Ten Tips To Tune Up Your Self-Care Alternator

Barbara Gruener · April 9, 2019

Today I’m on location in College Station, TX, at Allen Honda awaiting installation of my van’s new alternator. Full disclosure as I set up the story, it’s not that we neglected the care of our car; our issue was a recently-installed faulty alternator failing. Let’s back up to Saturday night. 


We were about two hours down the road from our home to attend our son’s final Jazz Band concert; our evening was ending on such a high note, until about 20 minutes into our return trip, when the red battery light on the dashboard came on. Heart racing, I quickly conducted an online search to figure out what that means exactly while my husband tried to decide our next steps. In a barren stretch of highway between towns, we saw a mileage marker; Navasota was 12 miles away. My husband could not get there fast enough so he could turn the car off. I, on the other hand, wanted to keep going. As long as the car was running, we’d be fine, right? I figured we could cruise on home and get it checked by our trusted mechanic on Monday; who’s with me? But before the van found its final resting place and ultimately in tow to the Honda dealer, we watched its headlights dim, felt the power steering fade, and heard it choking as if desperately gasping for air.

How many times, I wondered, has this been me, journeying at full speed with my sights set so firmly on my destination that I’m willing to ignore my own personal red battery light that’s warning, urging, telling me no, demanding that I pull over. Being stranded on that Saturday night served as a poignant metaphor that gives me pause.

And pause is a powerful place to be because it’s there that I’m reminded that self-care is a non-negotiable. Automobiles don’t work without the alternator that powers the electrical system and keeps the battery charged when the car’s engine is running, so why is it that we sometimes think we can continue without a proper charge? 

Author and activist L.R. Knost puts an exclamation mark on the importance of self-care with these words that echo: Taking care of yourself doesn’t mean me first, but me, too.

And because we simply cannot serve from an empty vessel, we benefit from setting intentions on how to repeatedly say Me, Too before our Self-Care Alternators threaten to leave us stranded on the side of the road.

Here now, ten no-cost Self-Care Alternator ideas to fuel your journey to this year’s finish line:

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  • Go to bed a little early, then get up when you wake up. Are you sleeping enough? Most healthy adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep; sometimes just a few extra minutes will make all the difference as you work with intention to restore the rhythm of rest. Then in the morning, rather than lying there and hitting snooze after a good night’s sleep, get up as soon as you wake up for that jump-start on your daily ritual.
  • Do something for the kid in you. In the busy-ness of our days, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that adults tend to be just little kids in bigger bodies. Unleash the power of play to become childlike again, even if only for a short while. Try dancing with your inner child and see how incredible it feels.
  • Allow extra time to get places. Nothing spells stress quite as quickly as the feeling that you’re running out of time. Pamper yourself by building in a 10-minute window to get to where you’re going to see what a big difference the gift of time can make. 
  • Write down inspirational stuff that’ll feed your soul. Motivational mogul Zig Ziglar once said: “People often say motivation doesn’t last. Neither does bathing; that’s why it’s recommended daily.” Substitute the word motivation with inspiration and relish finding soul food for your spiritual side.
  • Eat healthy meals and drink plenty of water. Trust me on this one; your body will thank you profusely. Make sure you’re eating from a variety of food groups at each meal; an easy way to check that is if you’ve got at least four colors on your plate. And some sources now recommend that we drink half of our body’s weight in ounces every day; I’ve been trying this for the last six months and even my skin feels better.
  • Get moving. It’s no secret that movement is like a magic elixir to our bodies and brains. In his book Brain Rules, John Medina suggests we move every six minutes for maximal benefit. Exercise is an antidote to so many ailments; get ahead of those red-light moments by staying active and heart happy. James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, reminds us to stack a new habit with something we’re already doing, so, for example: After I drink my morning coffee, I’ll take my power walk. He reminds us not to worry if we miss a day, but advises not to miss two days.
  • Enjoy the great outdoors. Get outside and look for mindful minutes, those bite-sized moments of time during which you simply focus on being where your feet are, mindfully aware, without judgment. Awaken your senses by noticing different colors, listening for new and familiar sounds, touching different textures, smelling sweet or bitter things, imagining how certain things (like those not-yet-ripe berries on that vine) might taste.
  • Slow down and savor while building the capacity to do nothing. My favorite definition of the word savor is its alternate meaning, to delight in. Consider the last time that you were actually able to savor, to delight in something. Slow yourself down on purpose today, and see what you’re able to savor more deeply. Consider pulling into a parking spot and do nothing for a bit. To quiet the internal noise. To savor being still. To just BE while you breathe in calm.
  • Delegate tasks to capable others. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that we are not the manager of the world. Or even our little corner of it. Think about tasks or responsibilities that you’d be willing and able to give away, and start delegating. It’ll be a win-win because there’s likely someone out there who’s ready for the opportunities that you’ve been keeping to yourself.
  • Choose gratitude. Gratitude has many beneficial effects on the brain and the body; research out of the Templeton Foundation found that overall positive emotions can add up to seven years on your life. Make gratitude a verb by naming three thankful things each day, sending kind texts, making day-maker phone calls, giving someone your full, undivided attention, writing thank-you notes, keeping a joy journal, or sharing an uplifting song, like Shakira’s Try Everything.

Remember self-care isn’t about waiting until you’re running on empty to replenish and restore; be proactive about tuning up the Self-Care Alternator that powers your mind, body, and spirit to ensure you’ll be able to stay the course and go the distance. 

Time now to let my Odyssey (with its shiny, new Honda-certified alternator) take me home.


Barbara Gruener

Barbara Gruener thrives on positively influencing change, passionately helping people create caring connections, and intentionally improving a school's climate and culture. Her innovative and inspirational ideas are sparked by 34 years as a Spanish teacher and school counselor growing alongside students from every age and stage, Pre-K through 12th grade. A connected educator, Barbara loves leading supercharged character-development growth sessions with students, parents, teachers and administrators. Her book, What’s Under Your Cape? SUPERHEROES of the Character Kind, earned a Mom's Choice Gold Award for supporting caregivers with stories and strategies to use as they help develop character strengths in young people in school and at home. Though she grew up on a dairy farm in WI, Barbara and her family now call Friendswood, TX, home.