Self Care

How to Take Care of Your Mental Health When You’re Short on Time

Hint: It’s easier than you think!

By: Lexy Parsons

When the holiday mayhem ensues, our self-care routine (which was probably lacking to begin with) often takes a back seat. Between last-minute shopping, prepping for company and travel, meal prepping or planning, and never-ending to-do lists, prioritizing mental health can feel difficult. But, if you feel like you just don’t have the time or energy to make time for yourself, ironically, it’s when you need it most!! Think about it — you’re probably stressed, tired, burnt out, and overwhelmed. A major sign that you need to check in on your mental health. So, before you write off your emotions, take this as a big red flag that you need some TLC. And it doesn’t need to be anything extravagant, either. Don’t get us wrong; spa days are always welcomed. But realistically, that’s not always in the cards — especially during the busy holiday season. The good news? We’ve got tons of mental hacks, even for the busiest of schedules!

Ahead, how to find balance and prioritize self-care when short on time, stressed and downright exhausted. Hint: It’s possible and easier than you think! 

Self-Care For Busy Schedules: 15 Mental Health Hacks You Can Implement Now

#1 Listen to a Motivational Podcast 

Short on time and too busy for self-care? This is a healthy habit for mental health that even the busiest of bees can squeeze into their day. Whether you’re driving, meal prepping, walking the dog, or simply getting dressed for work, press play on a motivational podcast. Listening to motivational speakers, expert interviews, or health and wellness conversations about the topics that interest you most can be self-care in itself. According to research, simply listening to a podcast stimulates brain activity, resulting in increased imagination and focus, improved mood, reduced stress, and more connectivity. Plus, you’ll limit screen time (reducing eye strain and stress) and likely learn something new!  

#2 Press Play on an Audiobook

Similarly, audiobooks are a convenient option when you’re busy but looking to boost your mental health. The best part? Audiobooks offer physical and mental benefits for children, adults, and the elderly! They’ve been shown to reduce stress and negative thoughts, ease anxiety, improve mood and memory, and can even help improve reading, listening, and learning. Listen while exercising, doing the dishes, or curled up in bed. Not only do they seamlessly fit into a busy schedule, but audiobooks allow you to listen to so many more books you just never have time to read! 

#3 Schedule a Therapy Sesh

Even if nothing is “wrong,” having support from a therapist or medical professional is always a good idea — especially during the holiday season. The holidays can stir up a lot of stress, tension, and uncomfortable feelings. So, you’re certainly not alone! And just so you know, there’s no problem too small or insignificant. Seeking therapy can help you process your emotions, feel more connected and supported, and manage your mental health through the holiday season (and beyond).

And if you’re short on time, there are ways to seek treatment without an in-person visit! Many therapists offer virtual sessions or phone calls. Plus, there are so many mental health apps (many of which are free). You have options!

#4 Get Comfortable Saying No

Healthy boundaries are everything! If you have yet to discover boundary setting, this mental health hack will change the game for you, your stress levels, and your overall well-being — especially if you’re a people pleaser! Overextending yourself and saying yes to everything can quickly lead to burnout and take a toll on your mental health. By saying no to commitments, requests, or things that do not serve you, you’re saying yes to things (and people) that fill you up!

#5 And Ask For Support

Similar to boundary setting, asking for help can feel uncomfortable at first. But you can’t do it all — nor should you be expected to! If you’re used to wearing multiple hats, try delegating some responsibilities or asking for support. Lessening some of the stressors on your plate can give you space to squeeze in self-care (or simply breathe and have a moment of peace). This could be asking your partner or neighbor to pick up the kids, a co-worker for support, or help with laundry or dinner prep. 

#6 Stop Being So Hard On Yourself

There’s a difference between setting high goals or standards and wanting (or needing) to be perfect. We’re only human — holding yourself to an impossible standard is exhausting and unhealthy. Rather than trying to do it all and getting down on yourself when it doesn’t happen, set realistic goals for yourself that are attainable and sustainable. And remember to enjoy the journey! If you slip up or don’t hit your goals, that’s ok too. Being overly critical of yourself can lead to feelings of anxiety, burnout, and stress. Be your biggest cheerleader, not your biggest critic. 

#7 Sign Off Social Media

If you’re short on time, don’t spend what little time you have on social media! For many, it can increase feelings of anxiety, stress, depression, and loneliness. Plus, it’s distracting and addictive. Try taking a social media break, even if it’s for a weekend, day, or just the afternoon. At the very least, set healthy boundaries, so you’re limiting your screen time and reducing mindless scrolling! Your mental health will thank you. 

