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Creative ways to make the most of your ‘me’ time, whether you have five minutes, half an hour or a day
If self-care has started to feel like just another chore to tick off your to-do list, it’s time to rethink your approach. From simply pressing pause to do nothing, or learning to dance in your living room, to taking time to do a watercolour, there are endless ways to squeeze some much-needed ‘me’ time into your day. Here are some ideas on how to make the make the most of whatever precious time you have to yourself.
Yes, really. According to researchers at Washington State University, while you might have sleep, exercise and nutrition covered, waking rest (essentially, dedicating time to doing nothing) could be the missing piece in the wellness puzzle.
‘Consciously stepping out of yourself, your deadlines, your to do-lists and everything you think is important allows your brain the time to think about what needs to be processed, consolidated or thought through,’ explains lead author Amanda Lamp.
Research has linked the act of taking time out to do nothing with increased productivity, creativity and even kindness. In the Netherlands, this ‘nothing-ing’ is called niksen. You don't need to observe or interact with your thoughts, which can make it easier for people who struggle with meditation.
Simply set a timer for 5 minutes, put your phone out of reach and make yourself comfortable. At first, doing nothing can feel quite unnerving, so it can help to have a window to look out of, and a journal to record your thoughts and feelings in afterwards.
Regular exercise is just as good for your mind as your body. But you don’t need to be a gym junkie to get the benefits – researchers say three 10-minute workouts each week can be as good for your health as one 50-minute workout. Building little bursts of activity into your daily routine is the key. This energising high intensity 10-minute Tabata-style workout from Joe Wicks is the perfect wake-up call – why not give it a go while you wait for your morning cuppa to brew? A ‘quickie’ yoga flow like this one from Yoga with Adriene is another clever way to work more movement into your day – perfect as a mid-afternoon pick-me-up or after-work reset. Or simply get out for a 15-minute walk or run.
‘You don’t need to join a gym, buy any equipment or even get changed,’ says Dr Rangan Chatterjee, a GP and author of Feel Better in 5, who recently told listeners to his Feel Better, Live More podcast how he works a daily 5-minute workout into his own morning routine. ‘I am a huge fan of people getting their movement in 5-minute doses, be it 5 minutes of bodyweight exercises, 5 minutes of yoga, 5 minutes of HIIT or 5 minutes of dancing,’ he says.
Always fancied learning to draw – or dance? With so many experts now leading online classes, it’s never been easier to get started. A brilliant way to begin or break up your day, a thirty-minute class gives you plenty of scope to get those creative juices flowing.
‘Practising your creative skills gives you time to focus on something positive and helps you to relax and become more creative in the rest of your daily life,’ explains Makings & Musings’ Irene Ruby, who leads drawing and painting workshops on Zoom on a donation basis. ‘Studies show that spending time being creative stimulates the brain to produce the “happy hormone” oxytocin after just 20 minutes.’
‘When people are engrossed in a creative activity, they often experience flow,’ she adds. ‘This happens when you are so focused on what you are doing that everything else fades away. That creative flow is very similar to the feeling of meditation. I aim to let people experience that flow in my classes. We focus on the creative process itself and less on the end result, so my classes are perfect for all levels of experience. Try different things out and don’t be afraid to “fail”. The less you worry about making something perfect, the more you can enjoy the learning process.’
‘Learning to dance in the comfort and safety of your own home means you can literally dance “like no one is watching” which can have such a positive effect on your self-confidence,’ adds former English National Ballet dancer Sarah Du-Feu, creator of The Ballet Coach YouTube channel and Dance at Home programme. Sarah offers online ballet and barre fitness classes for all ages and experience levels. ‘As long as you have the ground underneath you, you can dance,’ she says. ‘There’s nothing more to it!
‘Ballet can help to reduce those aches, pains and niggles we all get. It’s a brilliant way to improve your posture, flexibility, coordination and balance without you even realising it – or having to leave the living room! Taking 30 minutes out of your busy day to “just dance” allows you to forget all your stresses and worries – we all need some kind of escape, and simply moving to music and feeling free can really help you relax.’
Taking a more mindful, considered approach to preparing – and enjoying – your daily meals can be more rewarding than you might imagine. It’s also a great way to experience the benefits of mindfulness outside of traditional meditation.
‘Cooking and baking are fundamentally about nourishing ourselves, so the process of making something from scratch can be incredibly satisfying,’ says Sarah Romotsky, a registered dietitian and director of healthcare partnerships at Headspace. ‘You can use time spent in the kitchen to wind down and help you leave your busy day behind. Simple, repetitive tasks like mixing and chopping encourage mindful thinking – your movements tend to mirror your breathing, giving you an anchor to focus on.
‘Remove your smartphone, turn off the radio and allow yourself to be fully present with the sounds, smells, textures and physical sensations you are experiencing. If your thoughts wander, gently bring your focus back to one particular sound, smell or activity, perhaps the sound of sizzling or water boiling in a saucepan.
‘Mindful eating can transform our relationship with food. Before you eat, check in with your body and mind. Are you feeling stressed about work, worried about a family member or excited to be meeting up with a friend? Stop and take a break midway through the meal to check in again – notice how you feel and acknowledge this before continuing.
‘While you are eating, try to bring more awareness to the act itself. Focus on the smells of the food, the textures on your tongue and the flavours in your mouth. Mindful eating increases awareness and positivity around the act of eating because it places less emphasis on the what and more on the how and why.’
‘Breathe deeply to ground yourself in the present, engage all your senses and reflect as you eat,’ recommends Dr Andreas Michaelides, chief psychology officer at Noom. ‘How does your food taste? What flavours stand out? Between each bite, put your fork down and reflect. It takes 20 minutes for your brain to register fullness, so slowing down and taking the time to appreciate your meal in the present is an important step towards being able to tap into your hunger and fullness cues.’
From treating yourself to a DIY beauty treatment to streaming a restorative yoga class, there are plenty of ways to get that ‘retreat’ feeling at home – and the best bit is you can make it totally bespoke to you. For the ultimate ‘at-home spa’ experience, take a few minutes to cultivate a restful, inviting space. A scented candle or oil diffuser will help you set the scene, while a luxe robe or loungewear set ensures you feel the part.
If you’d like a little expert guidance, why not try one of our favourite online retreats? SLR@Home allows you to pick and mix from a wide range of movement, breathing and meditation classes and workshops. ‘While we have suggested a daily schedule, our online retreats are totally flexible, meaning you can work around family and work commitments,’ explains founder and director Chrissy Sundt. ‘You have unlimited access to the programme, so you can return to the sessions you enjoyed again and again while advancing your practice. When you log back in, you can simply pick up where you left off.’