We spend so much of our lives rushing around trying to fulfil our obligations to the people around us – our employers, our families, our friends – that time spent nurturing ourselves often gets forgotten, or pushed to the bottom of the priority list, or relegated to the end of the day when we’re too tired to do anything other than flop in front of the TV. When was the last time you put your needs ahead of those around you? When was the last time you put one of your obligations on hold to do something you wanted to do? If it was so long ago that you’re struggling to remember, you could be putting your mental health at risk.
I have a strong sense that I should put my family’s needs above my own. After all, isn’t that what being a good wife and mother is all about? But the thing is, when you constantly put other people first, you are constantly sending yourself the message that other people are more important than you, and that their wellbeing matters more than yours. And that’s not true.
My family functions best when we think of ourselves as a team. And all the members of that team have a part to play in making sure that all the other members of the team are happy and fulfilled. So, no, I can’t neglect my family, but I can’t neglect myself either, and when I’m struggling, it’s OK to let my family help out sometimes. It’s been hard for me to accept that prioritizing my own needs occasionally isn’t selfish, asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, and sometimes it isn’t possible to “just try harder”. But in learning to accept those things, I’ve become a calmer and happier person.
If you have the balance wrong, if you never seem to have the time or the energy for the things you enjoy, the following changes might help:
- Practice saying “no”. Don’t let the people around you pile on more commitments than you can handle. Be realistic about what you can take on.
- Leave work on time. Sure, you might occasionally need to stay late if you have an important deadline, but if it’s happening regularly, you’re putting your employer’s needs ahead of your own.
- Put your phone away sometimes. Time for you means not having to respond to every text and email instantly.
- Involve your family. Ask for help when you need it, but also talk to them about what you all enjoy doing and how you can do more of it.
- Plan your week to include some fun. Arrange to meet a friend for lunch, or check the weather forecast and pick a day to take the children to the park. Whatever you decide on, treat it like any other commitment. Don’t let anything else impinge on that block of time.
- Have a daily hobby. Whether it’s spending time in the garden, learning a musical instrument, or some sort of craft activity, make time every day to do something you enjoy. If you can set a regular time for your hobby, you’re more likely to integrate it into your routine and less likely to skip it when you get busy.
Once you start making time in your life for the things you enjoy, you’ll quickly find that the momentum builds and other aspects of your life will start falling into place. Scheduling time for the things you enjoy will naturally push you to be more organised about scheduling the boring-but-necessary tasks as well. Once you realise that you can do things you want to do, and still fit in the things you have to do, you’ll feel a sense of achievement. That sense of achievement will lift your mood and energise you. And as you feel happier and more energised, you’ll be able to do more. It might not feel like it right now, but there are enough hours in the day to live a happier and more productive life. And the first step towards that is making time for you.