For context: I’m a 40-year-old trauma therapist who sees a full clinical caseload and I still run Evergreen Counseling (my boutique trauma-informed therapy center with 21 staff members), and I run my online course and (since 2015) write bi-monthly essays on this website.
And I’m a mom to a four-year-old.
I say all of this, not to impress, but rather for context: my time is limited. Really, really limited.
In an ideal world someday when I’m less busy and not in peak early parenting/peak career-building times, I’ll have more time to be able to take care of myself even better.
But, for now, this handful of stalwart self-care rituals and support gets me through my busy days, weeks, and months.
I hope even one nugget in this list can be of support to you, too, no matter what stage of life you’re in.
A peek inside my own self-care rituals.
- Early to bed, early to rise. My entire life I’ve been a morning bird and so this phase of my life where my daughter goes to bed at around 8pm (and sleeps until 6-7am) is perfect for my own natural biorhythms. Since she goes to bed so early, I tend to go to bed at about 8 or 8:30, too, and get up at 4 or so. It’s early, I know, but it leaves plenty of time for my stalwart morning routine before my day begins.
- My Oura ring keeps me honest. Last year I invested in an Oura ring to help me stay honest about how certain variables impact my sleep, how many steps I really take a day, etc etc. I love it but gosh, it was humbling. It really helped me see how much late-night snacking and/or an evening glass of wine messed up my sleep and so with it, I’ve been making some lifestyle changes that will allow me to get better, higher-quality sleep. So the Oura Ring’s accountability and my early to bed, early to rise routine, I generally get good sleep for the day.
- My morning routine. I can’t tell you how much my morning routine grounds me. I miss it so much on days when I’m traveling and/or don’t have the time for it. My morning routine consists of the following:
- Around 4 or 4:30am, while everyone else in my household is still asleep, I head into my house’s garage/home office/home gym.
- Sitting at my desk, I drink an espresso (that my husband made me the night before) and I turn on Deva Premal’s Healing Mantras on Spotify and I journal. My journaling always has three parts: Dream recall (if I can) and then a list of 10 gratitudes (in detail vs general statements) and then reframes on any and all stressors that are going on for me that day/week (finding either a different, more adaptive way of looking at the issue or brainstorming possible solutions or naming outright “silver linings.”) These specific prompts help get my mind into a more positive, solution-focused frame which supports me through the whole work day.
- After I’m done journaling, I write out my to-do list for the day based on my schedule and key projects/tasks I know I want to accomplish before the day’s end. This helps me feel in control and like I know where the day is headed.
- By this time, it might be 5 or 5:15 so I switch gears and get ready to work out.
- Daily exercise. This is another HUGE one for me. Now, in all fairness, I’m a later-in-life athlete. Meaning, I wasn’t a huge athlete through school and college and while exercise has always been important to me, I haven’t done it as consistently or rigorously as I have since Fall 2020. But now, every day, six days a week I get up and do 30 minutes of cardio (either on my Peloton bike or my Peloton Tread) and 30 minutes of weight lifting from Peloton strength videos. And very honestly: I dose myself with Peloton’s head instructor Robin Arzón. I’m a little obsessed with her. She resonates with me so much and the mindset coaching she offers through each and every one of her classes is like a vitamin for my confidence and courage each day. I almost exclusively work out with her. So by the time I finish my workouts, my muscles are fatigued, I’m dripping in sweat, my husband and daughter have woken up, and I feel like I can conquer almost anything.
- Morning playtime with my daughter. Even if it’s only five to ten minutes in the morning (and let’s be real: ten minutes is rarely possible), no matter how busy, rushed and chaotic our mornings are (racing to get me to work by 8am and getting my husband and daughter who has strong preferences about her outfits out the door by 8:30am to make circle time at her preschool), I will always find time for 5 minutes of play with her. Sometimes it’s just putting on a Taylor Swift song and dancing, or getting on the ground and building a “college for big girls” out of Magnatiles, I make time for a few minutes of play with her before our days begin to be present and connect on her level. Plus it helps lighten up my otherwise pretty serious and efficient nature.
