Many people struggle to find time for self-care, particularly when life gets busy. However, neglecting our physical and mental wellbeing causes anything from stress to burnout. These 9 tips will help you make room in your life for healthy and mindful habits, even when your to-do list doesn’t seem to have an end. 

How to prioritise self-care even when you're busy

Self-care is a trend that’s not gonna fade any time soon. And for good reasons. I don’t think it’s that much of a ‘trend’ in the conventional sense at all, but more of a shift in how we, as a society, think about ourselves and our daily routines. It’s wanting build lifestyles that fulfil us. It’s recognising that we can’t spend our days going through the motions, getting burnt out, and doing it all over again.

The self-care ‘trend’ counters an obsession in society with being ‘busy’. To many people, that words seems to suggest success and productivity. At the same time, we obsess over ‘balance’. On the surface, that doesn’t seem to be negative. After all, don’t we want to make enough room in our schedules for all the things that make us happy? But sometimes, the boundary between ‘balance’ and ‘trying to cram as many things as possible into our lives’ becomes very thin.

In other words, we want to perform well at work or school, build a side hustle, go to a social occasion every day, spend time with our families, travel, be a professional athlete, learn an instrument, etc, etc. In a world full of opportunities, it’s kinda normal to feel this sense of indecisiveness. We fear missing out and not being well-rounded individuals. With so much going on at once, we start to neglect self-care and forget how important it is.

What is self-care?

The more I look into this question, the more I recognise that self-care isn’t one specific activity or even a set of activities. It’s a mindset and a combination of many different practices. It has many ‘layers’ and angles. In short, an act of ‘self-care’ is any practice that boosts and maintains your physical, mental and spiritual/emotional health.

There are keystone habits, such as eating foods that make you feel your best, getting enough sleep and exercising on a regular basis. But the other routines and activities vary from person to person. Someone might like going out into nature and reading a good book in the evening. Others like spa days, aromatherapy and meeting an old friend for a coffee. I love practicing mindfulness and writing in my journal. We’re talking endless possibilities here.

In short, self-care is showing kindness and respect for yourself through things that make you feel good and are genuinely good for you. Spending hours in front of the TV and overeating junk food (notice the overeating part – I always advocate balance, listening to your body and treating yourself in moderation!) might feel good in the moment, but won’t have the best long-term outcomes.

And remember what I said about self-care being a mindset? With this mindset in place, we can live with intention and put our mental health first by, for instance, setting healthy boundaries, learning to say no, and practicing positive self-talk.

Why is self-care important?

This seems like a no-brainer. But so many people forget how neglecting self-care damages other areas of our life – until it actually happens.

With energised minds and bodies, we can, first of all, be more productive. You can get more done in less time, and in turn have more hours left for the things you love. As you can see, a good kind of a self-perpetuating cycle grows out of making your wellness and emotional contentedness a priority.

Through these activities/through patterns/habits, you make sure you live as your best self, rather than just exist. Cheesiness ahead warning, but why are so many of us concerned about making ‘enjoying life’ a frequent, rather than an occasional treat?!

Focusing on wellbeing and happiness now prevents burnout from creeping up on you and throwing your health and stress levels out of control. Therefore, I’ve complied a list of nine tips to help you make room in your life for frequent self-care, no matter how hectic your schedule gets. I hope it convinces you that you should never feel bad about making yourself a priority, and inspires you to take action accordingly.

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How to make time for self-care even if you're busy

1. Understand what self-care means to you

As I mentioned, what you classify as a self-care activity will depend on who you are as a person. Don’t try to base it on other people, and self-care stereotypes.

For the longest time, I said to myself: ‘well, I’m not a face mask and bubble bath type of person, so I guess self-care isn’t for me’. But what IS for me is reading an interesting book, watching the sunrise, writing just for fun. All of those count as self-care activities too!

As a rule of thumb, try to find some activities for mind, body, soul. A concise list could be something like listening to podcasts, going for a relaxed run in the morning, and making time to talk to a friend. And remember to practice self-care in the way you think, too! For example, you might want to show greater empathy in the way you speak to yourself, or reduce overthinking.

It may take a while to find your unique definition, but that’s the best way to make the practice sustainable.

2. Write out what your ideal daily routine looks like

Often, we’re unhappy and stressed, but don’t quite understand why. As a starting point, write out what an ideal day in your life would look like and the answer may be right there in front of you.

If you want to, split this up into morning, afternoon and evening. What time do you want to wake up? Where do you want to spend your lunch break? How will you spend your last 30 minutes before bed? Then, see how this differs from your current routine. Going forward, taking the necessary steps to change will be much easier.

3. Treat it as you would any other goal

How to make room for self-care in your life

When setting goals in other areas of our life, we’re told to be very intentional. From writing them down to putting in place a plan of action and practicing disciplined, we hustle to achieve them. Because self-care is so foundational and important, we must treat it accordingly.

Remember that success is hard to come by if you neglect your physical and emotional wellbeing. If you let those take the backseat and often feel the side effects, don’t just hope that one of these days, you’ll magically get around to practicing self-care. Just as with any other intention, it doesn’t happen that way. Ironically, you’re gonna have to put in the hard work to make it happen.

Let’s say a goal of yours is to run a marathon. You won’t expect to just wake up one day and be able to do it. You’ll have to create a training plan, build mental toughness, make sacrifices in other areas of your life (for example, waking up early or avoiding foods that make you feel sluggish). Treat self-care with a similar mindset. Then, put a plan in place and start taking real action to form a habit.

