How to find time to take care of yourself
I often hear from my health coaching clients that they have a hard time finding time to take care of themselves. Everyone wants to accomplish everything that makes you a good spouse, parent, friend, coworker, caregiver, etc. But it’s easy to let these roles overshadow your own needs.
When you lose that balance, you can feel burned out. If you aren’t taking the time to replenish your own energy, you can become less able to help others.
Maybe you need a self-care hierarchy. I got the idea from the book No Sweat by Dr. Michelle Segar, and it has seemed to resonate with the people I’ve tried it with. A hierarchy is a great way to think about and prioritize what you need every day to fulfill those roles and responsibilities and show up as your best self.
I find that many people have an idea of what this should look like for them, but taking the time to think about it and write it down helps them apply it.
Try to create your own hierarchy. Here are some questions to help you:
- When I’m having a really great day, what behaviors contributed to that? Was it a good night’s sleep? Eating a healthy/well-balanced breakfast? Getting some form of physical activity?
- What behaviors help boost my energy levels?
- If I’m feeling worn down, what do I feel like my body needs?
Imagine your hierarchy as a triangle. The most important behavior goes at the base. It’s non-negotiable. The second-most important one goes above that, and so on. The behavior you can get by without goes at the top.
For me, sleep is at the base of the triangle. It’s critical. Healthy eating is right after that.
For example, let’s say I have an especially busy week where I have to be at work early some days and stay late on other days. It’s important for me to show up to work energized so that I can connect with people and support my health coaching clients.
So first, I make sure I get eight hours of sleep by looking at my schedule for each day and planning what time I need to go to bed the night before. I may say no to plans if they’ll prevent me from getting enough sleep.
Second, I plan out my meals for the week and cook most of them on Sunday. I’ll also pack healthy snacks just in case I need them during a long day at work. If I do have a day where I need to eat out, I try to think of healthy options in advance. Ideally, I’d like some sort of physical activity each day; however, I know I won’t have time for an hour-long workout. Instead, I schedule in times to go for a walk, even if it’s just for 10 minutes at a time.
Finally, I try to plan in some relaxing time alone to read a book or journal at least one time a week. It doesn’t need to happen every day, but I know I’ll feel more settled if I can do it once or twice.
I like to start with the most important part of the hierarchy first and make sure to schedule that. The other behaviors are important, but I can move them around or be flexible in how they’re accomplished.
Figuring this process out can take time and some effort. However, most people tell me they notice a difference when they’re able to prioritize at least one thing for themselves each day, even if it’s just that one non-negotiable.
Sarah Sommer is the wellness coordinator at the Advocate BroMenn Health & Fitness Center in Bloomington, Ill.
About the Author
Sarah Sommer is the wellness coordinator at the Advocate BroMenn Health & Fitness Center in Bloomington, IL. She completed her MPH at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana with a concentration in health behavior and promotion. Sarah enjoys helping people define what health and wellness means to them and supporting them during their journey.