These past few months have been both the slowest period of our lives and the most overwhelming for many of us. We suddenly had kids at home 24/7, our office and our home were suddenly one and the same, and despite having all the time in the world to go do whatever we wanted, nothing we wanted to do was available.
The world was shut down and as a result, we were bored out of our minds and overwhelmed by our entire lives suddenly being condensed to within the four exterior walls of our home — and maybe our yard.
I could say that this was also the ideal time for you to start a self-care practice. Except that even that often felt like too much for many people. How are you supposed to find time for self-care when everyone in the house is home, your boss has forgotten you’re not available all hours, and you can’t go out to get a massage, buy a face mask, or even get a cup of coffee you didn’t make yourself?
Whether it’s during a global pandemic or another period in your life, when life gets to be too much, you need to simplify self-care to the bare bones and then do it. Trust me, taking these five steps for basic self-care will result in you feeling less overwhelmed, more calm and peaceful, and get you on the right track for taking better care of yourself going forward.
Step #1: Identify your top priorities
When we’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s almost always because we’re trying to do too much at once. Whether that’s your own decision or because others are piling stuff on you, the fact remains that you’re trying to do too much. And it has to stop.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a step back. Look at everything on your plate and identify your top priorities. Choose the top 3–5 things that you absolutely can’t drop. For most, this will be things like children, jobs, etc. These should be the things that, if you didn’t take care of them, you would be risking lives, relationships, or basic life needs such as food, shelter, clothing, etc.
You might find that those only take up 2–3 slots on your priority list. If you still have room, and the bandwidth to add more, whatever you add should be things that matter to you. It might be working out, reading, or something else, but it should be important to you.
The biggest key here? Whatever you choose as a top priority should be something that you couldn’t possibly delegate to someone else.
What do you do with the rest? All those things that don’t make your priority list? You have a couple of choices. You can delegate them to others. If it’s something someone else gave you to do, you can reach out and give it back with a polite explanation that you just can’t take it on right now. Or you can just backburner it until you’re in a position to deal with it — whether that takes hours, days, weeks, or months.
And don’t be afraid to let anything that doesn’t make your priority list sit for a few days before you decide what to do with it. Give yourself room to let the stress ease before you worry about anything that isn’t a priority — even if it’s just to decide what to do with it.
Step #2: Focus on your basic needs
There are a few basic needs we have in life. We need:
· Transportation of some sort
· A job (for the money to pay for all that)
You may have other things you consider to be a basic need, like daily exercise or attending church. If so, add them to your list.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, focus on making sure these basic needs are being met every day. When things feel like they’re getting worse, assess the list of basic needs. Are you drinking enough water? Getting enough sleep? When did you last eat and what was it? Figure out if one of the basic needs isn’t being met — then take steps to change that immediately.
It’s also going to help you out a lot if you don’t wait until you’re overwhelmed to assess the basic needs list. Evaluate it regularly to make sure you’re not neglecting anything and that, if something does seem a bit precarious, you can get ahead of it and start seeking out other ways to meet that need before it becomes a dire situation.
Step #3: Choose imperfect action over inaction
There’s a lot of hype over doing your best. Give everything your best. Don’t turn in anything at work or school that’s less than your best. Give it your all. Give it 100%.
And you know what? That’s a lot of crap.
Here’s the real truth: If you give everything 100% every time, if you’re giving everything your all all the time, you’re going to burn out and be totally exhausted all the time. It’s just not possible.
Now I’m not saying you should totally slack off and half-ass everything in your life. I’m not saying you should never try your best.
What I am saying, though, is don’t be a perfectionist. Don’t put things off until you can find the time to do them perfectly, to give them more of your time or attention. If your only choices are to do nothing or to do something that isn’t perfect, choose the imperfect action.
If there’s something you can do, even if it it’s less than ideal or doesn’t complete something, do it. As long as it moves you forward, do it.
Step #4: Create more stability
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, it comes from trying to do too much. But this also lends itself to a feeling of instability. When you have too much to do, you don’t know where to start, so it can feel as if you’re teetering, always about to fall over, because you don’t know where to go.
So creating more stability can be an important step in self-care. This stability can take many forms.
You might recognize that you haven’t been eating as healthy as you’d like, so creating stability might mean spending a little extra money on precut veggies or premade salads so you can just grab healthy food and go without expending any effort.
Or you might realize you haven’t been sleeping as much as you need to, so you might create more stability by enforcing a bedtime for yourself.
Realizing you’re not working out and that’s making you feel more stressed can mean creating stability by putting going to the gym on your calendar and treating it like any other appointment.
Try not to look at it as putting out little fires as you create stability either. Try to take a more holistic approach. For example, buying premade salads might be a quick fix to not eating as healthy as you’d like, but what else is contributing to that problem? Are you working too hard? Too tired to plan and prepare healthy meals because you’re not sleeping? Try to trace the problem you see back to it’s root and create stability there rather than just creating it at the surface-level problem.
Step #5: Give yourself a chance to truly rest
We spend a lot of time going and going and going. We’re taking care of kids, working full-time jobs, maintaining relationships and homes and a thousand other things. Trying to stay on top of all of that is exhausting and time-consuming. So when’s the last time you really rested?
I don’t mean sleeping at night or taking a day off work. I mean, really, truly rested. When is the last time you took a day where you didn’t do anything other than just rest and relax and do the most basic things you needed to do to keep yourself and your kids alive and your home standing?
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, giving yourself a chance to do just that is crucial. It allows your body, mind and soul to truly breathe. It lets the stress melt away and your energy to get replenished.
So take a day now and then to truly rest. Get some food that’s premade so you don’t have to do more than heat and plate it for you and the kids. Let the laundry sit. Let the dishes pile up (pro tip: use disposable dishes as much as possible on this day so you don’t add to your stress). Let the household chores and weekly errands go undone. Just sit and rest.
Watch TV. Read some books. Play games with the kids. Nap. Don’t plan anything. Just relax and let whatever happens spontaneously, happen.
Don’t worry about what you’ll need to do tomorrow. Don’t pressure yourself to do things to keep from falling behind or because you think you should. Just take the day to rest and relax. You’ll be far more productive after you’ve done so.
Self-care isn’t about pampering
The mistaken idea that self-care is about pampering yourself with massages, blowouts, and manicures is what often holds people back from engaging in it. But self-care isn’t about pampering yourself — not entirely.
Self-care is exactly what its name implies: taking care of the self. Self-care is about taking care of yourself in all the ways that matter — physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and socially (your relationships with others).
Self-care is eating regularly, drinking enough water, and getting enough sleep. Self-care is ensuring your finances are in order and you have a roof over your head. Self-care is knowing when you need a break from work, parenting, or life in general — even if that break is just five minutes spent alone in a bathroom so you can take a breath and avoid saying something you’ll regret to someone you don’t want to hurt.
Most importantly, self-care is self-motivated. You can’t expect anyone else to encourage or force you to do it. You need to be willing to step up and take responsibility for it yourself. You need to be willing to put yourself first sometimes even if it feels selfish. Because that selfishness is what will allow you to continue to be there for those who count on you — no matter how overwhelmed and stressed you may be.
Wendy Miller is a freelance relationship writer & meditation teacher. After years of settling for abusive and otherwise toxic relationships, she got fed up. Using meditation and other tools, she got to work on healing herself, setting boundaries, and only engaging in relationships (romantic and otherwise) that bring her joy. She wants to help other single parents find the love they seek, including and going beyond romantic love. She lives in Florida with her two sons, where she homeschools while solo parenting, while surrounded by what feels like a zooful of animals.
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