It was Tuesday morning. 9:55 a.m.
Our four girls and their two cats had all been “fed and watered,” as I sometimes jokingly say post-breakfast.
The three older girls were neatly dressed in their school uniforms. Teeth brushed, and hair tamed. Zipped book bags stood by the door to the garage, water bottles and afternoon snacks safely tucked inside.
Our youngest still wore her pajamas. It was my husband Ted’s work-from-home day, so she took in a new episode of Paw Patrol as her sisters put on their shoes.
That Tuesday marked the start of week #4 in our new fall schedule.
After three years of full-time homeschooling, this year we’d decided to make a change. We’d enrolled our daughters in a local “university model” school. This educational model combines the best of private school and homeschool. For the last three weeks, our girls had spent two days a week in campus classrooms studying math, science, history, Spanish, and Bible. The other three school days were spent at home, working on assignments from on-campus days, as well as studying literature, writing, grammar, vocabulary, and spelling.
And, honestly? The adjustment was harder than I’d imagined. Let’s just say I won’t deny crying … more than once.
That Tuesday morning as I kissed Ted goodbye and prepared to drive the girls to school, I told him, “I’ve been taking care of everything but me.” And I didn’t say that purely because I hadn’t showered in two days.
Not only were we on a new school schedule, but we’d already had one daughter down with pneumonia, three others with a cold virus, and Ted had been out of town for several days while said daughter had pneumonia. Through it all, I busily prepared to present a workshop at a local writers’ conference. It was only the beginning of September and I was exhausted.
But on that Tuesday, as I uttered those words to Ted, I realized that something needed to change. It was this:I needed to stop neglecting myself.
Maybe you can relate. Perhaps your calendar this fall, whether it includes kids’ school schedules or not, has left you also neglecting yourself. It could be that you’re devoting so much time and energy to family, work, church, and community, that you’ve forgotten to take time for self-care.
For me, sometimes self-care can feel, well, selfish. After all, there are so many other people and things that need my attention. I often fail to realize, as TODAY Show contributor Dr. Gail Saltz notes, that “you have to give time to yourself. That is healthy, not selfish or narcissistic.” And, the truth is, as Christians, we’re called to honor God with our bodies because, as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:19, they are “temples of the Holy Spirit.” One way we can do this is by taking care of ourselves.
What are some ways you and I can do better at self-care this fall? Here are five ideas.
1. Schedule “off time.”
In her article, “3 Sanity Savers for the School Year,” my friend Danielle Ayers Jones shares how she and her husband are intentional to set aside family time each weekend. For them, this is normally a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. This practice of setting aside time isn’t merely for families, though. You and I can do something similar when it comes to self-care.
We can be purposeful to schedule “off time” – meaning, periods of time when we aren’t committed to being somewhere or doing something – not only on the weekends, but also during the week. The purpose of this “off time” being to slow down both physically and mentally.
What does this look like for me? Simple. I keep at least one to two evenings per week free. On these nights, I can don my favorite pajamas, sip some hot chocolate or tea, and read a new-to-me book or hang out with Ted.
2. Say “no,” even when it comes to good things.
In order to schedule “off time,” we have to say “no” to certain activities and invitations, even good ones. This means anticipating our limits – physically, emotionally, and mentally – and determining how much we can realistically balance without overscheduling ourselves.
I’ve already said “no” to a number of good opportunities this fall. While I love to encourage and equip others in their marriages, Ted and I said “no” to leading a marriage discipleship class at church. We also took a three-month break from the premarital mentoring ministry with which we serve. Why? Because we anticipated that fall would already be busy enough and we didn’t want to over-extend ourselves.
3. Slow down and exercise.
Exercise is commonly included on self-care lists. This fall, though, I’m challenged to look at my need for exercise a bit differently.
Staying physically active isn’t only an opportunity to take good care of the body God’s given me, but also to feed my mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
In this season of my life, this doesn’t mean choosing exercises that simply get my blood pumping and calories burning, although those are great. Rather, it’s about picking workouts that help me slow down. I know that slowing down and exercising may seem like oxymorons, but hear me out.
For me, this may be a morning walk in our neighborhood while I listen to a podcast, an audio book, or as I pray for family and friends. It’s a chance to get out in nature, marvel at God’s handiwork, and quiet myself before the busyness of the day begins. Pilates are another workout that slow me down. They help me stop rushing and be deliberate and thoughtful in my actions. This results in calming my mental and emotional state.
4. Do something you love.
Recently, my two oldest daughters read a popular youth fiction series for the first time. I decided to read along with them. I’d read a book first, then pass it on to one girl. She’d fly through it and pass it on to her sister. This continued until we made it through all seven books. As each of us finished each title and excitedly discussed the characters and themes, I was reminded of how much I love to read, yet how little time I spend doing it.
This fall, I’m determined to make time for one or two things that I love doing. Things that help me remember that while, yes, I’m a busy wife, mom, homemaker, writer, and editor, I’m also an individual who has personal interests. So whether it’s reading, attending a theatrical play, or taking a walk with my husband through my favorite historical square, I’ve decided to make it part of my fall schedule.
5. Make time for community.
While it’s essential to schedule “off time” and say “no” to certain invitations and opportunities, that doesn’t mean community isn’t important. It is. We need others. We need to spend time with friends and family that leave us feeling refreshed and ready to face the next busy day.
Just as I’m scheduling in evenings at home, I’m also leaving room on my calendar for coffee or dinner dates with friends. The time spent talking, laughing, and crying alongside community helps me relieve stress, gain fresh perspective, and remember that my days aren’t merely meant to be check lists I complete.
Over the next few months, I’ll have plenty of Tuesday mornings at 9:55 a.m. What will be different from the start of week #4, though, is that I won’t neglect myself in the process. I invite you to join me in taking time for a bit of self-care as well.
Ashleigh Slater is the author of the book, Team Us: Marriage Together (Moody Publishers). As the founder and editor of Ungrind Webzine and a regular contributor at several popular blogs and websites, she loves to combine the power of a good story with biblical truth and practical application. Ashleigh lives in Atlanta with her husband Ted and four daughters. To learn more, visit AshleighSlater.com. You can also find her on Facebook here or follow her on Twitter at @ashslater.