- I drink my greens. Every since some health challenges I had in Fall 2021 (I’ll write more about that someday), I’ve had a big glass of Athletic Greens mixed with Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides each morning for breakfast (my body doesn’t usually get hungry until 10 so I stick with this through the morning (anyone who has a morning meeting or a morning therapy session with me has definitely seen my big glass of green!). Not only do I hit a lot of my nutritional needs with it, but I also can literally feel a difference in my mental agility on days when I don’t drink it. I love both products so much that I’ll bring travel packets of them with me when I’m on vacation or at work conferences so I can mix it up in my hotel room.
(Note: I’m pretty sure this is the point in the post where I have to disclaim that I am not a nutritionist or a medical doctor and what I’ve shared above should not be construed as medical advice, only a personal anecdote. For all nutrition-related questions and guidance, please refer to a professional licensed and qualified to do so.)
- Voxers and texts with my besties. I am so lucky to have some wonderful business besties and girlfriends from different phases and stages of my life. There’s not a day that passes that I’m not in touch with at least one of them or one group of them, sharing with them business questions and personal strifes, receiving their support, and likewise hearing what’s going on for them. I don’t live close to them all, but nearly daily digital contact helps keep our relationships nourished and contact with them is a huge self-care support as I move through my days.
- Digital detox at 4pm. At 4pm, I am done with my workday (almost) no matter what. My daughter gets home from preschool at that time (my husband picks her up) so when my last session, meeting, or work commitment of the day is over, my phone is automatically put on Do Not Disturb and I leave my phone in my home office/garage so I can be present with my little family and truly unwind because when my day starts at 4am, I’m pretty tired by 4pm. I don’t check work emails and my friends know that if they text or Voxer me in the evening they won’t hear back from me until the next day. Without work and screens distracting me, we do dinner, clean up, lunchbox prep for preschool, bath time, playtime, pajamas, reading, maybe a kitchen party dance party, and then bed. All before starting everything again the next day. This routine, this consistency of being with my little family from 4-8pm each day is another huge support for me.
Other supports and self-care rituals that are more weekly or ad hoc but that still support me?
- My own therapy (of course).
- Seeing friends (who happen to be the parents of my daughter’s classmates) weekly for playdates.
- Giving myself a few hours on the weekend to putter alone in my kitchen (listening to audiobooks and cooking/meal prepping by myself is literally one of my favorite things to do after a week that demands so much of me mentally and socially).
- Escaping into my favorite TV shows when there’s a little more time (and currently, I’m obsessed with Yellowstone. Obsessed!).
Now, again, I’m in a stage of my life where almost every spare minute is taken but, even without all the luxurious time I’d like, I’m proud of how consistently and well I attempt (emphasis on attempt) to care for myself.
I really hope that one resource, ritual, or idea I shared resonated with you today and maybe gave you an idea about how you can expand and build your own self-care toolbox even more.
But, and this is very important to know, I don’t want you to use my post and my self-care rituals as a proverbial stick to beat yourself with.
I want to name and acknowledge that you may have read this post and thought, “Well, that’s good for her, but I don’t even know what a healthy relationship looks like let alone have a bunch of friends I can text.”
Or maybe you struggle with self-organizing or maybe you still don’t believe you’re worthy of taking good (let alone great) care of yourself (yet).
This is totally okay. And it’s normal and natural.
Many of us who come from relational trauma backgrounds often have maladaptive and dysfunctional thoughts about ourselves, our worthiness, and what we deserve.
Moreover, we also likely have maladaptive habits we’ve built up over time that helped us cope but no longer look like self-care.
And I want to be clear about something: this was me, too.
25-year-old Annie’s self-care rituals (there were barely any and they were dysfunctional at best) does not look like 40-year-old Annie’s routines.
Between then and now there was a solid decade of trauma therapy work (and tons of EMDR) to help resolve my unprocessed trauma and lay the groundwork for more functional ways of being in the world and more helpful ways of thinking about myself.
So if you found yourself overwhelmed or even triggered by this essay, feeling despairing and despondent about how you would ever do any of these rituals (and let’s be clear, these are what work for me, they may not be best for you anyways), I want you to know that no matter where you’re starting from, change is possible.
Especially with the right kind of support.
So if you would like help working through what you suspect or know are your own trauma-related maladaptive beliefs and behaviors that are getting in the way of you treating yourself as well as you’d like, please feel free to contact me. I’d be honored to be of support to you.
And until next time, please take such good care of yourself.
You’re so worth it.