It doesn’t matter how old your kids are: There’s a ton to get done in a day, and only so many hours to do it in. So we moms cut down on time spent sleeping, entertaining, and taking care of ourselves. But paying regular visits to yourself needs to happen if you’re trying to thrive, not just survive. Don’t panic—we’re not adding more to your already towering to-do list. Instead, we’ve curated simple, dare-we-say fun ideas for sneaking self-care right into real life.
The 30-Day Self-Care Challenge
Guided by therapists, wellness experts, and a few enlightened women, we’ve created the 30-Day Self-Care Challenge: a month’s worth of big-impact, little-effort ideas for investing in yourself. Today’s the perfect day to start!
1. Make an annual Doctor Day.
When you’re in charge of booking every doc visit for the rest of your family, it’s easy to skip out on your own appointments. So devote one day a year to your annual physical, dental exam, vision check, etc. By simplifying the scheduling, you’ll make your health a priority.
2. Catch a flick — alone.
Start seeing the hottest movies while they’re still in theaters, and stop feeling on the outs around the water cooler. With a free AMC Stubs Insider reward card, you can catch the latest pop culture blockbusters for only $5 on Tuesdays. A short yet defined block of alone time is good for the soul: People who enjoy spending time solo feel more satisfaction and less depression.
3. Set aside time for what you love.
You know the hour-long staff meeting that’s blocked off on your calendar (and almost always could’ve been handled over email)? Follow its lead and claim an interruption-free hour for whatever stirs your soul. (Bonus points for setting it up as a recurring appointment.) Then use it to revisit an old passion or find a new one — think Zumba class or book club. Whatever you do, reserve the time to let off steam, not cram in more errands.
4. Jazz up your soap.
From daily dishes to cleaning up spilled milk (again), moms need to wash their hands a lot. For a stress-relieving treat every time you scrub up, trade your unscented hand soap for an aromatherapy-enhanced one. Suddenly, those few minutes in the kitchen or bathroom take on the air of a mini spa treatment.
5. Start planning your next vacay.
A little wanderlust is always a good idea. Get inspired for your next adventure by researching exotic destinations, perusing swimwear, or pinning dream spots to a Pinterest board. Just anticipating a trip has been shown to majorly boost happiness!
6. Use a babysitter…when you’re home.
You shouldn’t feel bad about hiring help, according to the therapists we spoke to. No matter what parenthood stage you’re in, availing yourself of a sitter, family member, or friend can help you survive a busy day or week.
For instance, a sitter could come over in the evening to play with your child while you make dinner, then handle bathtime. While you do tuck-ins, the sitter can throw in a load of laundry before she leaves.
On the weekends, an a.m. babysitter could get your early riser fed and ready for the day while you catch up on Zzzs. When you’re ready to go back into mommy mode, you’ll have the energy to be fully present.
7. Schedule something fun.
Plan something for the end of the week, whether that’s a cooking class, paint ‘n sip, or family game night. The week always goes by so much faster when you have something to look forward to.
8. Go to bed on time.
Your Fitbit will be the first to tell you that a consistent sleep routine counts. Sure, you could stay up late to get to those unchecked to-dos…if you want to start off tomorrow feeling forgetful, unable to focus, anxious and irritable. Better to leave some things unfinished and write yourself a reminder to handle it in the daylight. Your circadian rhythms will thank you.
9. Let the kids help out.
Giving children of all ages work to do is win-win: Chores occupy their attention and let you be more productive at the same time. Little kids especially love having a job, and even those as young as four can manage putting out the napkins around the dinner table. For an ambitious project like Marie Kondo-ing your closet, enlist their help bagging up the giveaway piles.
10. Don’t leave home without reading material.
Carrying a magazine, e-reader, or paperback at all times can turn dull time-sucks into pockets of downtime you eagerly anticipate, like when you’re waiting in line at the post office or grocery store. With the Kindle app on your phone, you don’t even need to weigh yourself down schlepping something extra.
11. Go green(er).
The next time you’re at the grocery or hardware store, pick up a cheap and cheerful potted plant. Many varieties require little care, and just looking at those air-purifying pretties is a good-for-your-health daily pick-me-up. Brown thumbs may want to skip the orchids; instead, pick a species you’d really have to try to kill, like a money plant, peace lily, fern, or snake plant.
12. Print out those phone photos.
We see you, lady, with so many snapshots on your camera roll that your phone’s memory is almost full. Take five minutes to scroll through and upload one or two favorites to a print shop, local drugstore, or Costco. Then frame or tack the print up someplace prominent, and proceed to smile every single time you see it.
13. Savor that coffee solo.
Turn your first cup of java into a fortifying morning ritual reserved for you and you alone. Wake up early and sip it while you’re getting ready, or tack on ten minutes to your a.m. routine and stop into your favorite neighborhood cafe for a fancy concoction. Consider it an easy way to treat yo’self.
14. Hit “unsubscribe.”
How you got on all those marketing lists in the first place is a mystery for another time, but at this moment, all you need to know is that you can sign up for unroll.me. The service unsubscribes you from the millions of emails you never read that suck up precious space in your inbox.
