If you feel guilty every time you take a few minutes to relax on the sofa—knowing there’s a full sink of dishes to clean or laundry to fold—join the club.
Many women report feeling guilty when they take care of themselves, say experts. Even when it’s something as basic as eating a food they enjoy or taking an hour for their favorite workout.
How wrong is that?
“You have to give yourself oxygen,” said Lindsey West, a psychologist with Augusta University Health. “Getting exercise, proper sleep, eating a healthy breakfast, lunch dinner and snacks—that’s just the foundation. Then at a minimum you should be doing something else for yourself at least an hour a week.”
When you stretch yourself too thin caring for others and not yourself, then you might find yourself being forgetful, running from errand to errand—“today’s form of fight or flight,” said West. You feel overwhelmed and rushed constantly, and the refrain running through your head is “When am I going to get a break?” or “I can’t do this.” You may not initially notice these particular thoughts, but you might notice more obvious signs like being snappy or short with family, friends and co-workers. All of this suggests that you need a good dose of self-care.
Self Care, Your Way
But what does self-care mean to you?
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking, “I need to be enjoying a spa day or a bubble bath with candles,” when you see glossy images of celebs or friends taking part in these activities. But then it becomes a chore, just another thing you need to add to your to-do list. “Ask yourself, ‘Do I even like bubble baths?’” said West. “You may feel pressure to do something luxuriating when it’s not actually something you even value when you really think deeply about it. Instead, think creatively about the things that really matter to you.”
For you, that could mean spending time outdoors, reading a good book, catching up with friends or listening to music. Then, find the time to do it—and it’s OK if you have to be creative. For example, if you try to exercise on the weekends, but you also want to spend time with family or friends, perhaps you can do something physically active with others so that you are engaging in two of your values at once. Invest in an audible book or download a podcast so you can listen to it during your drive to and from work or while you’re ferrying the kids around.
Another tactic is to match up a stressful activity with a fun one. So if you have a long commute, use your Bluetooth and chat with friends on the drive. Or if you need to clean the house, crank up some tunes to make scrubbing the bathrooms a little more pleasant.
Then, try not to let your own expectations of what “should happen” keep you from enjoying the moment. Here’s another example: Say you really want a date night, but don’t have the time or money to go out for a nice dinner. “Loosen up the pressure on yourself to be doing something fancy,” said West. Cuddling on the couch together, eating a simple dinner with no cell phones or laptops, and watching a movie you both like—and with all the kids in bed—makes date night a lot more doable and fun on a regular basis.
When Time—and More—Are Against You
Managing your to-do list so that you can have time for yourself is one thing. One tip is to break it down into doable chunks and schedule everything, including that bubble bath if you want it.
But what about when your nearest and dearest really don’t seem to understand that you need time for yourself? “You may need to tell someone ‘no’ or set limits,” said West. “Your friends, your partner or your kids may not be used to that, but you need to let them know that you are setting aside some time to attend to things that you have been really missing that will allow for you to feel refreshed and better able to be present for them. Then you can say that you will be ready to give them your full attention in an hour or after you do whatever it is.”
It may be a skill set you’ll need to practice, but it’s worth it.
“You need to incorporate self-care before things get out of control,” said West. “It’s not just about preventing sickness but also about enhancing your quality of life. It’s very important to think of self-care as a daily vitamin or like brushing your teeth—it’s one of the things you always have in place so that if you experience stressors or anxiety, it can be your armor so that when stress or anxiety do arise, you have a protective layer in place that can protect you from its negative impact on your life.”