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How to care for yourself, when there is no time to care for yourself

It can be a challenge to find time (and energy) to look after ourselves when we're caring for someone else. Prioritising our wellbeing can all too often fall to the bottom of the list - or off the list.

Illustration of a woman at home

What is micro-respite?

When we don't have much time on our side, sometimes, short 10 or 20-minute breaks are all we can fit in. We've called these small moments of wellbeing "micro-respite".

What are your little "time outs"?

Little time-outs can be five or 10-minute moments you like to take to yourself. Here are some of the things carers in the Mobilise Community have shared:

"I like to go for reflexology. Absolutely makes me float away."
"I really enjoy pegging the washing out and checking on my greenhouse."
"I got out today for a very brief bike ride after a very taxing couple of weeks with my wife"
"A solo coffee with some calming music in my fave independent cafe."
"The only time I get to relax is taking the dog for a walk and have a chat with other dog walkers while my husband is asleep"
"My go-to is knitting or cross-stitch kits"
"Visiting a charity shop, or having a clear out and donating works too.
I like to go to our bedroom, put my lamp on to make it cosy and read a good story for 1/2 hour or longer! I might take a coffee with me too"

Sometimes, it might not look like quick breaks but instead can be something we rarely treat ourselves to...

"I went to the hairdressers - nothing particularly out of the ordinary, but as I sat down I felt all the stress of everything drain away. I nearly burst into tears with relief. I nearly even fell asleep whilst having my hair washed 😂. I didn't even realise how stressed I was. It was so lovely taking time out to do something without my husband"

It's clear from talking with many carers that a significant number of us are waiting until we're exhausted, before prioritising our own self-care.

Let's see if we can change that. Starting with a simple question:

Have you planned time to replenish yourself today?

Could you immediately come back with an activity that you had already planned for your day? If you can't, you're not alone. The very act of having to think of an activity can feel overwhelming in itself.

Let alone finding time in our busy day, someone to look after the person we care for, or any uncomfortable feelings such as guilt or resentment we may have.

To (hopefully) help, we've pulled together four quick techniques, that can slot into our days, even whilst we're hanging the washing out or popping our PJs on! Tried and tested by real (busy) carers. Hopefully, there is something that works for you or inspires another idea.

Why is replenishment essential?

10 minutes of replenishment is like popping new batteries in a toy, petrol in our car or popping our phone on charge!

Illustration of a battery

We all need new juice, or we simply stop working!

Without refueling and nurturing our own bodies and minds, we put our bodies under extended stress.

We all run on adrenaline for a while (men for longer, as men have more adrenaline), whereas women run on the primary stress hormone cortisol.

Both adrenaline and cortisol have a hugely beneficial purpose, in overcoming an immediate threat or stressful situation.

However, they are meant to be called upon in short bursts, after which our bodies recover.

Many carers live in an almost permanent state of stress. Drawing on more and more cortisol, with potentially long-term health implications.

"Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts energy supplies. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, [and] enhances your brain's use of glucose..."
"The body's stress-response system is usually self-limiting. Once a perceived threat has passed, hormone levels return to normal. As adrenaline and cortisol levels drop, your heart rate and blood pressure return to baseline levels, and other systems resume their regular activities..."
"The long-term activation of the stress-response system and the overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones that follows can disrupt almost all your body's processes. This puts you at increased risk of many health problems."

The long-term health implications can include:

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Digestive problems

  • Headaches

  • Heart disease

  • Sleep problems

  • Weight gain

  • Memory

  • Concentration impairment

Do you recognise any of these in yourself?

When stressors are always present and we constantly feel under attack, that fight-or-flight reaction stays turned on. If we acquire these health implications, it becomes even harder to continue caring to the level or degree we would want to. With the stress increasing and a cycle of ill health falling out of it.

This is why it's important for us to plan in time to step away from caring - and realising it doesn't have to be a long extravagant break.

But what if we don't even have 10 minutes to ourselves?

Six ways we can replenish, when there's no time

Clearly, a day at a spa, taking an art class, or a few hours to go on a long walk or fit in a yoga class, are more obvious ways to experience 'self-care' and have 'me time'. But for us carers, this isn't always possible or even appealing when we're just plain exhausted.

Here are some proven techniques that take less than 10 minutes to do and fit in with our busy days. They can help us during those high-stress periods of caring.

1. Drink water (30 seconds throughout the day)

This one is so simple to do and just as simple to forget! It's all about getting into a good routine and habit.

Illustration of a glass of water.

According to Vandana R. Sheth, R.D.N., a certified diabetes educator and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

“We often wake up after a night’s sleep slightly dehydrated"

Which can mean we start our day feeling pretty rubbish! And that's before we've even started! Why not fill a jug of water (with slices of lemon if we have them!) and pop it in the fridge the night before?

We can then start our day with a beautiful, chilled, hydrating glass of (lemon-infused) water.

Not only does this rehydrate us, making us feel physically better, it also sends an important message to our mind, that we matter and deserve to be looked after.