15. Take an expert’s advice.
On those days you need a self-care solution right now, listen to an episode of The Self-Care Soother podcast to get advice from real women on how to do it, or join the Facebook group “The Self-Care Group for Extremely Busy Women” for one actionable tip per day.
16. Have a phone-free night.
That’s right, we’re saying it: Step away from the smartphone. Put the phone on the hall table when you walk into the house, on the bathroom counter to charge at bedtime, or in your purse at a restaurant.
Sure, at first, you may hear phantom notifications and pat yourself down in a panic, but before long, you’ll rediscover how amazing it feels to unplug. When you set your agenda, and not the incessant pings coming at you fast and furious, you’re better able to de-stress from work, do things more mindfully, and even feel closer to those around you.
17. Practice mindful meditation before bed.
It really isn’t about making your mind go blank (good luck to whoever knows how to do that!) so much as acknowledging the random thoughts pinging around in your brain. For ten minutes after turning the lights out, notice them as they go, and keep bringing your attention back to your breathing. That’s all there is to it.
18. Affirm your worth.
When you wake up or start getting ready in the morning, practice a few minutes of positive affirmations to mentally steel yourself for your day. Repeat a favorite mantra, set your intentions for the day ahead, or record your own affirmations using the free ThinkUp app.
19. Stretch it out.
When you can feel your stress level creeping up throughout the day, do this 30-second reset: Close your eyes, drop your shoulders, and roll your head around. You’ve just shut the door on the tension you’ve been storing in your head, neck, jaw, and shoulders. (Need a time-out reminder? Cue yourself to do these moves anytime you hear a phone ring, a car honk, or any other sonic signal.)
20. Take a mental health day.
Just as you would take a sick day to ward off the looming specter of a cold, you should consider devoting a PTO day to recovering from the emotional drain of stress, fatigue, or the blues. World Mental Health Day is October 10, but you certainly don’t have to wait until the calendar sanctions it; pencil in some slack before you reach a breaking point.
21. Get outside.
Reinvigorate or recenter yourself by busting out. Harvard Medical School found that communing with Mother Nature boosts your mood and your ability to concentrate. Have a day packed with meetings? Suggest having one or two outdoors.
22. Two words: Target run.
A little retail therapy never hurt anyone. While cruising the aisles for the groceries and toilet paper you actually need, it’s okay to look at things you want. That’s why the $1 aisle was invented, right?
23. Unfollow social media accounts that don’t bring you joy.
On some level, we all know that real life isn’t always picture-perfect sunsets and Insta-worthy acai bowls. But that doesn’t stop the FOMO from creeping in.
Instead of suffering through the scroll, simply hit unfollow. That influencer who makes you feel like a failure? Peace out! The designer brand you’ll never be able to afford? Unlike! Positive vibes only.
24. Eat lunch somewhere, anywhere, but your desk.
Since when did working through lunch become the new norm? Enjoy your sandwich and seltzer in the park, that cute cafe down the street, or the break room. Eat with a buddy or enjoy the silence, but whatever you do, focus on the joy of the food in front of you, not your inbox.
25. Listen to an album you loved when you were a kid.
Science says the songs you loved most in your early teen years will influence your musical tastes for life. So for a heaping serving of nostalgia, dig out that old Mariah Carey CD, cue up a Lilith Fair playlist, or turn the dial to 90s on Nine, and get your groove on like your teenage self used to do.
26. Budget 20 minutes of spa time.
Do you know how much self-care you can squeeze into twenty uninterrupted minutes in the bathroom? (Rhetorical question; you’re a mom, of course you do.) Morning or night, weekday or weekend, lock that door and take a wildly unhurried shower (this time with hair mask and body scrub!), decadent soak (what are you saving those bath salts for, anyway?), or a sink-side facial, sheet mask to serum. Beauty rituals matter: Not only do they make you look good, they make you feel good by reminding you to slow down…and that you’re worth the time.
27. Set a mini-goal.
Fact: You run a marathon one step at a time. Instead of facing down something intimidating (“finish reading the novel before it’s due back to the library” or “finally learn how to knit”), flip your mental script to something more manageable (“read two chapters,” “watch a YouTube video about casting on”). Your likelihood of procrastinating should go way down.
28. Cross an item off your to-do list.
Ahhh, the blissful satisfaction of writing down the litany of stuff you have to get done, then checking it off. Use a notebook or an app like Evernote to centralize your grocery list, weekly errands, and random reminders, then feel a daily sense of accomplishment from vanquishing one task after another (even gimmies like “wake up” or “sign permission slip”). And yes, it’s totally okay to do the thing, then write it on the list and immediately scratch it off.
29. Plan a night in with friends.
It can take months to coordinate everyone’s schedules, find sitters, and make reservations, to say nothing of the cost of a night out. Give yourselves permission to bypass all the logistics and just stay home. Have cocktails and bites on the porch after the kids are in bed, sit around the fire pit, or do wine, pizza, and a movie on the couch. Sounds better than eating a pricey dinner in a loud restaurant with a 9 p.m. reservation, doesn’t it?
30. Just say no.
Even if it feels awkward, you’re entitled to politely decline yet another kid’s birthday, Pampered Chef party, or fundraiser so as to not spread yourself too thin. Practice saying “Now isn’t a good time” or “Let me check before I commit” so the lines roll easily off your tongue when you feel put on the spot.