Whether you frequent wellness blogs or feminist publications, self-care has been a hot topic for the past few years. It’s easy to see why so many women are looking for advice in this area—many of us are overworked and underpaid (if you think you might fit in this category, read this), and young women in particular are grappling with increasing rates of anxiety and depression. But popular self-care tips, like taking long bubble baths, indulging in your favorite sugary comfort foods, attending regular yoga classes, and drinking wine to alleviate stress can be unattainable or even detrimental for women who work long hours for low pay.
Before attending graduate school, I had very little in savings, and I had to earn as much money as possible in a few short months. In order to achieve my financial goals, I worked in a restaurant for about 50 hours each week, and spent about an hour each day on freelance writing assignments before or after my serving shifts. During this time period, I had very little time for rest and relaxation, but in order to avoid mental and physical burnout, I had to implement some simple self-care strategies into my routine. Here’s how I managed self-care with a 50+ hour work week.
1. Focus on the basic healthy habits
When you’re always working overtime, getting enough sleep is key. Even if you can’t get a full eight hours each night, prioritize the six or seven that you can fit in. Drink plenty of water throughout your day, and resist the temptation to rely on caffeine to make it through the week—I’ve attempted this before, and it only results in shaky hands and massive withdrawal headaches. One cup of coffee in the morning and a mug of green tea in the afternoon for a quick boost should be enough.
2. Squeeze in a few minutes of meditation each day
You don’t have to spend hours in meditation to reap the benefits—five minutes after waking up and five minutes before going to bed can ease anxiety and help clear your mind. There are several completely free apps that can help you get started, or you can dive in on your own! Get into a comfortable seated position, close your eyes, and simply focus on breathing deeply for a few minutes.
3. Keep healthy snacks on hand that don’t require cooking
Snacks like apples, baby carrots, bananas, and peanuts are all portable, affordable, and nutritious. When you’re working multiple jobs or squeezing in extra hours, finding the time to cook healthy meals can feel impossible. Don’t feel guilty about occasionally relying on takeout or packaged foods when you’re pressed for time, but making an effort to snack on fruits, veggies, and nuts will help keep your energy up throughout the day.
4. Leave work at work
This doesn’t mean you can’t spend time with your coworkers after clocking out, but when you’re working long hours, it helps to set strong boundaries between your professional and personal life. Avoid any employee group chats that tend towards gossip, and don’t check your emails after hours. When I worked in food service, I often found myself popping by in to the restaurant to say hi and grab a discount meal on my days off, but I quickly nixed this habit when I realized I couldn’t get work off my mind.
5. Soak your feet
Don’t have time for soothing bubble baths? I didn’t either, so I improvised and soaked my aching feet with hot water and Epsom salts after long serving shifts instead. Even if you work in an office, this can be very relaxing. Plus, you can multitask if you have to—I would often soak my feet while eating dinner or putting the finishing touches on freelance assignments.
6. Bring a book—and watch your “media diet”
When you have a spare minute in your busy day, reaching for your phone can feel like a basic instinct—but this may not be the best use of your limited free time. Try taking a book to read on your lunch break, and be mindful of your media diet. We all want to stay informed, but you don’t want to spend too much time scrolling through stress-inducing social media timelines when your work schedule is already stressful enough!
7. Suggest relaxing social events over late nights out.
You may want to blow off steam at the bar after a long week, but a rambunctious weekend could leave you feeling exhausted on Monday morning when you’re facing down another busy schedule. Planning a movie night in with friends or having dinner and a drink or two with your significant other are better ways to unwind.