Looking Out for Number One

By , on May 21, 2014

Shutterstock Photo
Shutterstock Photo

It is with some degree of difficulty and discomfort that I sit here and write this piece. Somehow, it  echoes with the guilt borne of hypocrisy: “Practice what you preach, woman!!!” – thus screams the voice of conscience somewhere in my mind’s inner recesses. I have to admit, I am not very good at putting “ME” first. Not very good, at all.

Maybe it’s because I get caught up in the vicious cycle of “Wake up-work-work some more- sleep-repeat.” Between job(s) and chores (I belong to the nearly extinct species of household help-less Philippine residents), it seems there are never enough hours in a day to get all my work done.

Maybe it is also because I am a mother; and mothers, by nature, tend to put everyone else’s needs before their own. In today’s society in which most women “have it all” (motherhood, career, community involvement, plus meaningful relationships), finding quality time for self is especially challenging. We may “have it all;” all, that is, but “me-time.”

Whatever the underlying reasons, more often than not, I find myself holding the short end of the “me-time” stick. And by short, I mean very, very short.

So you see the dilemma in which I find myself: writing this article about the importance of me-time, and yet never having enough time for it. I am preaching to my own choir, here. A very stubborn choir that knows and believes in the importance of the matter, and yet falls short of applying it.


Me-time matters!

The world today is such that career and family generally come with an enormous amount of pressure attached. The drive to compete and succeed in both arenas is perhaps greater than ever. This pressure usually means that most folk, myself most definitely included, ignore those two tiny letters that form one very weighty word: ME.
This, although true for men, is especially true in the case of women.

“There’s a tremendous amount of stress and pressure put on women: being parents, being daughters, mothers, wives, professionals. All of these roles combined leave many of us not taking adequate care of ourselves — which is what sustains us and gives us the energy to take care of all these other responsibilities that we have,” says Randy Kamen Grainger, EdD, a Wayland, Mass., psychologist and life coach specializing in women’s issues.


Minus the guilt

From this timely and accurate statement of Dr. Grainger, we glean that taking care of one’s self is the very basis of our ability to take care of other people, as well as our other duties. Hence, the invaluable role that me-time plays. Yet we push ourselves so much in all areas that me-time is the first to fly out the window. To boot, on the rare occasion that we do take time for me-time, we often find ourselves feeling guilty for the “indulgence” rather than viewing it for what it really is: a necessity.

Beth Evans, manager of Mental Health Promotion at Alberta Health Services points out that “We are entitled to breaks. People need to respect that for themselves. You are taking care of yourself by taking a break. It ensures you’ll have the energy to return to whatever other roles you play, whether as a parent or a professional, or whatever your roles in life generally are.”

Me-time should be a guilt-free part of our daily routine, if we are to remain functional, productive, effective, and – let’s not forget – happy members of the human race.


Stress buster

We have gotten so used to the noise, the hustle and bustle of life that these all-too often drown out the part of us that cries out for me-time. Ironically, many of us even become dependent on the stressors of this fast-paced existence. We push deadlines, for instance, to the last minute; addicted, almost, to the stress that this brings. Like a carriage without a horse, we do not know how to get ourselves going sans the stress.
Unfortunately, too much stress is not very good for you. In fact, too much stress can kill. Stress is a reaction of our body to what is going on around us, and it is part-and-parcel of our biological makeup. Experts in the field will tell you that a bit of stress is necessary in order for us to work at peak performance. Yes, some stress is beneficial; but too much of it – especially when it becomes chronic stress – is bad. We all know this, yet shun the truth much as cigarette smokers addicted to the nicotine fix ignore graphic pictures and the Surgeon General’s warning.

Constant, heavy stress leads to chronic stress; which causes anxiety; burnout; mental, physical, emotional fatigue; and has been linked to numerous ailments.

Taking time out for me-time is one of the best ways of dealing with and managing life’s stresses.

Dr. Shalini Anant, clinical psychologist, says, “If you ignore yourself for a long time, it can actually take a toll on your mental as well as physical health. It can lead to lack of concentration and disorientation. A lot of negative thoughts keep troubling us, hence there should be times when we need to just be by ourselves.”


Making “ME” a priority

So now that we are hopefully convinced that we need me-time, how to do it? How do we make this a priority in our fast-paced lives?

To find time for ourselves, it is helpful to remember these tips:

• Plan your ‘me’ time. It won’t happen by magic; neither will you be forced into it by some deus ex machina Greco-Roman inspired divine intervention of sorts. Only you can make time for yourself.

• Reassess your daily schedule to determine where you can cut down on unnecessary activities in order to get more me-time in each day. 15-20 minutes of time for yourself is the recommended minimum amount for each day.

• Once you have set aside and planned the time, guard the appointment! Treat this as you would a doctor’s appointment, or any other schedule of great import.

• Learn to say “No.” Realize you cannot possibly do everything, for everyone, all the time.

• Realize that it’s okay to designate and delegate some tasks to others. Get help from the people around you.

• Treat your me-time as a “special date” with yourself, and forget the guilt that may try to rear up its ugly head.

• List down the things you enjoy doing, and plan to do one item on the list each day. These items do not have to involve lengthy or expensive activities.

• Last but not the least, kick back and simply do nothing, every now and then. This is a good way to recharge, reboot, and re-acquaint yourself with your “ME”-ness.

Me-time: this choir sings its praises louder and clearer, with all that much more flourish, than ever before. And – more importantly – a newfound determination to live by it.