How to Self-Care for Success When You Have Zero Extra Time

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I’m Sarah (she/her), a Toronto-based writer, anti-diet nutritionist, and Certified Intuitive Eating Counsellor. I teach folks how to have a healthy relationship with food and accept their natural body size.

Hi, I'm Sarah

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A couple of years ago, I returned home at around 4am after working a wedding. I’d graduated a few months prior from nutrition school and hospitality was still paying my rent. Exhausted, I never heard the storm, or woke up to the water rushing from my ceiling, or felt my sheets saturate.

Instead, I slept. 

I slept until my eyes didn’t burn, until the bones of my body didn’t move like lead, until I was damp from the roots of my hair to my pant legs. And by then there was only the red hot rush of anger, and my skin shivering in the stillness of a brisk September morning.

The water had seeped through the upstairs loft and into the second floor bedrooms, and within three days I’d developed a fever so overwhelming I slept for forty-eight hours, huddled under the blankets. Dizzy and dehydrated, I walked myself to the ER. Bacterial pneumonia.

Spending eight weeks recovering in bed, as you might imagine, is not exactly my idea of a great time. But it was definitely a lesson in self-care.

Several weeks ago I was asked to present on nutrition and self-care. I think about that period in my life all the time, because it was during those weeks where my business evolved from something I hoped to do to something I would stop at nothing to create. As I explained during the session — hola, the power of vulnerability — it was a metaphor for my life.

I know you’re busy. I know you feel like you don’t have time for self-care practices. You feel like your life is out of control, like you don’t have ownership. You’re stressed out, burnt out, mentally done. You can’t remember the last time you felt energized, or which foods even give you energy.

You want to put yourself first and learn who you are, deep down, without all the noise, but you don’t know where to start or how to change. You want more hours in the day. To boost your mood and laugh aloud again. To be more mindful at mealtime and throughout the week, and to work with a heightened degree of focus and clarity.

I know it because I’m currently group coaching 20 women, and nearly all of them have told me the same thing.

But you know what? You can find it. And actually taking care of yourself will help everything else fall into place.

Slowly — like, turtle’s pace slow, honest — I’ve been cultivating a low pressure self-care practice, one that involves eating nourishing foods (according to what makes me feel amazing), guarding my 10am bedtime as I would my firstborn child, prioritizing morning movement, using essential oils, and revelling in a whole lot of geeky introverted alone time.

I joined a mastermind to meet new, like-minded people.

I re-stocked my supplements.

I journaled.

I listened to provocative podcasts.

I read a lot of Gretchen Rubin, and started making decisions based on what would make me happy.

I thought seriously about what would make me happy. 

More importantly? I stopped guilting myself for choosing joy.

Any strong nutrition program, if you ask me, is rooted in a radical self-care and stress management practice. How much exercise should I get? What should I eat? How many calories should I consume? Honestly, none of this really matters if you don’t have your shit together. And you get your shit together by mastering your schedule via habits and boundaries, and putting yourself first without compromise.

While I love green smoothies and a kick-ass pilates class as much as the best of them, we need to acknowledge the external factors first. Only by addressing the spine of our lives can we move beyond the bones and optimize our capacity for sharing our gifts with the world.

But how do you start a self-care routine? How can you shift some of your habits?

1. Begin by identifying your goals — things you’d like to do or would like to do more consistently.

For example, I used to workout intensely several times a week, but this slipped once my business revved up. I knew this was something I wanted to change. Secondly, I wanted to treat myself with more respect and set stronger boundaries to boost my professional performance.

I recommend outlining these goals on a sheet of paper, or brainstorming ideas if you’re unsure.

2. Now, figure out your big why. Why would you like to make space for these new habits in your life? What do you hope to gain? How would your life change? 

Having goals, especially related to self-care, is lovely. But in my experience, they just don’t get accomplished unless your why is super strong (there’s a reason it’s a major component of business plans!) In my case, I wanted to workout more consistently to boost my energy levels, which would then enhance my productivity and help me to grow a heart-centred, passionate business. I find imagining myself at aged 80 always helps, too! So: why would you like to master your goals? What do you hope to gain?

3. What’s not currently working in your life? What needs to change in order for you to make space for new habits and self-care practices? 

Maybe you’re staying up so late that you find it difficult to wake up early to exercise, prepare a nourishing breakfast, or meditate. Maybe the amount of time you devote to social media is dragging you down. How can you eliminate inefficiencies? What shifts can you make to welcome new, positive changes? For me, I started setting my alarm earlier and earlier — and it totally worked. I love waking up early and relishing in what I refer to as The Golden Hour before the hustle of the day begins.

4. How much money are you open or willing to investing in your self-care practice? 

Self-care doesn’t have to cost money — I can think of many free tactics — but it helps. Some of my purchases, including a diffuser, essential oils, and my monthly gym membership all cost money, but I receive a high ROI on each of these. Are you open to spending money on a membership, or would you prefer to go for runs and take advantage of complimentary community classes? Will you buy the recommended reading for your book club, or will you borrow from the public library?

5. Why haven’t you accomplished these goals in the past? Why aren’t they currently part of your routine? 

It’s important to address this, in the event these issues are still bubbling under the surface. It took me a while to cultivate a solid self-care routine because I felt I was always too busy, too tired, or too something to make a lil’ magic happen in my life. Deep down, I was definitely struggling with some self-worth issues. Do you feel like you’re worth it? Do you feel you deserve a Golden Hour and some nourishing evening time?

6. Implement. Where are you going to fit these things in? I recommend slotting them into your Google Calendar and committing, so you a) don’t forget b) have a more difficult time objecting. 

If you find you work better with accountability and support, enlist the help of a partner. Regarding workouts, try taking group fitness classes or joining a team. If you’re a rebel who hates for anything to be scheduled (I can empathize ;), focus on your values and how you want to be seen. Find various ways (and psychology!) to successfully execute your self-care goals.

Also? Release perfection. Sometimes I skip days. Stuff comes up. But overall, having a routine and knowing you have structures in place to support you, energize you, and keep you on track to reaching your goals is, in my experience, the best part.

Interested in my favourite, go-to self-care practices? Click below to have the list sent straight to your inbox.

 Do you have any favourite, tried-and-true self-care tips that have worked especially well for you? Share them in the comments!

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