Making time for self-care

Learn tips to manage your time, practice self-care, and reduce your stress.

Coffee cup - making time for self-care

Achieving that ever-elusive work-life balance becomes even harder during seasons filled with finals, family gatherings, and social obligations. Feeling like you’re neglecting parts of your life, or not living up to expectations in certain areas, can lead to lots of additional stress. Other times, it’s tempting to give in to the imbalance and sacrifice healthy practices like diet and exercise, or consistent rest time, in the name of productivity.

Here’s the good news: it doesn’t have to be that way! With thoughtful time management and adjusting your mindset around time, productivity, and busyness, it’s possible to accomplish the things that need to be done, while also taking good care of yourself.

Here are a few tips that can help you make the most of your schedule and prepare you for moments where time is of the essence.

What does self-care look like?

Self-care can mean different things to different people, but the common denominator, according to Renee Van Meter, Open Access team leader at the Johnson County Mental Health Center, is that good self-care is based in knowing what gives you energy and what relaxes you.

“The spectrum of self-care is unending, because there are so many parts of ourselves we need to be in touch with,” Van Meter says. “It could be knowing limits or boundaries with people in your life and maintaining and communicating those. It could be filling yourself spiritually, if that’s what you choose. It could be silence or alone time, or it might be going out and doing something.”

Pay attention to the activities or occasional indulgences that fill you up, or help you unwind. Set aside at least a few minutes, or more if you can, for those activities, and treat it as protected time in your schedule, not to be moved or scheduled over.

Keep a time journal

Time management expert Laura Vanderkam suggests keeping a log of how much time you spend doing work, running errands, or taking care of your family. Log time for each task. This isn’t to make you feel bad about time you “aren’t doing enough,” but to find out if you have more time to spare than you think. Suddenly, instead of “no time,” you have “some time.” Did you discover 90 minutes of unscheduled time in your day? Use it to go to the gym or plan dinner. Only have a few minutes? Use that time to read a book or article, or do a quick stretch at your desk.

Establish a regular bedtime

The Centers for Disease Control suggests adults need at least seven hours of sleep per night. Having a consistent sleep routine helps you maintain good overall health and avoid the problems of sleep deprivation, which include slowed reaction times, irritability, anxiety, and high blood pressure. Making sure you get enough sleep means you’ll feel ready to go when the day starts. Having a bedtime is also a useful time management technique in that it gives you an official stopping time if you happen to be working late. Rules can always be bent, but as with other forms of self-care, try to keep your physical rest as protected time.

Work at a consistent pace

Not only is overworking yourself bad for your health, it can undo all your productivity if you start to get tired or lose focus and make mistakes. Figure out what pace works best for you, and make that your goal, rather than cramming tasks into every last second.

Alex Williams, psychology program director at the KU Edwards Campus and director of the KU Edwards Campus Psychological Clinic, says understanding your work pace can help you know when you’ll perform your best and what to prioritize. "If you know you do your best work between 1 and 4 p.m., you should save your hardest work for that time,” Williams says, “and save relatively mindless stuff for another time."

Reach out to your support system

Life has lots of components — work, school, family, household chores — and you shouldn't feel like you need to take it all on yourself. Healthy self-care involves recognizing your limits. You can accomplish more when others share your goals than if you go it alone. Pay attention to the parts of your life taking up a lot of your time or energy, and identify the co-workers, friends, or family around you who can help.

Emily Johnson, a 2019 KU Edwards Campus graduate, says that her community of support helped her earn a degree and taught her valuable lessons about asking for help. “I overcame this by understanding that asking for help is a strength. That relying on others’ support is a gift,” Johnson says. “I have had many helpful people come along in this journey, not once was I alone.”

Looking for more information on mental wellness and self-care? Read more in this blog post.

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