Start your day with gratitude
"My whole day is about hitting the ground running, so when my alarm goes off in the a.m., I do just the opposite," says Marni Aspen, a public relations intern. "While I'm still in bed, I get into child's pose. I then do a series of cow-cat Poses, and end with child's pose again. While I'm going through these good-for-my-body yoga moves, I'm giving thanks for what I have and asking for strength to get through my day. The whole production takes less than two minutes, but centers me like nothing else." Aspen's mere minutes of me time are probably doing more to sustain her mind, body, and soul, than she realizes. The benefits of gratitude include elevated energy levels, increased feelings of self-esteem, heightened intelligence, and a fortified immune system.
Sneak in some me-centric shopping
Even if your budget is maxed out (whose isn't?), strolling through stores or the mall can be soothing—shopping releases the brain chemical dopamine, which is associated with feelings of pleasure and satisfaction, and it may even give you some great ideas for revamping outfits you already own. "How about allotting extra time to do your errands, and then sneaking in some time to go into a store and look at things you enjoy? You will then have me time, handily squeezed into errand time. That's a very good trick many of us use," confides family psychologist Barbara Greenberg, PhD. If the thought of stealing away for a few extra minutes makes you feel guilty, window-shop online while waiting for a doctor's appointment or even in an elevator. "We all need me time—it's our way to get replenished," Dr. Greenberg adds. "Without it, we risk getting depleted, exhausted, depressed, or physically sick. Me time is not only good for our own well-being, it is also good for those around us, because mood is contagious. If we take good care of ourselves, those we care about are likely to feel better, as well." Here's how to get your errands done more quickly so you have more time for extra shopping.
Give yourself a grown-up time out
"Your brain clutters up with ideas, thoughts, and emotions, much like your catch-all, messy kitchen junk drawer does. Me time helps clean it all out," says psychologist and author, Leah Klungness, PhD. Klungness, a parenting expert, recommends prioritizing me time, even if you have kids underfoot who need, need, need. "Kids can learn to respect me-time rules. Setting a timer often helps," she suggests. You might say, "I'm going to drink coffee and read the newspaper for five minutes, and then I will be available to play with you." Setting a time limit on me time establishes a concrete beginning and end that will keep children from becoming anxious, and also teaches them about healthy boundaries in a way that they understand and respect. (A few rookie mistakes actually made these couples better parents.)
Turn workout time into me time
"When do I get me time? I'd like to say when I go to the bathroom, but not even that!" says Tami De Palma, a busy wellness expert, military wife, and mom. "But, seriously, my workout time is my me time," she explains. "Whether I'm at the gym, on a run, or in my basement, everybody around here knows that is when you leave Mom alone." Dr. Greenberg suggests keeping a pair of sneakers and a sweatshirt in the trunk of your car. "If you have an extra bit of time, you will have everything you need for a nice walk. Take a me-time stroll. It will clear your mind," she says. If working out at home is your best way to get in some me time, let your kids, spouse, or roomie know that you will rewind the clock and start your entire workout over if they interrupt you. Do that a few times, and eventually, your workout time will cease being interrupted. (Did you know that walking for less time than it takes to fold laundry can boost your mood?)
Make every breath count
We all have to wait in line or on hold sometimes. Instead of getting antsy, impatient, or relentlessly checking your phone over and over, use that time as me time. "Wherever you are, consciously inhale, and exhale, correctly, through your diaphragm," advises life coach Avalaura Gaither Beharry, MSW. "You may not have time for a 20-minute meditation, but you can take a deep breath sitting in your chair at work, or waiting for the bus, you name it. Deep breathing calms you down, gives you energy, and helps you shift into a peaceful state of mind." These meditation basics may help you get the most out of your me-time.
Hit the bathroom
Is there a mom alive who has ever been allowed to use the bathroom without her kids talking to her from the other side of the door? Probably not, at least according to Di Palma. Even so, bathroom time can become me time, if you establish a few rules. "The bathroom can be your sanctuary," suggests Gaither Beharry. "It's a natural boundary that says you are off limits to the rest of the world. Just make sure to occupy your kids with an activity while you're out of pocket. Lock the door, read a book or magazine, take a bath, and get a quick, me-time respite."
Take a brain-boosting vacation
"Whenever you find yourself having to wait for something and getting irritated, like standing on a long grocery line or sitting in a traffic jam, use that time for stealthy self-care," suggests Tara Cousineau, PhD, a clinical psychologist and author of the forthcoming book, The Kindness Cure. "A great way to do that is by listening to an inspirational podcast or captivating audiobook that takes your mind away from the daily annoyances you have little control over. Not only will this well-spent me-time help you to relax," Dr. Cousinea adds, "but you may also learn something new."
Go climb a tree
"We built my son's treehouse so that I could see into it from my upstairs windows. Now that he's older, he doesn't use it anymore, but unbeknown to him, I do!" explains mom Letti McPherson. "It's become my secret hideaway when I need a few minutes of me time. Being able to peek through the curtains at what's going on just a few feet away makes me feel connected to my son, but there's enough distance to afford me some real privacy and a sense of solitude. If he climbed up that tree now, he'd be astonished to see a yoga mat, fashion magazines, and half-finished needlepoint pillow!" adds McPherson, who clues her husband into her subterfuge plans as an emergency backup. No treehouse to occupy? Try the porch, the attic, or if you can leave the house, a secluded park bench.
Turn your commute into a hoot
Commuting to work each day can be exhausting and feel like a boring time-suck. Whether your commute is long or short, try saying no to the train, bus, or car, and having a me-time ball by using a skateboard, scooter or even rollerblades to get to work. If the distance (or time) is prohibitive, scoot part-way to your destination, or do it for only one leg of the commute. Not only will you burn calories, but you'll also be out in the fresh air and enjoying yourself, in grand, me-time style. If your commute routine is locked in, consider hopping on a scooter to grab lunch in the neighborhood.
Enlist a positivity pal
Sneaking in me time may take a collaborative-minded pal. "Enlist a friend, family member, or coworker as a self-care buddy, or positivity pal," suggests Dr. Cousineau. "We tend to follow through on things more often when we're accountable to someone else." Try establishing a me-time plan each week or each day, and cluing in your positivity pal on your intentions. Just make sure you choose someone who not only has your best interests at heart, but who is willing to nag you a little! Here are 24 little ways to be be a true friend.