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Five Simple Self-Care Tips

Five Simple Self-Care Tips

The world is demanding these days. But it isn’t just society that piles constant demands on our shoulders. We’re unkind to ourselves, demanding ever growing quantities of productivity to feel satisfied we’ve done our best. And when we aren’t working, there’s always something else we tell ourselves we ‘should’ be doing. But it’s rare that thing is something we deeply care about. It’s even rarer that thing is to relax.

As the problems pile on, we tend to think the only solution is a complete blackout, a vacation from the world and all its expectations. But there are some surprisingly simple steps you can take every day to make the world’s burdens feel more bearable.

1. Tend Your Needs
When my stress flies out of control it’s usually time related. I can’t find time to fit everything I want to do in a day. Somehow, my schedule drifts and I race to complete things before I pass out from exhaustion. When you’re a creative person, and especially if you work from home, your schedule often grows bizarre. With no one to answer to, you eat when you want, sleep when you want, and work when you feel like it. I can’t count the number of times I hit mid-afternoon and realize I’ve forgotten to eat anything. This causes a lot of problems, especially if you live with someone who keeps a normal schedule.

No matter how hard you work, or how passionate you are, don’t forget to tend your basic needs. Regular meal times make a big difference. You need fuel, after all, to remain productive. Likewise, lack of sleep is more detrimental than more people realize. It can be compared to trying to get through your entire day drunk. Leave yourself enough time for your ideal amount of sleep. It’s easy to get into the habit of staying up late to finish a to-do list, but that leaves you with a troubling choice. If you cut your sleep for the night you’ll be tired and sluggish the next day. If you sleep your ideal amount, you’ll wake up late and start your day behind schedule, which quickly adds up to a lot of stress. Don’t underestimate the value of keeping yourself rested and fueled.

2. Take Breaks
People think if they work through a block of hours, they’ll get more done than if they stop to rest. Some people never stop working. We wear the seventy-hour work week as a badge of pride. But studies have shown that everyone has a productivity cap. On average, you can only fit about fifty-five hours of productive work into a single week. Meaning, if you work seventy, you’re wasting about fifteen hours.

We need time to unwind. Our bodies need time to recover and our brain needs off-time to refresh itself, especially if you invest a lot of time in high-energy creative tasks. Some sources recommend a five to ten minute break for every fifty minutes you work. If you want to work for three or four hours straight, there’s no harm in it. But don’t forget to take a break. Eat a snack. Drink some tea. Give yourself a chance to unwind instead of throwing yourself straight into the next task.

Likewise, people can’t be productive (or sometimes even creative) every day. Recognize the signs of burnout and give yourself a break. Take an evening off. Skip a day of creativity if you need to recharge. Disconnecting from a task or problem often makes it easier to continue or solve when you come back to it.

3. Assure Your Goals are Reasonable
We can be our own greatest source of stress. Not only do we compare ourselves to others, we constantly think we should be able to do more. It’s increasingly difficult to live up to our own expectations. We forget that no one expects us to accomplish that much on our own, and marvel at people who manage heavy task lists even if it means sacrificing their social life. It’s important to set reasonable goals. If you know you can write two thousand words every day, it’s a good goal. If you struggle to get past five hundred, for whatever reason, it’s probably not a good goal. Forcing yourself to reach for unachievable goals makes you feel like a failure.

There are many ways to make sure your goals are reasonable. Keep track of how much time you spend on something and evaluate if you think it’s reasonable for the outcome it provides. Cut time from those tasks that seem unsatisfying or unimportant and devote them to the things you enjoy or find worthwhile. If you want to challenge yourself, increase your goals incrementally rather than jumping to a more lofty goal overnight. Keep track of how much you accomplish in a day; it will likely surprise you. When your expectations are realistic, you’ll find you not only achieve your goals more often, you’ll be more satisfied with the amount you get done in a day.

4. Forgive Yourself
The harder we are on ourselves, the less forgiving we are of our own mistakes or, what we perceive as, failings. When we don’t accomplish what we want to, or lose time to a mistake or unexpected event, the first thing we do is blame ourselves, even if the goals we set were unrealistic. It’s important to remember that each of us is only human. Sometimes, the unexpected crops up. And no one is perfect. Rather than berate ourselves for ‘falling short,’ we should encourage ourselves.

Remember; it isn’t your fault if something beyond your control demands your attention. If you run out of time or energy, encourage yourself to do better next time rather than berating yourself for ‘failing’ today. Positive inner voice goes a long way toward reducing stress. We all have to roll with the punches. No matter how motivated we are, each day is different, and not every day is going to provide perfect conditions for achieving our goals. As long as you stay on track in the long-term, it’s fine to have an off day.

5. Devote Time to Yourself
In the shuffle of work, goals and expectations, it’s easy to lose track of ourselves. You deserve more than just the basics. You should never feel guilty ‘stealing’ time for lunch or a cup of tea. More than that, you deserve to have time set aside in your day that’s meant for you and nothing else. For example, I claim twenty minutes of every weekday for my yoga practice. I use this time to focus on my needs and clear my head so that I can focus on the tasks at hand. Taking myself out of ‘worry mode’ for twenty minutes and existing solely in the moment, with no expectations, helps me feel refreshed and focus on my afternoon tasks.

Guard the time you set aside for yourself. Don’t let people, tasks or expectations steal it away. And don’t feel guilty about it. It might be an hour before you go to bed. It might be half an hour in the morning to enjoy your coffee. It might be little breaks spread throughout the day, or even an hour to take a nap in the afternoon. Whatever you need, take the time. You deserve it.

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