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Five ways to make self-care a daily habit

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Self-care has been clinically proven to improve your health, happiness and habits. However, with hundreds of blogs and social media posts telling you what to do for self-care—read a book, take a walk, call a friend—there aren’t nearly as many resources telling you how to do self-care. Here are five practical ways to bring more balance and rest into your busy, everyday life.

1. Schedule self-care into each day.

Self-care is like an important, recurring appointment with yourself. It’s an investment in your personal health just like a check-in with your manager or a meeting with your teacher is an investment in your professional development. Blocking off time in your calendar for dedicated self-care increases the likelihood that you’ll not only make time for it but also complete it.

Self-care doesn’t have to take hours each week or day. Similar to meditation, 10 minutes a day of dedicated self-care can make a big impact. If at first glance your schedule looks too packed, try:

  • waking up 15-30 minutes earlier
  • eating lunch by yourself
  • setting screen limits on your devices

Experts also recommend “habit” or “temptation bundling:” pairing a habit you’re trying to build with an existing routine or enjoyable activity, which increases your chances of keeping the habit. For instance, if you enjoy listening to podcasts, try listening during your commute or while washing dishes.

Once you’ve made space in your day for self-care, avoid rescheduling or cancelling when other things pop up—as they often do. Prioritize this investment in yourself and your well-being by minimizing interruptions and setting intentions.

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There’s no time like the present. Rather than postpone your self-care ideas for your next big break or day off, start today.

2. Take most, or better yet ALL, of your days off.

Picture this: your days are filled with hours of hard work that promise to be exhausting yet rewarding. As the months pass, you receive several projects and assignments that require you to spend even more time working or studying. To avoid falling behind, you wait to rest and recover until the next paid time off or school vacation. Finally, you reach a point when you need to stay home for a day. As your mental, physical and emotional health improve, you wonder, why didn’t I do that sooner?

Achieving a work-life (or school-life) balance, such as managing work, personal responsibilities and self-care, means that sometimes the weekend just isn’t enough. Taking most (or better yet all) of your allowed absences is an effective and productive way to recover. In fact, companies are more likely to maintain or even increase the number of days off for future employees if they see current employees using all of them. Studies show that workplaces that encourage employees to take and enjoy time off report higher levels of worker satisfaction and lower levels of absenteeism and disengagement. Likewise, 30% of states recognize the need for schools to provide students with better mental health support by including mental health days in excused absences.

So, when your mind and body tell you they need a break, listen.

3. Find an accountability buddy.

To help yourself stay committed to self-care, ask someone you trust to send a reminder, join you, offer encouragement or fill in while you take a break. Your accountability buddy should help you stay focused, but they should also advocate on your behalf and help you to advocate for yourself. When another person respects and affirms that your self-care is valuable, it empowers you to be more motivated and consistent in building those habits.

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4. Set boundaries and stick to them.

In many professions, people must or willingly take work home. For students, “homework” literally means work that you complete at home. When several, potentially urgent, tasks compete for your time, pausing for self-care feels far from useful or necessary. Ironically, engaging in self-care for 10-15 minutes could provide just the break your brain needs to be more productive. To manage your to-do list while still saving space for self-care:

Set boundaries

  • set a time limit for each assignment
  • store work and school materials out of sight
  • set your status as “away”
  • communicate your availability (especially for after-hours emergencies)
  • limit your involvement in extracurriculars

Increase efficiency

  • complete small tasks during free time (sending emails, reading, etc.)
  • split assignments into parts with mini deadlines
  • ask peers for help with a project
  • request an extension
  • attend study halls, office hours and tutoring sessions

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Learning how to set boundaries will not only allow you to leave work at work more often, but it will also help you to prevent burnout.

5. Write down your why.

Did you know that it takes most people about two months to build a habit? To stay as motivated on day 58 as you were on day one, remind yourself why your self-care is important.

  • how do you feel after practicing self-care?
  • how does self-care impact your personal and professional relationships?
  • how does self-care help you to improve?
  • what do you enjoy about your form(s) of self-care?
  • why do certain times of day work better than others for your self-care?
  • why do you feel better after doing self-care?

It might take a few weeks or months to find an activity and routine that work. Once you find the right system, write down why it works. That reason will motivate you on days when you need encouragement and inspire you to turn temporary moments of self-care into lasting lifestyle habits.

Prioritizing self-care early on is crucial as a City Year AmeriCorps member. Read more from alum Lauren Menkemeller (Baton Rouge ’19), who shares five things they wish they knew at the start of service.

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