Micro Self-Care

When I was in grad school I had friends who used to schedule their lives in fifteen minute increments to take care of their needs and wants around the demanding class schedule. At the time it seemed crazy to me and just evidence of an overworked and harried lifestyle. Anything worth doing I thought, even in the realm of self care, takes longer than fifteen minutes: eating a proper meal, taking an exercise class, enjoying a reciprocal conversation with a friend.

But lately I’ve had the opportunity to revisit this idea. My life has presented me with several awkward windows of time; a few extra minutes between scheduled activities and I’ve started to take advantage of them as micro self-care units.

For example, yesterday my husband and I needed to swap the car. We are a one car family and even though he can bike to work most days, when he has meetings we often have to figure out some way to exchange the car mid day. Yesterday after dropping him at the office I was left with 20 extra minutes before I needed to pick up our girls at preschool. Not enough to go home, barely enough to stop at the grocery store. What to do?

So I let my mind wander on the things I like most and impulsively turned my car into a church parking lot with an outdoor labyrinth. This place isn’t far from our house, but I rarely go. Its not the sort of thing that would seem worth a trip on its own.

Yet what comfort I took from these few moments out in nature—walking an ancient meditative path. Some people carry questions in their minds while they walk in and find they are able to see their way to an answer on the way out. I try to turn off my head and just trust the path. Usually right about the time I start to feel irritated that it is taking too long is when I’ll be led to the center. Though labyrinths are often tucked away on the grounds of churches or monasteries they are frequently open to the public— this world-wide labyrinth locator can help to find one.

Now sometimes when I have a few moments I choose to sit in my car and check emails on my iPhone, and that’s OK too. Just acknowledging to myself that it is a choice and one I make consciously can itself change my experience of the time however I use it. But now that I’ve started experimenting with this new micro self-care idea I’ve found other opportunities: using the ten minutes before an appointment at our chiropractor to walk twice around the block and taking advantage of a half hour gap between drop off and when the school office opened to to enjoy the nature preserve by my son’s school.

For me the key is to just seize these little intervals if and when I feel the nudge. I try not to evaluate it while I’m in the middle of it, asking myself “is this worth it?” “Is anything happening?” Instead I just trust the experience and then pick back up with my regularly scheduled day.

But later when I drift off to sleep and think about the moments and the places I felt most alive that day, often these little intervals will bubble to the surface. They are soul food and a brain massage—activating dormant neurons and stimulating my senses. Now I kind of can’t stop.

I wonder where and when you might find micro opportunities for self-care?