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Micro self-care: low cost, low barrier ways to start taking care of yourself, today

By TELL’s Heather D.

In our busy, stress-filled lives, self-care is often seen as a luxury, something that takes hours each day or something that belongs to the realm of fancy vacations, expensive gym memberships, or budget-busting shopping trips. Many of us experience limitations in time or financial resources (or both), so how can we afford to “indulge” in self care?

The thing is, self-care isn’t a luxury. It’s a fundamental piece of your overall well-being, which includes your mental health. It impacts our longevity and our ability to show up for what we want in our lives, and to be there for others. It’s a fundamental right that you have as a human being.

It also doesn’t have to take a lot of time or cost a lot of money, so whether you’re busy with family, school, career, or life in general, you have options in terms of caring for yourself. If you take a few minutes each day, and focus on the basics, you can engage in small acts of self-care that are easier to do, or “micro self care,” and every little bit makes a difference.

Why micro self-care?

Lots of us have good intentions when it comes to creating a self-care routine. While it’s wonderful to get away for long stretches of time and really focus on ourselves (and you absolutely need and deserve to have that from time to time) it’s not always an immediately accessible option. And in a world that seems to be getting more stressful, waiting until you can craft the perfect routine, or make time for a day or more to yourself means that the effects of stress can compound, making it harder to recover, which can lead to greater and more sustained issues with your mental and physical health down the line. We need periodic rest and refreshment. Micro self-care is about starting small, about identifying small, low-barrier-to-start actions you can reasonably take right now. Doing something small is much better than doing nothing at all in terms of self-care, and you may find that a small action gives you the energy you need to take another small action, and maybe even another. Even if it doesn’t, you’ve still done something for yourself and some days, that’s enough.

Examples of micro self-care

There are many ways to engage in micro-self care that won’t cost you much in terms of time or money. Here are some examples of things you can do, starting today, that help you meet your basic needs.

Physical Self-Care

Move your body, even if it’s just a quick trip around the block, some stretches, or a few reps of a gentle exercise while you’re brushing your teeth or making morning coffee. Decide on a time to stop using your devices today (and set an alarm to remind you to stick to it), and spend that extra time doing things like being with loved ones who may live with you, or by reading a book or taking a bath, or doing some gentle stretches or relaxation practices. Try to get enough sleep, just for today. Have a piece of fruit, or a serving of veggies instead of the quick things we tend to grab when we’re busy. When you’re eating one of your meals today, try to see if you can slow it down a little and enjoy each bite, chewing your food thoroughly. Pause for a moment and have a glass of water.

Social Self-Care

Make a date to spend time with someone who really accepts and likes you for who you are. If you’re too busy to do that, send them a text or a voice message and engage in conversation with them. Is there anyone you’ve been meaning to reach out to, but life got in the way? Take five minutes and get the conversation started. The next time you’re in a shop, make eye contact and say “thank you” if appropriate for the place where you live. You may get a genuine response in return and this can have a positive impact on your mood for the day. Set boundaries with people— practice saying “no” to one thing that really drains you. Give yourself permission to prioritize yourself and people who make you feel recharged and loved where you can.

Creative Self-Care

Do you have a craft, hobby, or piece of reading material lying around that you’ve been meaning to get around to, but feel like you don’t have time to get started? Could you give yourself 5 minutes to pick it up and see how much you could get into it during that time? Is there a park or bit of nature nearby where you could go and sit quietly for a few minutes on a break? How about a local mural or piece of street art that you could pause in front of and appreciate for a moment or two?

Mental and sensory self-care

Sometimes even five minutes away from a task can be refreshing and might actually increase your overall productivity and creativity. How about scheduling a five minute break after you complete your next task? How much screen time are you logging? We tend to spend a lot of time being hyper-stimulated by the tech in our lives and taking a short break gives our eyes, nervous systems, and other parts of our bodies time to reset and recover.

Getting started

It can be difficult to find the energy and motivation to take care of yourself, and during those times micro self-care can be a useful and accessible way to get started. Finances can also feel like a huge obstacle. All of the examples above take little time and cost very little to no money.

We’re all different, and the ideas in this article are not exhaustive. Use them as examples to help you get started— it’s important to choose what feels right and accessible for you right now. Please take care.

** Some of the ideas in this article are inspired by Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith’s work on the different types of rest we need. If you are interested in this topic, I highly suggest looking further into her ideas.