Self-care

The latest research shows that we all struggle to fit in time to ourselves – the average mum gets just 17 minutes of alone time per day, while 20% of us are working an extra day in overtime every week.

The good news is that whatever you’re juggling – from a stressful job to a hectic family life – psychologist and author of The Self-Care Revolution (out 28 December) Suzy Reading has the answer for fitting in more ‘me-time’. She explains why prioritising our wellbeing is just as important as looking after our physical health…

Why do we need to focus on looking after ourselves?

“Stress and change are an inevitable part of life and we all need ‘self-care’. This is about making a conscious effort to look after your wellbeing – from being aware of your mental health and nurturing your social life to making time for relaxing.

“When you’re fatigued and over-stretched, even little things can get on top of you. Making sure you feel good in yourself can help you be healthy and resilient, and means you’ll be better equipped to cope with life’s challenges.”

Do I need to spend time by myself?

“Alone time and self-care is important because we need quiet and solitude to relax, let go and process the stresses of the day. We also need it for the proper function of our nervous system, particularly the ‘parasympathetic nervous system’, which is responsible for letting our body ‘rest and digest’. Mentally relaxing and switching off can help slow our heart rate, relax our muscles and allow our digestive juices to properly function.

“Obviously, it’s nice to be able to carve out a chunk of time for a massage or a yoga class, but me-time can be as simple as sitting in the sun for five minutes, taking a solitary walk at lunchtime or massaging our hands with hand cream. These little moments can make a difference.”

How do I fit in time for myself, even with a busy schedule?

“Remember that looking after yourself needn’t be time consuming or expensive. It can be simple habits dotted throughout your day.

“There’s a temptation to rush through small daily tasks such as doing the washing up or having a shower. Next time you take a shower, for example, try savouring the experience rather than going on autopilot. Focus on the scent of the shower gel, the warm water on your shoulders, the relaxing sound of the shower.

“Being more mindful has been proven to stop you over-thinking and decreases feelings of anxiety. It doesn’t take any longer than usual, it’s just how you shift your mind-set slightly.”

I’m feeling stressed and rundown. What’s a quick way to lift myself up?

“Stand tall, take a deep breath and you’ll instantly feel a little more positive. A brisk walk can help clear your mind, or try simple shoulder rolls to release tension. Resting your head on your hands at your desk can feel like a mini reboot. Or, if you have time, try lying down with your legs up against the wall. This can help boost circulation and is a great stress-buster.”

Suzy’s top tips for fitting in self-care:

1. Remember you can say no

“It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with commitments, so try to pace yourself and make sure you schedule some evenings just to take stock.”

2. Prioritise sleep

“Sleep for sanity is my mantra. If you have unavoidable late nights, make sure you have some quiet nights in to compensate and make up your sleep debt.”

3. Choose your downtime wisely

“If you’re feeling frazzled, save the stimulating TV programme or film for another time, as these can increase the release of adrenaline and stress cortisol hormones. Try picking up a book – just six minutes of reading is enough to decrease our stress levels.”

4. Be kind to yourself

“Treat yourself as you would your best friend. You wouldn’t criticise them, so don’t do it to yourself. This isn’t about being self-indulgent or lazy – it’s about being more encouraging and compassionate towards ourselves.”

5. Look for opportunities to be still

“It doesn’t need to be a formal meditation practice – just take 60 seconds to check in with how you feel and focus on the rhythm of your breath, whether that’s during your commute or while you’re waiting in the queue at the post office.”

You can pre-order Suzy’s book here. Now there’s no excuse not to prioritise some time (or even just a little moment) to yourself…

Feeling inspired to be kinder to yourself? Read our 5 ways to make this weekend your healthiest and happiest yet.

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