#8 Go for a Walk

Whether it’s a leisurely stroll around the block, a walk with your pup, or a walking workout, going for a walk comes with tons of mental health benefits. Aside from reducing stress (a biggie), walking can support weight loss, decrease your risk for serious illness (such as heart disease and diabetes), and even boost longevityGive this Walking Fitness FitOn workout a try!

#9 Call a Friend

Sometimes we just need to talk to our bestie and vent it out. Whether you laugh, cry, or simply catch up, talking to someone you love can be an instant mood booster. If you can Facetime, video call, or squeeze in a quick coffee date — even better! 

#10 Get a Daily Dose of Exercise

When you’re short on time (and tired or stressed), working out is likely the last thing on your mind. But it’s one of the best things for mood, energy, stress, and mental health — even if it’s a mere ten minutes! As best you can, try to prioritize daily movement. It could be a 10 or 15-minute FitOn class, a hike or bike ride, or an outdoor walk or run — anything that gets you moving! 

Here are some quick FitOn workouts for when you’re short on time:

#11 Minimize Caffeine & Alcohol

While that midday pick-me-up or evening glass of wine might feel good in the moment, caffeine and alcohol can actually worsen your mental health in the long run. From disturbing your sleep to increasing feelings of anxiety and stress, there are many reasons to minimize your intake. But don’t stress! Whether you’re looking to boost energy or quiet your mind, there are so many ways to get the same benefits without increasing feelings of stress — even if you’re short on time. 

Here are some ideas:

#12 Load Up Your Diet with Mood-Boosting Foods

Busy and stressed? Boosting your mental health is as simple as loading up on nutrient-dense foods. Foods rich in magnesium, probiotics, omega-3s, and vitamins A, B, C, and E have been shown to benefit the brain. 

Need some inspiration? Considering adding these nutrient-rich foods into your diet:

  • Nuts and seeds
  • Salmon
  • Berries 
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Cacao
  • Greek or probiotic-rich dairy-free yogurt

RELATED: 10 Stress-Reducing Superfoods to Add to Your Diet

#13 Meal Prep 

Speaking of diet, try meal prepping! If you have healthy options on hand, you’ll be more likely to reach for good-for-you foods that reduce stress, improve mood, and boost mental health. 

Short on time? Don’t fret — here are some easy-prep options that take minutes to prepare:

  • Prep a chocolate and greens smoothie with cacao, spinach, banana, and nut butter. Toss it in a freezer-safe bag and then blend with ice and almond milk when ready!
  • Make overnight chia pudding with chia seeds, blueberries, Greek yogurt, almond milk, and almond butter
  • Make lunch or snack bistro boxes with avocado, hard-boiled eggs, fresh or roasted veggies, and a side of nuts or seeds

#14 Don’t Sacrifice Your Sleep Schedule

When you feel like there’s not enough time in the day, it can be tempting to steal hours from your sleep schedule. But don’t do it! No matter how long your to-do list is, sacrificing your sleep (and, in turn, mental health) isn’t the answer. Sure, you might finish that paper or work project, send those emails, and finish cleaning or planning — but your mental health will pay the price. Sleep deprivation (both short-term and long-term) has been shown to increase stress and emotional distress, reduce cognitive and metabolic function, lower immune function, and increase the risk for weight gain and serious health conditions such as hypertension and type 2 diabetes. 

Instead, make sleep a priority. Stay consistent with your sleep and wake time, and develop an evening routine. Not only will it benefit your mental health, but for all you busy bees — sleep will also increase productivity!

#15 Schedule Mindful Minutes 

Whether it’s deep breathing, meditation, journaling, or simply sipping your coffee in silence, schedule mindful minutes into your daily routine. Feel like you don’t have enough time? Even five minutes of mindfulness meditation can have a major impact! 

Don’t Let Mental Health Take a Back Seat — Even If You’re Busy 

While the holidays can sometimes be a season full of stress, caring for your mental health doesn’t have to be hard — even if you’re short on time! Take steps to reduce and manage stress by planning ahead and trying some of these tips. Schedule in a workout, load up your fridge with yummy mood-boosting foods, and press play on a motivational podcast or stress-busting audiobook. And while it may feel uncomfortable at first, try setting healthy boundaries and asking for support when you need it!