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Self-care may be something different than what you’ve been thinking it is. If you’re like most people, your daily schedule is jam-packed full of demands and to-dos. From the time you wake up until the time you fall asleep, you’re either taking care of others or running around trying to get all your tasks done so that you can be present with your loved ones when they need you the most. As much as we may want to spend quality time with our friends and family, we also need to take care of ourselves so that we don’t burn out or risk losing our happiness along the way.

It’s easy to add items to your self-care plan… but maybe subtraction is the answer.

I’ve discovered in my own life that sometimes the answer to stress is examining my very full plate and looking at what I can remove. Self-care requires discernment as to where and with whom you are spending your time and energy. That jam-packed schedule you have may need some reevaluation. Rather than adding more to-dos to boost your self-care regimen, consider what you can subtract. What do you need to remove? How can you lighten your load? What can you do differently?

 If going to the gym feels like a stressful chore, do some yoga or a take a gentle walk instead

Unless it’s time to hit the hay, an antidote to feeling stressed is often gentle movement of the body. While vigorous exercises may actually yield an energy boost when you’re feeling sluggish, sometimes a leisurely walk or some gentle stretching can feel most nourishing. With over 20 years experience as a professional counselor, I’ve seen the power of persistent but gentle movement as a treatment measure for stress and depression. Many of my clients over the years have reported that walking for 15 minutes every day helps them cope with their symptoms and improves their moods. Exercise in any form has been shown to reduce feelings of anxiety and depression because exercise causes the release of endorphins (natural painkillers) in your brain.

Is social media aiding or harming your self-care? Might be time to take a break.

Social media CAN be a wonderful way to meet new people with shared interests, to build a following if you have your own business and a great way to stay connected with friends and family. Social media can also be a source of stress due to triggering content some people post. If this is the case for you, try taking a break. There are many ways to do this . Some people choose to go off social media for a few days or weeks and then re-engage in it again. Others delete their accounts altogether. I suggest trying one or two days without social media and seeing how you feel after that time period.

If you can’t meditate, try reading a book

I’ve been meditating for over 30 years and I highly recommend the practice for cultivating connection to your truest, inner self. But I realize that many people struggle with the inevitable avalanche of thoughts that show up when the mind is challenged to be still. Try reading something inspirational instead. Engaging the mind with thought provoking prose or a poetic story can lead to a state of relaxation. If a book doesn’t work for you, try listening to an audiobook or podcast. There is something about turning your attention to something other than your thoughts that can put space between you and your anxieties. Try listening to a great TED talk and let yourself get absorbed in what someone else has said, instead of what you think about them saying it.

Don’t overbook yourself. Make sure you leave time in your day for downtime.

Moderation is an undervalued practice. It’s crucial that you not overbook yourself with too many commitments. Block off time on your calendar for downtime. It may feel a little nerve-wracking at first to say no to a lot of people and events, but sticking with the things that are most important will pay off in the long run. Figure out which activities you need to prioritize the most. For example, maybe exercise, spending time with friends or family, and work are some things you want to make sure happen every week. Decide how much time each week these should take up – figure about one hour per day if possible – then add up how much of your schedule these tasks take up so far this week. If there isn’t enough space left in your schedule to fit everything else in (including any leisurely activities), you may need to find ways to cut back on what else needs done.

Prioritize yourself. Ask yourself what you most need.

This is a two step practice I teach in my self-care consultations and coaching work. Your inner self KNOWS what you most need in every moment but you have to check in and listen to what she has to say.

Try this 30 second exercise:

1. Sit back, close your eyes and try to relax your belly. Drop your shoulders down away from your ears. Let your arms and hands rest comfortably in your lap and in your mind ask yourself, “What do I MOST need right now?” Rest in that question. Just allow your breath to flow in and out naturally and pay attention to whatever sensations and thoughts arise in your awareness. You will very likely observe an answer to that question.
2. Take that answer and make it your top, immediate priority. Whatever it is that you most need right now, make it happen immediately.

Self-care should not feel like a chore.

Self-care should never feel like a chore. There are times when it means adding something to your life, such as meditation or exercise, but more often than not, self-care is about subtraction. Whether you want more time for your relationships, doing things you love outside of work, or being unplugged from social media and other devices that can take over your life — sometimes the best way to care for yourself is to focus on what you don’t have time for.