“Self-care.” It’s a word that can mean different things to different people.
A colleague of mine claims that her favorite self-care activity is making homemade ketchup. I can't imagine enjoying that.
On the other hand, she might be bored with a favorite relaxing activity of mine—sitting on the porch, doing absolutely nothing. To each their own.
Whatever you consider to be self-care, how do you find free time for your "me time?" The following actions do not appear often enough on the menu of self-care choices, but they can help you carve out time for whatever activities replenish your mind, body, and spirit, as well as provide self-care in themselves. Neglecting to practice the seven behaviours below could have severe negative consequences in your life, such as exhaustion, career setbacks, burnout, lower self-esteem, less money, and shaky mental health.
These seven often-overlooked self-care behaviors can help you order up more free time:
1. Get help when you need it.
In our individualistic society, asking for help can be frowned upon as a sign of weakness. If you have internalized this attitude, it could hold you back from seeking and getting the help you need. Asking for help is most often a realistic response to your situation, not a sign of weakness.
And people are more eager to help you out than you might think, according to social psychologist Heidi Grant, author of Reinforcements: How to Get People to Help You, described more fully here.
If you are a working parent with more money than time, consider hiring a house cleaner or training your kids to help with chores. For help with emotional problems, ask a trusted friend for a referral to a therapist or call your doctor. And if you can afford it, use a grocery delivery service during times of overwhelm.
Tips: Ask specifically for what you want. Ask a specific person. And remember, you have a right to ask for help and the other person has a right to refuse.
2. Avoid avoidance.
You need to write a work report, but you find this task so unpleasant that you turn on the TV and binge-watch your favorite show. It is tempting to view these “fun” avoidant behaviors as self-care. But they are “false self-care,” because they pile more stress on top of the original problem. For example, now you have less time to finish the report and a growing sense of inner panic.
Tips: Figure out a way into the task through a series of easy, small steps. For example, turn on the computer, bring up a Word document, give it a name, and save it. Congratulate yourself for getting started. Then, take the next small step. Reward yourself with inner compliments as you work.
3. Change perfectionism into “excellentism.”
Most tasks don’t have to be done perfectly. If you allow yourself to adopt a “good enough” attitude toward minor tasks, you will get more done with less angst. Do you want to agonize over what setting to put the dryer on or whether you put the comma in the right place in a text to your friend? Save time and declare the work “good enough.”
Tip: For more important tasks, consider adopting this useful motto: “Aim for excellence, not perfection,” described in my post, "Nine Joys of Being Imperfect." You’ll get more done faster and have more time for yourself.
4. Set boundaries.
Here’s a key to getting your “me time:” Set boundaries. That means being assertive about what you want. Assertiveness—being able to say no in a direct, honest, and forthright manner without feeling guilty—will protect your time, money, and self-respect. Assertive behavior respects both your rights and the other person's rights, as opposed to aggressive "bully" behavior or non-assertive "doormat" behavior.
Tips: Don't let other people overload your mind or your schedule. Memorize these all-purpose assertive phrases: "I wish I could, but I have too much on my plate right now." "I'll think it over and get back to you." "I'm just not comfortable with that." (If standing up for yourself is an issue for you, consider an assertiveness training class, or see a counselor.)
5. Mind your money.
I've written that good financial management is rarely mentioned as an aspect of self-care. But neglecting money-management skills can make your life into a day-to-day misery of deciding what bill to pay, juggling several jobs, and agonizing over whether you can make ends meet.
There is a popular idea that "money can't buy happiness." Not true. While money isn't the only ingredient in the happiness recipe, it is true that financial security increases happiness, decreases stress, and enables more choices in life. This is based on numerous psychological studies, as well as common sense. Let's face it: Economic insecurity and poverty generally lead to a life of stress and worry.
Tips: Take steps toward economic self-sufficiency. Spend less, save more, and open a retirement account. Have enough money in the bank to cover emergencies. Educate yourself about finances.
Decluttering your surroundings or home can lead to a boatload of benefits, including a greater sense of control, reduced stress, and even increased brainpower, higher productivity, and better decision-making, according to studies described by Psychology Today blogger Mark Travers. He explains that,
Cleaning your home or surroundings isn't just a physical process, but a mental one as well. Reducing clutter minimizes distractions, allowing your brain to concentrate on more important tasks at hand. The act of organizing your space can also provide a sense of control and order, which can alleviate feelings of stress and promote a sense of well-being. The mental rejuvenation that comes from decluttering is clear evidence of the link between our physical surroundings and cognitive function.
Tips: Remove clutter from your workspace so you can concentrate better. Tackle household clutter using the step-by-step method, one drawer, closet, or room at a time. If you are in agony over clutter decisions, find a therapist who specializes in clutter problems.
7. Put free time/me time on your schedule.
Having a daily routine for your self-care—whether you define that as exercise, meditative activities, family time, reading, or alone time—can ensure that you build self-care into your day. Your schedule also provides a ready-made way to turn down unappealing requests: "I'm sorry, that's my exercise time." There is even evidence, at least for adults over 65, that having a healthy routine promotes both happiness and better cognitive ability.
Tips: Think about your daily routine. Do you enjoy it? What's one small tweak that could make it healthier or more pleasurable?
In a Nutshell
Having time to yourself is usually considered a prerequisite for self-care. But how do you get this “me time?” These tactics promote self-care by creating free time and the ability to use it the way you want.