It’s often easier to care for other people than it is to care for and be gentle with ourselves. With generosity and selflessness held in such high esteem, we may feel that taking time for our own care is selfish. However, by always putting other people’s needs before our own, we risk becoming run down and resentful. In order to support others on a long-term basis, it is important to first care for ourselves. Doing this is not selfish, but necessary so that we are able to be fully present and balanced when caring for others.
In the past month, I have spoken with a few people about incorporating self-care into their busy schedules. With to-do lists filled with work deadlines, getting kids ready for and to their activities, running errands, cooking meals, and cleaning house, self-care becomes a fantasy, tacked onto the end of the list, never to be checked off. However, it doesn’t have to be this way! It is possible to create micro-moments of self-care that take almost no time at all, but will leave you feeling more grounded, balanced, and cared for.
I have developed a few easy ways to infuse your days with self-care micro-moments. The idea is that, at first, they might add up to 5 minutes over the course of the day, but as you refuel your own tank, it will become easier to complete your tasks, and you will find more opportunities to add moments to your self-care. Eventually, each moment will become an opportunity to honor your own needs while completing what needs to get done. When that happens, your to-do list won’t weigh you down, but it will be a list of tasks that you are able to find joy in completing.
By infusing your day with self-care, your mind will start to settle and it will be easier to focus on each task at hand. Your breathing will deepen, your heart rate will slow. You won’t react as abruptly to unplanned stressors, but will be able to greet them with an understanding that you have everything you need to get through anything that comes your way.
Try adding these micro-moments to your day. Choose a couple to start with and then add more as you feel ready. Try to do these every day, each practice can be done throughout the day as desired, and see if you can observe the subtle shift that takes place within yourself. I hope these moments help you refuel yourself and you can more easily and sustainably complete your tasks and help others.
Start your day with a moment of grounding.
You might wake up with a start, your mind already going through your list of things to complete. But when your feet first hit the floor and you stand up to start your day, pause for a moment. Imagine yourself as a tree or a mountain. Through this brief visualization, breath slowly and deeply into your belly and exhale fully.
As a tree, visualize roots reaching deep into the ground from the bottoms of your feet. The roots reach to the core of the Earth and spread out, providing a stable base. Stand tall and strong as the trunk of the tree runs up your spine, sturdy, but able to sway in the wind. Reach your arms up above your head and imagine branches and leaves receiving nourishment from the sun. You are sturdy, strong, centered and nourished. You are ready to start your day.
As a mountain, imagine a solid rocky base reaching from your hips out and down into the Earth, firm and strong. Your head is the mountain’s peak, reaching up to the sky on a tall spine. The sun warms the peak of the mountain (the top of your head) and cascades down to the base. You are sturdy, strong, grounded, and balanced. You are ready to start your day.
This can be an instantaneous visualization, standing up and immediately seeing yourself as the tree or mountain, or it can be minutes long, as you slowly grow your roots and reach your branches up to the sky.
Enjoy the aroma of your morning coffee or tea.
Place your face above the steaming mug and take a deep breath. Allow the aroma to clear out any cobwebs in your brain. Then exhale any remaining tension from the night before. Once your coffee or tea has cooled to a comfortable temperature, close your eyes and take a sip. Let it sit on your tongue for a moment, feel its warmth and taste its bitterness or sweetness. Then, open your eyes and continue your breakfast. If you prefer orange juice, water, or a smoothie, you can similarly enjoy those sips.
Smell your food.
I began this practice in the Spring of this year, and it has changed my relationship with mealtime. Before I take a bite of my food, I take a deep breath to inhale its aroma. My flow of saliva increases and I feel my belly preparing to digest. I send gratitude to the plants, animals, and people that made the meal possible so that I may nourish my body and mind.
Choose whatever gratitude or prayer practice resonates most with you, and enjoy your meal or snack! After starting this practice, I have found that food tastes better.
Observe your environment.
When outside, even if it’s just running between your car and office, pause for a moment before opening the door.
Look up at the sky and observe its color and quality— is it blue, are their clouds, is it covered and grey?
Look around you and notice any trees, bushes, and flowers. Notice their color—are they green, orange, red, or yellow? Are they swaying in the wind or standing tall, reaching up to the sun?
Look down at the ground and where you are standing— are there autumn leaves, green grass, or are you standing on concrete sidewalk?
Notice any sounds in the air— do you hear birds singing, rustling leaves, dogs barking, or people in conversation?
Take a deep breath into your lungs and belly— does the air smell fresh or is there a scent of food from a nearby restaurant? Does is feel cool or warm in your nostrils?
What do you feel in this moment— soft fabric against your skin? Is the wind blowing across your bare face? Is the sun warm on your back? Do you feel scattered, anxious, centered, or calm? Just recognize what you feel without trying to change it.
This may seem like a long practice, but it can take just a minute or as long as you have. You can look up at the sky and down to the earth in a couple of moments, taking in the sights, sounds, smell, and feel. Or you can stay with each sensation for a few moments. Then open the door, and continue your day.
Give yourself a pep-talk.
During these moments of self-care and mindfulness, it may feel beneficial to add an affirmation. Whichever affirmation you choose, it should make you feel balanced and empowered, not like you are grasping for something too far out of reach. One phrase might suit you one day, whereas another resonates more the next. Choose one to start with or use these as a starting point to write your own.
I am strong.
I am safe.
I am enough.
I am perfect just as I am.
I am worthy of love from myself and others.
I am grounded and balanced. I focus easily on the task at hand.
Inhale your favorite aroma.
Incorporating aroma in each of these moments, or when using affirmations, is a powerful way to get out of your mind and to-do list and more easily create a calming and caring moment. Our sense of smell is our only sense that links directly with the part of our brain connected with emotion and memory. When we feel really stressed and words of comfort don’t help (and sometimes make things worse), an aroma we enjoy can cut through the anxious thoughts and balance the nervous system.
Future blog posts will examine this more in depth, as well as expand on a number of the practices I’ve introduced above. These don’t just feel good, there’s science to back it up!
May your days be filled with peace, love, balance, and joy. You are worthy of it all.