the decision to take better care of your self. Your new routine sounds so nurturing. I hope you continue to feel great. xxx

  4. Samantha March 31, 2015 at 11:25 am #

    I love tip #4 – I totally agree! Strategic comfort eating is definitely a good thing. I mean, we do it for a reason, why not do it consciously and get the benefits without the fear of an uncontrollable binge?

    Love the post – I hope your books come out beautifully (I’m sure they will!).

    • Elise Museles April 1, 2015 at 12:27 am #

      Samantha! I love the way you put it: strategic comfort eating:-). Thanks for joining the conversation here. xxx

  5. Krayl @ An Appealing Plan April 2, 2015 at 7:42 pm #

    That salad bowl looks amazing! Eating right is one of the first things that falls off when I am under a lot of deadlines and other work pressure. Seeing this gorgeous salad reminds me I need to get more greens and veggies into me. {oh and some chocolate…}

    • Elise Museles April 3, 2015 at 1:09 am #

      Hi Krayl,

      Thanks for joining the conversation. So glad that you were reminded to eat your greens…and your chocolate, too!

  6. Nancy @ I Made This Dish May 6, 2015 at 10:40 am #

    Hi Elise, I absolutely agree with #3. Most of us here are ambitious and hard working women, we are independent and don’t like relying on others. Sometimes, it feels like the hardest thing is to delegate your cooking chores to others. I used to hesitate asking my family for help, but once I tried it once, it’s much easier next time. Our family supports us and don’t mind helping at all. Thanks for a great article, Elise.

    • Elise Museles May 6, 2015 at 12:35 pm #

      Nancy! Thanks so much for sharing here. I love what you said that it becomes easier to ask family once you get past that first time. So true!

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