Remember that success is hard to come by if you neglect your physical and emotional wellbeing. If you let those take the backseat and often feel the side effects, don’t just hope that one of these days, you’ll magically get around to practicing self-care. Just as with any other intention, it doesn’t happen that way. Ironically, you’re gonna have to put in the hard work to make it happen.

4. Make it a routine

One of the best ways to reach a goal or form any habit is through consistency and regular practice. The same thing applies to self-care.

In your calendar, try blocking out ‘non-negotiable’ self-care times. How frequent and how long these are depends on your lifestyle. For example, you might pick thirty minutes before bed every night to journal and read a few chapters of a book. You might want to spend Sunday afternoons getting out into nature, or meditate for five minutes every morning. For me, the gym is a way to nourish my body and mind alike. So, after consistently dedicating 1-2 hours every morning 5-6 times a week to it, the routine feels effortless and I feel the benefits afterwards each time.

This will give you a more concrete plan of action than just wishing for some spare time to appear, and also something to look forward to as a way of recharging yourself!

5. Be realistic and intentional with your time

Reading the above, you might think: ‘but I don’t have enough time to block out!’

If that’s the case, firstly remind yourself that:

  • It’s much better to spend a few hours a week on self-care now than burn out and crash in the future.
  • By working on your physical and mental health, you’ll likely see a huge boost to your productivity and accomplish more in less time.

Then, look at where your hours actually go. Look for time wasters and distractions. For instance, if you spend twenty minutes every morning scrolling through social media, you could use that time for yoga and light stretches. Do you procrastinate a lot and spend much longer on tasks than necessary? In that case, look at how you can streamline your workflow.

One of the reasons I practice and advocate time blocking is to make sure I’m as intentional as possible with my time. In summary, what you do is assign tasks to ‘blocks’ in your calendar. This clearly identifies what activities make up your day, and when they take place. It encourages you to get work done as efficiently as possible and still have plenty of room in your life for other things.

Finally, remember that self-care doesn’t have to consume countless hours! What you get out of the time you put in is much more important than the amount. Quality over quantity, always.

6. Get someone else to hold you accountable

Find someone you trust to check in with once in a while. This can be anyone from a friend or family member to a qualified professional. My accountability helper is my mum: she can just tell when I’m stressed out and reminds me to include enough me-time in my day, go to sleep early, not be constantly glued to my phone, and the like.

Make time for self-care in your daily routine

You know how we often have a tendency to show more kindness to others than to ourselves? Well, while we work on getting those balanced, it helps to have someone give you an occasional gentle (or stern) reminder.

7. Let go of guilt

Completely detach guilt from self-care. Try changing the way you think about it in the following ways:

  • Stop seeing it as selfish or a waste of time. As I said, you can’t a) excel at your goals or b) be there to help others when you don’t treat yourself with kindness. This is hard, in particular when you have goals and deadlines. The last thing you might want to do is relax, meditate and go for long walks. But try looking at these activities as an investment – in your productivity and happiness alike.
  • Don’t be hard on yourself if you fall off track. Sometimes, I stay up way too late to finish a project or miss a few days of journaling. Setbacks will happen, so just leave them in the past and move forward as normal.

8. Check in with yourself and find a way to track your progress

This links to the whole ‘self-care = goal’ principle. I think we’re all taught the SMART goals acronym at some point in our life. The ‘M’, of course, stands for measurable. Find a system to make sure you’re consistently doing the things you promise yourself. A habit tracker, either handwritten or digital, works well for this. I used to do this in my bullet journal, but have switched to spreadsheets (no judgement please haha) to make my illegible handwriting less of a problem.

How to create self-care habits and stay healthy

At the start of each month or week, create a table with a column for your habits (for example, drinking 2L water, turning off your phone thirty minutes before bed, going to the gym, reading ten pages of a book) and a row for each day. That way, you can check whether you’ve done everything as expected. At the end of the time period, look back and identify any gaps and areas you want to work on.

Some people like making a separate tracker for those big, important ones, like getting enough sleep and eating your fruits and veggies. That way, you can record more detailed information, such as exactly how many hours you got and how many portions you ate in a given day.

9. Remember that self-care doesn’t have to be complicated

The easiest and quickest way to make room for self-care in your schedule is by making it less overwhelming. After all, the last thing you want self care to be is another cause of stress! It’s much better to implement practices you can maintain over months and years, and really focus in on what’s compatible with your personality and lifestyle.

Why self-care is important and self-care tips for when you're busy

Extensive (and expensive) routines aren’t for everyone. Anything that replenishes your energy (both physical and mental) counts as self-care. This can quite literally be getting some exercise/fresh air, writing a few gratitude reminders, or starting your day with a slow breakfast.

Concluding thoughts.

We’re often tempted to sacrifice self-care in favour of ‘productivity’ and over-scheduling our days. I’ve made this mistake numerous times, and drove myself to burnout. The solution? Recognising that it’s much easier to face life with a healthy and nourished mind and body. Through a mixture of good time management, prioritisation and accountability, anyone can make self-care habits a key part of their daily routine. Be kind to yourself, and you’ll see the effects ripple throughout your life as a whole!

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Let me know in the comments: what does self-care mean to you? How do you look after your health during busy times in your life?

How to make enough time for self-care even when you're busy