- Melanie Lopes, MFT
How to Make Time for Yourself
8 Tips for Carving Out Time to Relax & Unwind
One of the most common things that I hear when I talk to people about finding ways to manage stress and anxiety is:
“I don’t have the time”.
I get it. I’ve heard myself say that same thing before. There are a lot of demands in life and sometimes it can feel like it’s impossible to find time for yourself. You may feel exhausted and just don’t have the energy to focus on finding ways to relieve your stress. Or you keep putting it off because you feel like taking time for yourself to relax is not a priority, it feels “selfish” or "lazy" or it doesn’t feel “productive,” and there are other things that are more deserving of your time and energy.
But the thing is, when you don’t make time for taking care of yourself you stay stressed, anxious, and exhausted, and it starts to build up. You start feeling tense and on edge all the time, you’re more irritable and quick to snap at people, you might find it hard to think clearly or focus, and you just don’t feel like yourself any more. You’re easily frustrated and impatient, and you start to feel resentful toward the people in your life because there’s always something to deal with and you just can’t handle. One. More. Thing.
Fortunately, it doesn’t have to stay this way! There are ways to start carving out time for yourself and start finding relief from stress. It’s just a matter of making it a priority and starting small. Even giving yourself five minutes a day can help start making a difference because in those five minutes you can allow your nervous system a chance to reset and relax with some basic self-care practices. By taking small steps and being consistent, you can start creating new habits, and at the same time, reinforce the idea that your care is important and worth prioritizing.
And it’s worth it. By making time for yourself to unwind and relax you can release tension, think more clearly, find moments of peace and ease, feel less cranky, and find joy and enjoyment again. Taking time to unwind helps you deal with stress better when it arises and all of this can bring you more satisfaction in your life, a better outlook, and help improve your relationships with those you care about.
So how on earth can you make time for yourself when you just don’t have the time?
1. Make it a priority and commit to it.
The next time you hear yourself saying “I don’t have the time” ask yourself if that is really true. Often times, what it really means is “I’m not making it a priority right now”. The truth is, you make time for things that you see as important. You may not always be able to devote as much time as you want, but when it comes down to it, if it’s important enough to you, you’ll find the time.
So in order to make time for yourself you have to figure out your “why” – why do you need to find time for yourself? What are the benefits of carving out time for self-care? What are the consequences of keeping things as is and not making time for yourself? If you want, you can write this all down as a reminder. Then think about what your goal is. What are you aiming for? What can you realistically commit to right now? 5 minutes a day? 5 minutes a week?
Of course, you probably won’t see significant stress relief if you only take five minutes to relax each week, but every little bit counts and you have to start somewhere! Remember you’re not only carving out time for yourself, you’re also forming a new habit of devoting attention to your self-care. Sometimes you need to take baby steps, and on that note…
2. Start small & simple.
A lot of people end up losing steam when it comes to improving self-care or making time for themselves because they come up with goals that are based on what they believe they “should” do, not what they are actually able to do at this point in time.
For example, you might come up with a goal to work out for 30 minutes every day, because you know that exercise is good for relieving stress, but that might be too much of a leap at first if you haven’t been making time for exercise at all. So with this example, you might try committing to a shorter time (10 minutes a day) or start by committing to 1-2 days a week instead. Or look for other strategies for relieving stress that take less time.
Again, thinking about what is most realistic for you right now and knowing that you can build up to your bigger goal over time. You want to come up with steps that you can take that are easy to start putting into practice.
3. Schedule it.
Once you’ve figured out how often you want to make time for yourself, put it in your calendar. This will help hold you accountable and remind you to do it. If possible, find a consistent time each day to devote to yourself, early in the morning, at lunch, in the evening, or whenever is realistic, to make it a part of your daily routine.
Note: When you are scheduling time for yourself, you may also want to think about where you can take time for yourself. Especially in busy households it can seem hard to find a space to be free from distractions and demands for a few moments, so you’ll want to consider this in your planning. Is there a room you can go to? A bedroom or even the bathroom can be an option for getting some space to yourself. Or do you need to go somewhere else entirely? Can you go outside? Sit in your car? It may not be ideal, but figure out what’ll work best for you to give you some moments of peace.
If you’re having a hard time scheduling in time for yourself, take a look at how you are spending your time, and see if there is anything you can adjust. Is there another time of day that might work better? Is there anything you can cut out? What can you simplify or make more efficient to free up some time? What's getting in the way? What will help?
5. Be kind to yourself.
Making time for yourself is an ever-evolving work in progress. Things come up. Schedules change. Your motivation may waver. You might have a hard time being consistent or you might find times when you are disappointed in yourself for not being able to do more.
Do what you can and be kind to yourself through the process. The goal is to start creating new habits for relieving stress, not to add more stress to your plate by pressuring or criticizing yourself for being "lazy" or not doing it "the right way". Plus, if you approach yourself with an attitude of kindness and compassion, you are more likely to keep trying, rather than being discouraged and giving up.
6. Ask for support.
Part of the challenge with making time for yourself can sometimes be that you have ongoing responsibilities to care for others, whether it’s a child, a partner, a relative, someone else in your life, or all of the above. You may need to let others know that you need some time for yourself and ask for their help so that you can get the time that you need. Let them know what you need, and most importantly, WHY you need to have this time for yourself. Emphasize how it can help you relieve your stress, make you less cranky or tense, how it can help improve your relationship, how it can set a good example for the kids, or any other benefits you might see.
Then ask for their support. How can they support you in this? Does it mean asking your partner or the baby-sitter to watch the kids for a bit longer? Asking for help with dinner prep or clean up so you can have a few moments to yourself? Think about what will help and ask for it. For some of you, this may mean that you need to let go of the reins a little and trust that it will be ok if you step away for a few minutes.
7. Protect your time.
In order to truly see the benefits of taking time to relax and unwind you have to reserve the time for it and do your best to protect yourself from interruptions and demands. I know there are always a million things you can do during those moments when you have some free time but take a moment to consider whether it will actually allow you to relax, unwind, and get some relief from stress.
If you're carving out time and then using it to tackle the chores and tasks from your to do list, are you really giving yourself a chance to relax? Of course, for some people doing certain chores like laundry or the dishes is relaxing, so if that's the case, go for it and enjoy. But if you're still running at full speed, trying to get as much done as you can, and not experiencing any relief, remind yourself to take a break every once in a while - give yourself a chance to simply slow down or stop what you're doing, even it's just for a few minutes.
8. Create a list of the things that help you unwind and relax.
As you know, your time is precious, so you don’t want to spend all of the time that you’ve carved out for yourself trying to remember what it was that you wanted to do or what will help. Start writing down as many things as you can think of that you know have helped you unwind and relax in the past and have the list ready so that you can refer to it for ideas when it’s time.
Remember that even taking five minutes a day for yourself can make a big difference over time. It provides you with necessary relief and also helps you get into the habit of devoting time for yourself and prioritizing your health and well-being. This is a shift that can have lasting impacts for you, your relationships, and your overall quality of life.
If you are interested in more support for managing anxiety, stress, or self-doubt, feel free to contact me and we can set up a therapy appointment. I’m happy to help.
Click here to contact Melanie Lopes, MFT
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