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Pocket-sized resolutions for busy carers

Is it just us, or is there a lot of pressure to make big changes to our lives in January? Whether it’s losing weight, saving money or starting a side hustle (that’s a second or third job), it’s that time of year when we all get caught up in the New Year’s frenzy.

We understand that big resolutions might not feel realistic or achievable for all of us. When we’re caring for someone else, we can be short on time, overwhelmed and stretched to our limit.

Illustration of a busy man making new year's resolutions.

Then when we set big goals and can’t stick to them? It can break our confidence and make us feel worse when we’re already running on an empty tank.

That’s where micro-habits come in. These smaller, bite-sized resolutions are easier to achieve but just as satisfying to tick off. Small habits can go a long way and stack up over time, helping us to feel incrementally happier and healthier.

With January underway, we’ve found a handful of carer-friendly micro-habits to try. These are simple daily actions that we can start incorporating into our every day. With just a few tweaks, we can still enjoy some New Year self-growth without adding to our already full plate.

The psychology of achieving goals

The major problem with New Year’s resolutions is that they can feel so big and then they’re really difficult to keep. We might have the best of intentions to go sober but then feel frustrated and upset with ourselves when we have a bad day and self-soothe with a glass of wine. Old habits are hard to break overnight.

Let’s look at some things that can help:

1. Set goals instead of resolutions

Setting goals rather than strict resolutions can positively affect our mindset. Think of it like this: rather than moving ‘away’ from something, we’re working ‘towards’ an accomplishment - and one that is possible for us to manage alongside our carer responsibilities.

2. Break the goal down into micro-habits

Breaking a goal into smaller, more manageable micro-habits can help us better work towards it. For instance, we might exercise for a few minutes daily, relieving stress and making us less likely to need a glass of wine.

3. Choose habits we can stick to

In psychology, there is a concept called Expectancy Theory. It suggests that we're motivated not just by the reward we gain from completing a goal but also by our belief that we can realistically achieve it. The goals we set should motivate us, not intimidate us, stress us out or cause us to sacrifice our much-needed ‘me time’.

When we can visualise ourselves achieving these micro-habits, we have the confidence and motivation to keep going and building on them.

Micro-habit ideas for carers

As we’ve explained, small changes in our behaviour can lead to bigger lifestyle and mindset shifts in the long run. Here we’ve looked at some common January goals. For each, we’ve shared the micro-habits that can get you closer to achieving them.

1. I’d like to look after my health

Drink a glass of water first thing in the morning

Our bodies are composed of around 60% water, so there are lots of benefits to staying hydrated. It can significantly affect our energy levels, which is so important when we’re on the go and caring. It also helps the digestive system, skin, blood pressure and organ function.

Before reaching for the morning cuppa, we could make a micro-habit of drinking a glass of water first. If we struggle to remember to drink water throughout the day, we could try downloading the Water Reminder app. It'll prompt us to drink the NHS-recommended two litres per day. We could also buy a water bottle that has measurements on it so we can visually see ourselves reaching this small goal each day.

Make time to stretch

If our caring role has physical demands, it can take its toll on us. Aches and pains are not uncommon. Stretching is great for alleviating tension, and it can improve our flexibility, and the range of motion of our joints and reduce our risk of injury.

A morning stretch is a good excuse to put our phone away and enjoy five or ten minutes with our thoughts. We really like Ask Dr Jo’s gentle stretching routine. It stretches the whole body from head to toe and only takes 15 minutes to complete. Plus, it’s for beginners, so you don’t need to be super bendy to start.

Exercise in ‘lost time’

We know that a sedentary lifestyle is bad for our health. But we also know that having time to ourselves at the gym is not a realistic goal for many of us.

Luckily, we can sneakily incorporate movement into our day here at home. It’s all about utilising ‘lost time’ - those spare moments in life that would otherwise go to waste.

When brushing our teeth, we can march on the spot or lunge. While waiting for the kettle to boil, we could challenge ourselves to do a round of squats. When the ad breaks come onto the TV, we could repeatedly stand and sit on the sofa to build glute and hamstring strength. These small exercises don’t feel like much, but they can help build strength over time. And the best thing? We don’t even need to change into gym gear!

2. I’d like to be less stressed

Journal for five minutes

The Christmas period can be full-on for some of us. Studies have found that journaling can help us to cope with stressful events. It’s a mindful activity, which encourages us to remain in the present, rather than ruminating on worries about the future.

Just a few minutes of journaling each day can help us get clarity on our thoughts and feelings about whatever challenges we may face. If we're new to the concept, The Five Minute Journal, is highly liked by carers, and has guided prompts for us to follow daily.

We don’t have to spend lots of money to reap the benefits though. An inexpensive lined notepad and pen are all needed. Or we can try the ‘Google Keep’ notes app on our smartphone.

There are lots of different ways we can approach five-minute journaling. Some of us might enjoy writing down three things we’re grateful for each day, while others will prefer to simply ‘mind dump’ whatever’s happening for them. Journaling is a great reflective tool to look back on and see how things have changed, even when it deosn’t feel like we’ve come very far.

Start the day with a minute of deep ‘box’ breathing

Breathing is our superpower. It calms our sympathetic nervous system, helps us to relax, reduces worries and soothes stress. Breathwork is when we use breathing techniques and exercises to hack our relaxation responses.

