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Time is on Your Side: How to find time for Self-care

Updated: Jul 23, 2022

As a follow up to previous week’s post, , where I‘ve established that yes, I can find the time for the things that I prioritize and are important to me. The things that move me forward. So can you! Ok. I hear you. You are a busy parent, you volunteer at school, you may be a business owner and you manage the needs of both your company and your employees. Or you may be a stay at home parent, however, you have created a schedule to accommodate everyone else — the daily pick ups, the school activities, the soccer practices, the doctors appointments and yes, dinner still has to be on the table by 6pm— but no time at all that you set aside for yourself. You could be like me, a medical worker, and you spend long hours at the clinic or the hospital, caring for people relying on your knowledge and training to help them through their health challenges.

Sometimes, the tasks of the day are straightforward, sometimes it takes all of you, that at the end of the day, you’re just spent. Done.

We don’t pay much attention to how much of our time is spent taking care of everyone else. We just go do. We hardly think about our own needs. Have you asked yourself at what cost? Or maybe you have experienced the exhaustion, the burnout, but just don’t know how to get off the hamster wheel. Listen. I hear you and I’ve been there. I still find myself there. At some point though, something will have to give.

I have had moments in primary care where I had to excuse myself in the middle of the patient visit because the feelings of overwhelm got to be too much that I needed to get out so they do not see me cry. That was not fun. I was so burned out. I get depressed thinking about it.

There is a certain satisfaction in doing all the things that make us seem like we got it together. “I don’t know how you do it.” “You’re just a superwoman!” “Is there something you can’t do?” In some perverse way, these comments gives us satisfaction. It’s the external validation that we all seek. Last I checked, they don’t exactly give out medals to martyrs. In fact, historically, martyrs were often killed.

So as a result of all of the above, taking care of you and your needs take a backseat. Whether you intended to or not. All the time.

You know how the flight attendant before take off instruct you that in case of emergency put your oxygen mask first before helping a minor or anyone else? It’s because otherwise the passenger would possibly run out of oxygen and be unable to help at all. Deep inside, we all know this. We all should prioritize our health so we can continue to care for the people relying on us. Yet we all run ourselves ragged to the point of burnout, exhaustion, depression.

I hope that today is the day you make a decision to prioritize self-care.

One of the easiest and most effective way to promote self-care is increasing physical activity. The CDC spells out the benefits of movement here:

Immediate benefits being improved sleep, reduced anxiety and improvement of blood pressure. Long-term benefits even go so much farther. Improved brain health, cardiac health, cancer prevention, improved bone strength and better balance. And of course, there’s the benefit of weight management.

How do we find the time for exercise? You, my friend, make the decision to make it a priority. You. Make the decision. Today. It is simple. You may have thoughts of “it’s not that easy! I’m really, really busy!” What if I help you right now as you’re reading, to find the time? As the title states, Time is really on our side! It’s just a matter of breaking it down into chunks. And prioritizing what is important to you.

Let’s do the math. To achieve health benefit especially cardiovascular health we all need at least 150 minutes a week or 30 minutes a day and for 5 days a week. We will start here. To rely on exercise to lose weight you’ll need 200 or more minutes of moderate exercise. Somewhat less for vigorous intensity. That’s for another time. Today let’s find 30 minutes.

Decide to be FITTE. Decide the frequency, intensity, time, type of exercise and most of all decide what could be enjoyable for you.

Frequency: if we are going to create physical activity as a habit, then daily is the frequency you’d like to aim for.

Intensity: moderate intensity is what we’d like to get at. Where you’re huffing and puffing but can still say a sentence or two. Let’s get that magnificent heart machine of yours pumping!

Time: 30 minutes is ideal. But any time at all that you can devote to movement is a good start. Maybe it’s 10 minutes to begin with and you can build on it later. Start there.

Type: Decide what type of exercise you’d like to do. Examples are brisk walking, playing tennis, dancing, jump rope, etc. But really, anything that you can think of!

Enjoyment: definitely find an activity that is enjoyable to you so that you can look forward to doing it and not dread it. Think of activities that you have enjoyed doing in the past and foresee doing on a consistent basis.

Ok, so answer these questions with me now.

When will I do it?

Everyday? Yes! Awesome! When you aim for 7 days, and only manage to do it in 5 of the days because, well, life. You’re still golden! maybe on Saturday things were truly hectic and you weren’t able squeeze the time you intended to- it’s ok. We move on and try again later in the day or the next day. It’s all good! We have the rest of our days to develop the habit. Enjoy the journey.

What will I do?

Go out for a walk? Yes! It’s simple, it’s free and really very effective!

Maybe outdoors is not for you? It’s all good! Maybe move it indoors, the gym.

Maybe go on YouTube. Put on a video and maybe you just watch a few and find one that seems fun and doable for you. There’s so many out there and there’s one for everyone.

The Peloton app has been by far my favorite that has made my effort more consistent. It is like Netflix for exercise. Try it!

What time?

Look at a window of time in your day that could be just yours, uninterrupted by kids, work, spouse. For me, it’s early morning. It’s 6:30 to 7am. Tell your family and most especially, yourself, that it’s your protected time. For yourself. Put it in the calendar like any other appointment you have. And then show up to that appointment with yourself. You wouldn’t stand a coffee date with your best friend, would you? Don’t stand yourself up! No one else will prioritize you the way you’d like to be prioritized but you. It’s the truth.

What’s my back up plan?

As all good intentions go, sometimes they do not go as planned. Already have a back up plan for these things. For example, it’s raining outside. What’s the back up plan? You decide. But have one. Write it down so you don’t forget and so you don’t make an excuse.

What’s that? You don’t like to exercise?Hmm. Somehow, you decided that sometime ago. And it was convenient to say it. You have replayed it in your head until you believed it to be true. Good news. It’s just a story you told yourself and you can actually change that narrative. Maybe this time you decide you can start to like movement again. At some point your brain will be convinced of the opposite. Just like it did the other thought you had of not liking exercise.

Dislike for exercise is something I hear a lot from my patients. Pending a good reason like medical condition or injuries, I no longer give them an out, at least not while they are in my exam room. Because they already have done that for themselves over and over again. Whatever it is, I troubleshoot with them. Until I’ve exhausted all their excuses. I want them to go home with some actionable plan that they themselves came up with, with just a little prodding, ok, fine.. nagging, on my part! Sometimes I have a breakthrough with them, sometimes I don’t. At the end though, the ball is on their court. And I hope I gave them something to think about.

You have time, we all do. And, to borrow the line from the Rollingstone song, it is on your side, yes it is. You just have to decide to take it. For yourself.

DISCLAIMER: Lea Famularcano, MD is a medical doctor, but she is not your doctor, and she is not offering medical advice on this website.  If you are in need of professional advice or medical care, you must seek out the services of your doctor or health care professional.

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