And remember to drink plenty more throughout the day! While we're getting into this new habit, perhaps we can use an alarm on our phone to prompt us.

2. A sensory mindful minute (one minute)

Pause. Wherever you are, whatever you're doing. It can be when you're hanging the washing out. Closing your eyes, feeling the sun on your skin, listening to the birds, feeling the breeze, smelling the clean clothes or cut grass.

Simply breathing slowly and deeply, listening and feeling all of our senses. Just like that, in the middle of a job! Just for a minute.

Rather than rushing through the job, using this pause to experience the beauty in that moment, focusing on the here and now. Giving our minds a break from running away with our thoughts.

The slowing down and the shift in our attention and focus, not only feels great, but it also has a physical effect on our bodies. Regulating our breathing, calming our minds, slowing us down, and widening our worldview to include some of the beautiful moments.

Repeat this sensory, mindful minute, throughout the day.

3. Think of three things that were OK today! (two minutes)

As we're getting ready for bed, think about three things that were OK about today. Maybe the sunshine was out. Maybe we grabbed a cuppa on our own for five minutes. Maybe a friend called. Maybe it's simply that we have a safe home, a garden or our health. Find those three things that were simply OK.

Doing this, allows us to shift the amount of focus we have on the stressors of our days. Creating a new perspective on our day. Shifting the spotlight a few degrees to draw in some of the good, or 'ok'.

If we have the energy, write them down. Creating a gratitude journal is a great way to embed those positive memories in your mind. It's also a great read on a tough day!

4. A bedtime meditation (four minutes)

As we climb into bed, at the end of a potentially busy and draining day, we have a few moments to ourselves. This is a great opportunity for a short guided visualisation, to relax your mind and send you into a blissful sleep.

Below is a short guided relaxation to relax our mind and body. Helping to ease us into a good night's sleep.

5. Chat with a trustworthy friend (five minutes)

Illustration of a phone call

Sometimes, talking to someone else instead of being in our bubble can be a helpful form of self-replenishment. It doesn't have to be a long phone call.

It could be exchanging a couple of messages or sending short voice notes if no one is around to talk. The feeling of knowing we'll eventually get a response can be reassuring.

6. Try the biscuit tin tip! (10 minutes)

A creative and easy tip from carers in our community is writing a post-it note of one thing we want to do for ourselves that day and stick it somewhere we know we will see it. For example, if we often find ourselves reaching for a biscuit, pop it on the lid of the biscuit tin.

This means the next time we go for a biscuit, we see the reminder to do what we want for ourselves first (plus, enjoy the biscuit too). 😉

The things that we plan on doing for ourselves could include catching up on a few pages of a good book/audiobook, going for a short walk, or checking in with a friend.

How often should we 'self-care'?

According to an article in HuffPost, we need a mixture of short bursts throughout each day, and some longer stretches of self care too.

"For anyone seeking to live a healthy, sustainable life, one vital habit is self-care. In order to nurture the health of our mind, body, and soul, we need ways to recenter and restore. We need these in short spurts throughout the day, and also longer stretches."

Perhaps this is good news! Short bursts sounds achievable - even for a busy carer! And most of the techniques above can be repeated throughout our day.

As for the longer stretches of self-care? When the time comes and the pressure releases a little, you can start to build in those yoga classes and long walks.


Without looking after ourselves, we're unlikely to be sustainable. That is to say, our ability to keep caring is hindered. To truly give our best care, we must be nourished and valued. The only person who can do that for us is ourselves.

"We matter."

Ultimately if we burn out, we will be unable to continue caring.

How do we know if something is replenishing us?

We feel rested. We feel a sense of calm. Our mind stops racing. Our heart rate slows.

How does that sound? Good, right?

The techniques above can support these feelings. With practice, they can slot into our busy days and become an integral and valuable part of our day-to-day lives.

Let's finish with a final question:

How will you replenish yourself today? Just choose one small thing.

Join the Mobilise Hub

We hope you were able to find some simple tips from other carers in our community. Plus, we quite often use our online cuppas as a place to gently nudge us all to look after ourselves.

Got a tip to share? Or a question to ask? Join the Mobilise Hub for unpaid carers, an online space where we help each other out by asking (and answering) all sorts of questions to do with caring. We'd love to hear from you!

Feel free to also sign up for our weekly newsletter, 💌 full of carers' tips and tricks. We'll keep you in the loop, from discounts for carers, to how to register as a carer.


Jan 01

Guilt is the hardest thing to manage, even when you know you’re doing everything you can. Over the past few months I have been challenging myself more and more to create little spaces of respite during my week. With practice it becomes easier to do this without feeling guilty. My self care activities include; sitting in my car on my own after a busy day out and about, with the radio on and catching up on news and world events on my phone, doing some stretching exercises just for two mins especially my leg muscles which releases a whole lots of stress you never knew you were holding in, protecting a few hours for myself one day a week where…


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lilly azar
Jul 08, 2022

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Jun 09, 2022

I am offered a 'cuppa' or anything where someone 'gives' to

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