Crazy-busy? Try incremental self-care

incremental self-care

This week are you willing to try incremental self-care?

Last week I was visiting with my brother, a management consultant. He just started a new position based in another state, he has a toddler and a blended family, he travels for work and he’s working in an uber-fast-paced industry. We talked about his struggle to find balance and I suggested he play with a concept my good friend Gail Allen calls incremental self-care.

When I was in my 30’s and working in a stressful corporate job with long hours, I would attempt to make it to Town Lake for a walk, to the yoga studio for a class or to my meditation cushion for a 20 minute sit– but then usually “abort mission.” My thinking was that since I couldn’t find the time to successfully pull off one of these wellness activities (as I had envisioned doing them), I might as well not do anything at all.

This shifted when in 1999 I began researching, studying, practicing and teaching the art and science of self-care —what I define as attuning and responding to your needs and desires moment to moment—and realized how wrong I was. Self-care isn’t about self-improvement, becoming YOU 2.0 (read more) or following the advice of a health guru– it’s about meeting yourself where you are right now and making choices that support a kinder way of being with yourself.

New to the concept of self-care? When I introduce this practice to newbies, they often sigh and say this sounds like one more thing to add to their to-do list (although for some of our clients—scheduling in “dates with yourself” can be a powerful way to keep your well-being a priority). But when I share it’s really more about cultivating a new way of being and taking baby steps towards developing an allegiance to yourself—they become curious. Some of you have been reading my self-care blog for 10 years but others are still new to this practice.

If you’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed and tired of running yourself ragged, pause, close your eyes, put your hand over your chest and ask, “What do I need?” Then consider weaving a few of my favorite five-minute self-care pearls into your busy work day.

Eight power-packed self-care “dollops” to try this week:

Just breathe. Breathe in for three, hold for three, exhale for three (through your nose with your mouth closes; repeat 8 times and go at your own pace). Conscious breathing is the most powerful way to come into the present and it calms our fight or flight response lightning fast!

Sit and do nothing. Our minds crave stillness (not to mention our hearts, bodies and souls). Rest in stillness with your eyes closed for five minutes. Stay with your breath and watch your thoughts float by like twigs going down a busy stream. Your only job is to just be.

Walk. Walking is great for stress relief, idea generation, problem solving and integrating our left/right brain. Even just five minutes of brisk walking has been shown to have positive impacts. Get out of your building and go take a walk-the longer the better!

Write. Many are finding tremendous benefits from guided journaling. It helps us connect our inner/outer world and often release our troubles. Try my three question quickie journaling exercise (grab a pen/paper) and answer: How do I feel? What do I need? What do I want? Repeat as often as needed–I do this every morning.

Lie down (and put your legs up the wall).  Feeling overwhelmed and no time for a yoga class? Close your office door and try legs up the wall which is great for instantly calming your nervous system and offering a whole other host of benefits. I LOVE this pose (no need for a pillow or special equipment-take off your shoes first though).

Massage yourself. Often we’re surprised by how soothing it can feel to kindly rub our upper and mid-arms (circle your wrists and fingers, too) to release tension and help bring us back to the here and now.  Also, I just love these Yoga Tune Up balls for behind my lower back and under my thighs when sitting or traveling for long periods of time.

Try earthing. Find the nearest green space, take off your shoes and socks (who cares how this looks, how bad do you want to feel good?!) and get your feet on the grassy ground. Walk around or if you have time at lunch, lie down on a blanket on your stomach. A lot of research is coming out about the benefits of communing with mama nature in this way. For me, dirt always puts everything in perspective!

Drink water. Most of us are dehydrated all the time and we underestimate all the side effects of not drinking enough good, clean, filtered water : irritability, headaches, fuzzy thinking, lethargy. Shoot for 64 oz. a day and try sipping throughout the day rather than chugging water after a workout (you can always tell when you’re getting enough water because your skin will look amazing!).

Feel inspired to try incremental self-care? Stay curious and be compassionate with yourself. Taking regular breaks throughout the day; slowing down to a more humane pace (read Is Your Pace Sustainable?) can be a radical form of self-care for many of us. Let me know how it goes, I’ll be thinking of you.

I’d love to support you and your work team!  I have been designing and delivering work-life effectiveness and life balance workshops and custom retreats for companies, leadership teams and organizations for 20 years. Learn more and drop me a line at workshops at reneetrudeau dot com to explore creating a presentation for your team, company or conference. P.S. Lucky enough to live in the Lone Star State? Join me Nov. 11 in the hill country for a rare one day New Way of Being: Women’s Self-Renewal Retreat (selling out quickly).

Subscribe here to Live Inside Out, a weekly blog written by life balance speaker/author and self-care evangelist Renée Peterson Trudeau. Offering life balance & stress management workshops/retreats, training, books/telecourses and individual career coaching Renee’s work has appeared in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, Spirituality & Health and more. Thousands of women in ten countries are becoming RTA-Certified Facilitators and leading/joining self-renewal group based on her award-winning curriculum.  She is the author of The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal and Nurturing the Soul of Your Family: 10 Ways to Reconnect and Find Peace in Everyday Life. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and 14 year-old son. More on her background here.




  1. I love this, Renee, and completely agree with you about the necessity of those 5-minute self-care breaks. After having my second baby a decade after my first I knew I would not be meditating my usual 1/2 hour daily and needed to find quick ways to keep mindfulness in my life. Hence my forthcoming book: Breathe, Mama, Breathe: 5-Minute Mindfulness for Busy Moms (Jan. ’17, The Experiment Publishing), which shares 5-minute meditations and 60 short mindful breaks for moms of all ages. I would love the opportunity to share it with you ! If you are interested, I would be happy to send you a galley or pdf. I have been following your work for years and are always grounded and inspired by your wisdom.