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Self-care when you’re too busy to take care of yourself

Wednesday, April 20, 2011 by Marianne Elliott

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You may know me as the woman who told you to ‘get off your f**king computer and go for a f**king walk‘, or – perhaps more likely – as the woman who writes to her 30 Day Yoga peeps every day to remind them to be kind to themselves and to take care.

So you might be wondering how I’ve been doing at practicing what I preach while also working 18-20 hour days, seven days a week to get our restaurant open while still: teaching yoga, leading the 30 Days of Yoga course, running Off the Mat workshops, fulfilling my teaching and speaking engagements on civilian-military relations in Afghanistan and (squee!!) putting the finishing touches on my manuscript so my agent can submit it to publishers.

Well, basically, I’ve reverted to what I call ‘self-care in-extremis’.

Self-Care In-Extremis

Literal meaning: self-care at the point of death.

My definition: the kind of self-care you resort to when you are stretched to the very limits of your physical, mental, emotional capacity. The self-care you won’t give up no matter what.

What self-care in-extremis looks like for me:

  • asking for more help (asking other teachers to cover for my yoga class, asking my co-facilitators to carry a bit more than their fair share of the teaching load for a week, asking my housemate to take care of house repairs)
  • accepting more help (including an offer from a friend to pay for a house-cleaner)
  • micro-breaks (slipping out of the restaurant for a walk around the block)
  • lowering my expectations (leaving this site without a new post for almost two weeks, revising all my timelines for releasing the new ‘Yoga for People Too Busy To Do Yoga Course’)
  • treats (I have to keep an eye on this one, because I can easily mistake a shadow comfort for a genuine gesture of self-care, but as a general rule a bath – even at three in the morning – always counts as self-care as does tea and small amounts of good quality dark chocolate)
  • micro-yoga (three sun salutes and five minutes of alternate nostril breathing does me a world of good)
  • walking somewhere rather than driving even if it’s going to take longer, just because I need the walk (and, boy, do I need my walks)
  • lots of hugs
  • lots of vitamins!

How about you – what are the self-care practices that you won’t give up even at the point of death?

PS: Thanks for all your comments on my post about Greg Mortenson. I could go on and on and on about it because everytime I read a comment or even just spend a little more time thinking about it I come up with another important angle, another complicating or clarifying perspective. I’m working on a post for next week about education in Afghanistan more generally. I want to write about what is working, and who you might actually want to consider supporting in this sector.



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11 Responses to "Self-care when you’re too busy to take care of yourself"

  1. Marcela says:

    My recipe is similar to yours (as I mentioned in twitter) and was fostered by your posts on self-care: 30 minute fast walk on the treadmill, alternate nostril breathing and a good multivitamin…plus lots of kisses from my babies which are an immediate mood-lifter ๐Ÿ˜€

  2. Ty Barbary says:

    For me, my list looks something like…

    – Sleep early. Sleep late when possible. Nap.
    – Take breaks from demands and stressors by zenning out in a darkened room. Not meditation per se, just getting cozy and letting the brain babble itself into silence. This is a vital thing for me, usually daily, even when times are pretty good.
    – Tea. Tea. More tea.
    – Delicious music that will help me make it through, be that gentle and positive music or loud “I WILL CONQUER ALL” music. Granted, I do this on a daily basis, not just when things get rough.
    – Asking my partner for extra care and extra help around the household. He is always more than happy and willing to do so; I just tend to resist asking until I feel it’s really necessary. (He’s gotten used to this and tends to do extra-sweet things on his own initiative now, which still awes and amazes me. So much love.)
    – Adjusting my expectations and devoting more energy to taking care of myself compassionately than I do to finishing whatever project/surviving whatever circumstances. It’s a little counterintuitive, but the more cared-for I feel, the more competent and resilient I am, even if I may not be as zoom-zoom productive as I would if I weren’t engaging in self-care.
    – Food-treats, like fresh-made bread or sushi. This is more of a one-off, unlike the above, which are repeated frequently during a stint of being near the breaking point.

    Thank you for this post – it made me think, and I like that. ๐Ÿ˜€

  3. Madeleine says:

    Thank you for this great list, and for giving a name to something I apparently do all the time. As someone who in the business of helping others care for themselves, I often come down on myself for not doing a better job of it on myself, so it’s good to remember it’s not an all-or-nothing proposition.

    To your excellent list, I would add deep breathing and a good moisturizer. Seriously.

  4. thanks marianne – what an important topic. my approach is also similar to yours. asking for and receiving help are hard ones, but the reward of having a little space or assistance makes it easier to do next time! i would add to my list ordering healthy take out food. if i don’t have time to cook, i’ll often resort to what is in the house (not a healthy option:). so saving a little time and eating well create a double bonus.

    thanks again and hope you get thru this cycle of busyness smoothly!

  5. Mary Jane says:


    This is my big issue right now that I am working on. I went through a gnarly experience that dragged on, and I really fell down on my self care. My mare, however, was wonderfully cared for throughout, figures! Now, I am resting a lot, writing, sleeping, meditating, and taking baby yoga steps. Trying to eat more fruit and veggies. Drink enough water. Remember to breathe. Basic stuff that went out the window.

    I look forward to your thoughts on education in Afghanistan.

  6. Catherine says:

    I’m not sure what my self care practices are, I think I need to make a list.
    Baths are wonderful but unfortunately off limits here in Christchurch while the water, electricity and waste water systems are all under considerable strain and likely to remain so for some months.
    I am quite enjoying walking down the street to use the portable toilets (as long as it’s not pouring with rain!)

  7. YogaDawg says:

    “micro-yoga” Oh the satirical possibilities of this…

  8. Erin says:

    This is exactly what I have been trying to figure out as I have to adjust my self-care routines for a new baby and very active 2-year-old. Yoga has slipped by the wayside, but I love the idea of the micro-yoga. Anything to reset myself when I only get minutes a day for such indulgences. Thanks for the great post. I’ll be reading more in the future!

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  10. Britt Bravo says:

    Hi Marianne!

    Just wanted to let you know that one of my readers recommended you as a โ€œjuicy blog” (: can see the full list of 22 juicy bloggers here:


  11. Marianne Elliott says:

    Thanks Britt!

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