One of the first rules of being a caregiver – such as a parent, a health-care professional or caring for aging relatives – is to take care of yourself first. When I was running my naturopathic practice while raising two kids and doing home births, this was easy advice to give but sometimes hard advice to follow. We’ve all had weeks, seasons or years of our lives where we’ve yearned for another 10 hours a day just to keep our heads above water. During times like those, self-care can feel like an obligation or a line item on a never-ending to-do list. But it matters deeply, and it doesn’t have to take hours of your valuable time.
Caring for yourself first parallels the advice that financial planners offer when people are trying to save money: Pay yourself first. If you care for yourself first and invest in your health and well-being, you’ll encourage a healthy stress response and a healthy mood. In turn, those will promote a healthy inflammatory response and your immune system. Suddenly that yoga class seems like an investment in your future instead of a selfish act. It gives you the fuel you need to keep doing the good work that fills your days.
That’s the first step: Shift your thinking around self-care. Taking time for yourself is not selfish, nor is it frivolous. It ensures that you have the energy to continue to care for those around you. Consider your smart phone, which may feel like the epicenter of your life some days. You ask a lot of it – keep track of your contacts and appointments; track your spending; remind you of parent-teacher conferences – but if you don’t allow it time to rest and recharge, its battery will deplete. As a caregiver, you are just as valuable as that smartphone, so plug yourself in to recharge while unplugging from the demands of your world.
We are our own worst enemies, and we are quick to self-sabotage. How often, when told to take time for yourself, have you immediately responded with “I don’t have time.” You do! We all have small pockets of time – five minutes in the car waiting for school to let out, the 10 minutes until your child’s dance class is over or the time it takes for water to boil – and we can take advantage of those precious minutes. Here are nine self-care acts that take 10 minutes or less.
Take deep breaths
We’re starting with the simplest of the self-care techniques. Breath sustains life, and it also serves as our barometer, indicating our internal “pressure.” Short, shallow breaths trigger the sympathetic nervous system, which controls our fight-or-flight response; deep, slow breaths activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is in charge of rest-and-digest functions. It’s the latter we want to keep activated throughout the day; the former is there for when we need it. A few times a day, focus on slowing your breath and taking full, deep inhalations and exhalations. This technique also works in meetings when you’re just sitting and listening. You can do it anywhere: in line at the grocery store, waiting for the doctor to come into the examination room or while your kids are putting on their shoes as you head out the door in the morning. Bonus: By focusing on this intentional breathing during tough times, you practice adapting to life’s daily stresses.
Do a few yoga poses
Back in the 70s when yoga took hold in the West and even into the early 2000s, 90-minute yoga classes were the default. These days, most classes are just an hour long, and some are shorter. This observation aligns with our collective “too busy” mentality. Though we all likely need those hour and a half classes more than ever, we are less likely to schedule that time. That’s OK. Adding a few yoga poses into your day can help you relax and unwind. We chose these four because they help support healthy sinus and upper respiratory function by opening the throat and chest. The throat chakra is the traditional seat of our voice, and it’s the pressure valve for the body. Balancing it allows us to express ourselves.
You could choose any of your favorite poses. You don’t even need to unroll a mat or change your clothes. Go into your office and close the door, or head to a playground or park. You can even do them with the kids on the living room floor. Hold each pose as long as you’d like, for at least five breaths but hopefully 10 or more:
Visualize what you want
More intentional than daydreaming, visualization is a cognitive tool that uses the imagination to harness an experience or outcome. It can be a mental dress rehearsal of a big event, a virtual vacation to your favorite far-flung destination or a trip down memory lane. While not recommended while driving, this technique can be used just about any other time and place to create positive, calm feelings and build confidence. Consider this your permission slip to “check out” and start visualizing your goals.
Take a beverage break
As a society, we take our caffeinated beverages of choice rather seriously. We call them “life juice” and our potions made from magic beans, and we drink from mugs that extol the pleasure of that first sip. Instead of grabbing and chugging your beverages, pause and savor them. You may find you want less, and you may also truly enjoy the experience more. Your coffee or teatime can be an act of mindfulness, a time to sit and reflect. And if you’re not looking for a boost from caffeine, consider herbal tea or Golden Milk.*
Make a smoothie or juice
When your time is limited, smoothies or juice are easy ways to consume a nutritious meal or snack. They can pack in five or more servings of fruits or vegetables, and they taste great. After hearing from patients that juicing is too time- and labor-intensive, I decided to time myself and make a video. From start to finish, including the time needed to clean my juicer, it took me nine minutes to make delicious, nutritious juice. A smoothie takes even less time. Consider adding a boost of plant-based energy with this Super Green Smoothie made with Maca, or get your daily Turmeric with a Brightened-Up Mango Turmeric Smoothie.* If you take liquid herbal extracts, those can also be added to smoothies and juice for flavor and targeted support.*
Exercise – especially in nature – is wonderful, but we seem to have an all-or-nothing mentality when it comes to physical activity. You truly only need 10 minutes at a time, and walking for that amount of time usually won’t even necessitate a shoe change. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend adults get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week (meaning you can still carry on a conversation), but there’s no stipulation that it has to be broken up in certain increments. If you walked for 10 minutes each in the morning, at lunch and in the evening after dinner, you would have 210 of those weekly minutes done. Add in an hourlong walk (that perhaps has a couple of hills) once a week, and you’ll reach that goal – even if you miss a couple of shorter walks.
Do some intervals
In addition to cardiovascular exercise, the CDC recommends strength training on two or more days. One way to quickly and efficiently add resistance training to your routine is with intervals, such as Tabata training or high-intensity interval training or HIIT. In studies, intervals have been shown improve cardiovascular fitness and seen as a “more enjoyable and time-efficient strategy” than moderate-intensity cardio. Intervals also have been shown to support blood sugar levels within healthy ranges. Strength training builds bones as well as muscles, which is especially important as we age. Tabata takes just 4 minutes, while intervals can be done in any increments. Add a minute of plank while watching TV, a set of squats during a phone call or lunges at the edge of the soccer field during your son’s practice.
Diffuse essential oils
Our olfactory receptors connect directly to our limbic system, which is the seat of emotion and the most primitive part of our brains. Diffusing essential oils in the car or at home can help support a pleasant mood. Opt for Lemon Balm’s zingy, uplifting scent; choose Lavender when you want to promote a chill feeling.* Eucalyptus and Peppermint are invigorating, and Rosemary is uplifting, too.* You can combine diffusing oils with the deep breathing techniques we mentioned earlier, too. These oils can also help support our respiratory pathways, which especially matters during the cooler months.*
Drink a cup of water
During cooler months, it’s easy to forget to drink water, but maintaining healthy fluid intakes matters year-round. You may sweat more in summer, but heating systems are quite drying to the body, so we need to stay hydrated to keep our mucous membranes healthy and moisturized. When our skin dries out, we tend to blame wind and cold, but it’s lack of hydration that is the culprit. Lotions and salves work to seal in the remaining moisture, but it’s drinking water that will rehydrate the skin. Especially in winter, its best to avoid ice cold drinks, which will chill us from the inside out. Opt for warm or room-temperate water and herbal teas. Organic Hibiscus tea with lemon juice and Spearmint is a personal favorite. And don’t forget about electrolytes, which help maintain fluid balance and muscle function.