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Sunday, December 9, 2018

Realistic Self-Care: How Many Minutes Have You Got?

photo by Aphiwat Chuangchoem from 

by Catharine Hannay

All this talk about self-care is lovely, but who has the time? You've got more work every day than you can possibly handle, which means you don't even have time to meet the needs of all your students or clients, not to mention the needs of your own family. 

I get it. I really do. 

When I was working in Japan, I had a full-time teaching load on top of a full-time administrative job, while dealing with university politics, and going through severe culture shock, at the same time I was desperately trying to learn enough of the language to communicate with non-English-speaking staff. 

But here's the thing. Not taking care of myself didn't help. In retrospect, I can see that I would have benefited enormously from simply taking a few minutes every day to clear my head and prioritize my work, instead of frantically rushing from one task to the next.

In fact, looking back on any of my jobs, I can see that I made things even harder for myself.

As Austin Kleon says,
"All advice is autobiographical. It's one of my theories that when people give you advice, they're really just talking to themselves in the past." 
Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative

In other words: do as I say, not as I did. Here's what I wish I'd done when I was so busy I couldn't think straight. I hope  it helps you avoid my mistakes so you can do your own work in a healthier and more sustainable way. 

No matter how busy your day, you can always squeeze in a five-minute, three-minute, or even just a 1-minute break to refuel and clear your head. (If you really, truly can't find sixty seconds for yourself in the next twenty-four hours, something is very wrong.)

If you only have five minutes


I used to be convinced that I didn't have time to eat lunch, or that I had to correct papers with one hand while using the other hand to mindlessly shove food in my mouth. 

I finally decided to time myself. It only took five minutes with no distractions to enjoy a small salad or half a sandwich. I ate the rest of my lunch in another short break after classes ended for the day.

No matter how busy you are, you can probably carve out a few minutes to eat something healthy. In her book on Trauma Stewardship, Laura van Dernoot Lipsky describes how one woman managed to take five-minute lunch breaks at a hectic emergency shelter: 
“She would close her door and spread out a white paper napkin on her desk, arrange her modest meal on her makeshift placemat, and, to the best of her ability, eat her food in relative peace and quiet. Meanwhile, other workers struggle to avoid car accidents while eating their lunches while driving between home visits or meetings.”

I've also found that it really helps to clear my head to take a brief stroll after I've been hunched over my desk for too many hours in a row. 
"Especially when we're beating our heads against a problem that isn't moving no matter how hard we bang, a change of scenery and, more importantly, a shift in focus, can be the ticket to finding the solution... 
Go take a walk. If it's raining, bring an umbrella. If it's snowing, wear boots. If it's the height of summertime, schmear on sunscreen. Step away from... whatever it is you're working on, and don't mentally bring the work with you."  
Kim Piper Werker, Make It Mighty Ugly: Exercises & Advice for Getting Creative Even When It Ain't Pretty 

You might want to try one of these popular walking practices:

Or you could try one of the brief mindful movement routines on the Self-Care Video Playlist.

If you have 
three minutes, 
two minutes, 

or even 
just one minute

Paying conscious attention the the breath is an amazing way to instantly calm down and shift your focus, no matter what's going on.

“Are you in pain? Breathe. Are you in distress? Breathe. At first, this message seemed very limited to me. And then I understood. The real, full message is, ‘Start by breathing. Then everything will become clearer.’... 
Just paying attention to it, when we are happy or unhappy, without expecting anything from it, without asking it to solve our problems. But understanding that, when we can’t solve them, it’s a thousand times better to pay attention to our breathing than to the ruminations in our minds... 
Breathing does not change reality, but it does change how we experience it, and preserves our ability to act on it.”
Christophe AndrĂ©, Looking at Mindfulness

Close your eyes, or look at a spot on the floor a few feet in front of you, or gaze out the window. Breathe through your nostrils or through your mouth. Just breathe. 

You might want to try breathing in and out as the shape expands and contracts:

You might also want to try these breathing practices:

Or you might want to listen to this calming song:

instrumental flute music 
by Hiromi Motomiya


“Consider your particular work environment and daily routine. What moments can you reclaim to attend to your inner well-being? 
Three minutes between meetings? 
Part of the drive to a site visit?
 The five minutes you have when a patient is late? 
Any one of these may be an opportunity to regroup and center yourself.”  
Laura Van Dernoot Lipsky, Trauma Stewardship

The next time you have a couple of minutes to spare, try one of these options and decide if you'd like to make it a regular practice. There are also a lot more suggestions for quick self-care breaks in a recent interview with Barbara Larrivee on Mindful Moments, in the Classroom and Beyond


related posts:

Realistic Self-Care: Is It Possible to Keep All the Balls in the Air?

Realistic Self-Care: What Does Your Body Need?

Self-Care Resources for Educators and Other Helping Professionals

Activities for Practicing Mindfulness, Compassion, and Gratitude