Women today have been told we have it all -- careers, families, kids, community involvement, and relationships. But all too often, having it all leaves us with no time or strength left for ourselves.
Recent research has shown that women today are less happy than they have been over the past 40 years. There are many theories about why, but lack of free time can be a major reason.
"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 Gredinger, EdD, a Wayland, Mass., psychologist and life coach specializing in women's issues.
Whether you're wrangling toddlers, sleeplessly waiting for your teen to come home, caring for your aging parents -- or all of the above -- every woman needs an occasional break for sanity's sake. This means taking time each day to do something for yourself.
But how can you make it happen?
Make Yourself a Priority
First, realize how important it is.
"I've been talking to women about this for years, and we seem to have trouble even feeling like we're worthy of being put on our own list of priorities," says Amy Tiemann, author of Mojo Mom: Nurturing Your Self While Raising a Family and founder of Mojomom.com.
"If you can't do it because you feel like you deserve it, look at it this way: You are a first responder. An emergency can come up at any time, and you should be as well rested and restored as you'd want your ER doc or EMT to be," Tiemann says. "And besides, taking care of yourself will make you a better parent and partner. You'll be more fun to be around and more responsive to your family."
OK, so you're convinced. It's time to take time for you. Now, when can you fit it in? Don't wait for the time to just magically appear. It won't.
Schedule Your "Me" Time
Make your free time as important as the pediatrician's visit, the conference call, and your meeting with the contractor. Treat it just like any other appointment.
"You have to build in battery recharge time," says Margaret Moore, co-director of the Institute of Coaching at McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School. "We're very good at project management in our work lives, but not so well in our personal lives. Treat it like any project: I want to recharge my batteries so I don't feel so frazzled and worn out."
Try to find at least half an hour to an hour every day for you. It doesn't have to be all at once. And before you decide what you're going to do with the time you're building into your schedule, promise yourself that you won't waste it.
"We're a multitasking society. If we're having a conversation with a friend, we're thinking about the other things we have to get done," says Allison Cohen, MA, MFT, a marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles. "Instead, you need to be present in the moment. Whatever you're doing for you, don't be thinking about your grocery list or the PowerPoint presentation. There's a lot of time in our day that we could be enjoying, but we lose it because we're focused on what we have to do next."
You don’t need a lot of time, either. Here are ideas for making the most of even 5 minutes of "me" time.
If You Have 5-10 Minutes
- Sit on the porch with a cup of coffee and the newspaper. Or a cup of coffee and no newspaper. Just watch the clouds go by. No phone or calendar allowed.
- Call a friend to chat. This doesn't mean planning the bake sale or organizing the neighborhood watch -- just talk, without an agenda.
- Move. Get up from your desk, stretch, and walk around the block or up and down a flight of stairs.
- Breathe deeply. While you're sitting in your office, car, or home, focus on breathing slowly and gently for five minutes. It's OK if your mind wanders a bit, but don't start planning what you have to do next -- just follow your breath.
- Pet your pet. Focus for five minutes on cuddling with cat or dog. You'll both feel better.
- Put on your iPod and hit shuffle. Then just sit and listen.
If You Have 15-30 Minutes
- Read one chapter of a book you've wanted to make time for. Keep a basket in your office or living room with a good book, magazine, crossword puzzle, or other short escapes.
- Find a nearby park and go for a brisk walk.
- Putter. This doesn't mean cleaning the house or organizing your kids' clothes. Instead, it means doing little things at home that you enjoy, like trimming the rose bush and putting together a bouquet for your office or kitchen.
- Soak in the tub. If you're a parent, make sure another adult is on duty to make sure no one's going to yell "Mom!" Plan so you'll have some fabulous bath goodies on hand. Don't forget a glass of ice water or wine.
If You Have 30-60 Minutes
- Get a massage, a facial, or a mani-pedi.
- Take a nap.
- Schedule a class that you've always wanted to take just for fun. For instance, Amy Tiemann took an improv comedy class to get a night to herself after her daughter was born.
- Plan a long walk with a friend. Commit to it early in the week and honor the commitment. You're not training for anything, you're not trying to race-walk, you're just taking a long stroll with a good friend and enjoying the day.
Add your own favorites to these lists. Whatever you choose to do with your "me" time, make it relaxing and restorative.
"If you don't feel like it works for you, try something else," says Moore. "'Shoulds' are the enemy of relaxation. Don't think about what you should do, but about what makes you thrive."