When we’re stressed, we tend to tense our shoulders and lean on short, shallow breaths. Adding a few long belly breaths into our day can counteract the ‘flight, fight or freeze’ response that happens when we’re in a state of anxiety.

Try this box breathing exercise

Sitting in an upright position, breathe in for four counts, hold for four, breathe out for four and hold for four again. Repeat this exercise ten times to feel the full benefit.

Once we’ve got to grips with this exercise, we may want to experiment with different breathwork techniques. The free Calm app is a fantastic resource for carers with lots of guided tutorials.

Practice gratitude in the shower

Gratitude is good for us. Recognising the good things in our lives can help us to feel positive even during the most challenging carer moments.

Research on gratitude therapy has found that people who consciously focus on things to be thankful for have lower rates of depression and stress and are happier overall.

We might have little time on our hands to sit down and write, so we can practice gratitude therapy in the shower. It’s as simple as thinking of one thing we’re grateful for daily as we suds up under the jets.

It could be the smell of our coffee in the morning, getting a moment to walk the dog, or the amazingly gripping twist in last-night’s TV programme. Big, small, weird and wonderful things all count.

Practice the "enoughness" mindset

When we're caring, it can be easy to feel like we're not doing enough for the person we care for. But the reality is we're likely doing much more than the average person. In our blog on having an "enoughness mindset", we talk about what this looks like, and what happens when we take some pressure off ourselves.

Illustration of a woman on her phone.

3. I’d like to feel more productive

Reduce social media screen time

Apps like Instagram can be useful for staying in touch with friends, but they can also be a bit of a time suck.

Instagram and Facebook now have a screen time feature that will tell us how much time we spend on each app. Checking our usage is really easy to do.

From here, we can set a goal to reduce our screen time by five minutes each week. If we struggle with willpower, many social media apps (like Instagram and Facebook) will allow us to set a time limit. The app will then notify us when we’re about to go over our allotted time. Taking quality time away from screens means that we can be more focused and aware of the present moment.

Read two pages of a book

Reading is such a soothing activity. It improves our focus and expands our understanding of the world and other people. Many of us want to read more but find tackling a whole book intimidating. Try to read just two pages each day instead. We could do this instead of scrolling on our phone in the morning or evening.

For some inspiration, take a look at our carer recommendations on the top books every carer should read.

Audiobooks are great for carers who are always on their feet. Try Audible (which costs £7.99 per month) or the Libby app, which connects to your local library and allows you to download their audiobook catalogue for free. Some of our favourite mood-boosting reads include The Rosie Project by Graeme Simision and The Midnight Library by Matt Haig.

If tackling a book feels too big, subscribing to a magazine or picking one up during your weekly shop can be an accessible way to get back into reading.

4. I’d like a nicer home environment

Make the bed each day

Making the bed only takes a minute but can start the day on a positive and calm note.

Just by smoothing out our bed covers, we’ve already accomplished something we’ll appreciate later. While there aren’t many studies specifically on making the bed, researchers have found that living in a clutter-free and organised space can reduce our stress levels.

Natural daylight can also have a significant impact on our mood, so why not ‘habit stack’ making the bed with opening the curtains and letting some fresh air in through the window.

These simple steps can make all the difference to our wellbeing. So before we hit the shower? Take a moment to refresh your sleeping space. Our future selves will thank us.

Declutter one thing

Many of us dream of tidier, cleaner spaces, but who has the time to spend a weekend sorting through a lifetime of ‘stuff’? Decluttering a whole house or flat can feel really overwhelming, especially if all our free time is taken up with caring.

Instead of trying to blitz the whole house in one weekend, put a box by the front door and declutter one item each day. Once the box is full, we can list the items for sale online or donate them to a charity shop. Before we know it, our space will start to feel clearer and calmer. If we need some inspiration, organisation guru But First, Coffee has a list of over 50 things to declutter from our homes.

Tips for embedding a new habit

Setting new habits takes discipline and determination, but luckily they become easier over time. Here are some tips for making them stick:

Start as small as possible: Make the habit really easy and we’re more likely to stick to it.

Increase habits over time: Once we’re reading a page of a book per day, we could increase to two or three pages.

Stack it with a reward: If we’ve done our breathwork, we can treat ourselves to a biscuit with tea.

Try habit stacking: This is where we bolt a new habit to an existing one. Putting our pyjamas on could prompt us to open our journal.

Remind yourself: Write down a list of our micro-habits and put it somewhere we can see it often, like the fridge door.

Track your progress: Use a wall calendar to tick off when we’ve hit all our daily habits. It can be really rewarding to see our progress.

Congratulate yourself: Celebrate every small win. If we give ourself a quick mental pat-on-the-back for completing a habit, we’re more likely to do it again tomorrow.

Don’t worry if you fail: It doesn’t mean we can’t get back on track. Just start again the next day.

Final thoughts on micro-habits

Doing something for a minute or two a day might not feel all that life-changing, but that’s the great thing about micro-habits. They don’t take up lots of our energy but can be amazing for us in the long run and add up to significant benefits in our lives.

Plus, we reckon it’s a much kinder way to approach January. Life is stressful enough, and none of us need any extra demands on our time.

With enough practice, these healthy habits will become second nature over time. If. we stick with them, we'll soon see results.

Got a micro-habit that you think our community could benefit from? Feel free to get in touch with us and we'll happily update our guide.

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