How to take time for yourself

by Julia Woodman


1)      When you’re a parent

2)      When you’re in a relationship

3)      When you’re in demand at work

4)      When you’re self-employed

5)      When you’re a carer


Why you should do it


It’s not selfish, it’s logical and practical.


You need to care of yourself, or your energy will run out, and probably your patience too.  Then things will be forced to change,

possibly in an unpleasant way.  So you should plan to avoid this by dealing with things gently as you go along, to keep things generally in balance.


Guess what’s an absolutely essential ingredient in all of this? – Good Communication!


How to communicate better with yourself, and thus also better with others.




Once you have organised yourself and are able to communicate your needs clearly, then you might be surprised how well people will respond.


Other people usually don’t want to tie you into cycles you feel trapped in, so when they realise what has been happening and how easy it can be to plan things a little differently, they will usually be only too glad to help enact the solutions, especially if you manage to appeal to them without blame or anger.


So don’t be afraid of standing up for yourself to make others aware of your needs.  Most people will accept this as healthy, and will be glad that you took the initiative before things got too serious (which may have caused unnecessary damage and pain).
Yes, there may also be times where you have to be quite strident in standing up for yourself, but it is always best to get very clear about your priorities first.  If you just let rip in an unplanned way, you will tend to make things worse rather than better.  Give people a chance to understand, and don’t overwhelm them with too much emotion and too many demands at once.


If we are not conscious of our needs and giving ourselves the respect we deserve to ensure we are okay, then how can we expect others to understand?  Also, if we are not being conscious of ourselves, then all sorts of other strange unconscious things may happen.


You might lose your temper and say things you will later regret.  Apart from often being personal and hurtful, this unplanned sort of communication obviously makes things very unclear and confusing.  It is also quite likely to cause others to over-react in response, so you end up just having a messy fight instead of achieving any real communication about anything.  Of course, if you are both able to apologise lovingly afterwards, then you may have another chance to put things across, but more often than not the chance may be lost altogether, or the other person may have got the wrong end of the stick entirely and end up trying to do something other than what you had really hoped for.


If you are not bothering to take the time to understand yourself, and to work out your most urgent needs, and how to communicate them rationally, then you body may become sick in an attempt to get you to lie down and take time for yourself, and enforce you to think about things.  Surely it is better to take a bit of notice before you get to this stage?


It’s always better to find a way of getting things said, and should be possible without anyone taking offence, if you take the time to think about it properly beforehand, and plan your steps.


Don’t ever fall into the trap of feeling guilty about caring for yourself - that really is just unnecessary torture.  Take control of your life and sort out your needs realistically.  (Of course, I don’t mean false perceived needs like having someone else wait on you hand and foot or supply you with goodies, I mean true needs that are essential to your wellbeing and fulfilment as a person.) 


It is simple logic, that you have to prioritise your own health and happiness before you can help others fully.


If you seem to enjoy feeling really needed, then you should still ask yourself if it has to be to quite such a degree.  Sometimes we can almost lose ourselves in caring for others, or in busyness, when we could balance things out a bit better.  You should not be getting your entire sense of validation from these things, you should also have a little time at least to just relax, think, watch a movie, go for a walk, etc, and to follow some of your own separate interests, or go out with friends.


It is not good for people you are caring for if you take everything upon yourself anyway, you should grant them as much independence as possible, or their own sense of self esteem will be damaged, and they will tend to become more apathetic rather than learning to cope with things.  Just as in counselling, you are really just guiding people to find their own answers, that work for them personally, rather than telling them what to do – so with someone you are caring for, you need to give them some space to try things out for themselves, and make their own choices.  If you are relying on other people for your self validation, then you are actually stealing some of their power, so give it back to them!


From the other viewpoint, no one should take you for granted, or try to manipulate you into doing what they want all the time, or control you in other ways such as limiting your freedom, or trying to make you feel guilty or bad about yourself.  If you allow any of these things to happen, then you are allowing them to steal your power and you need to take it back for sure.  (Sometimes you might perceive that other people are controlling you when actually you are putting this upon yourself, and they don’t really mean to at all, but other times people really do set out to manipulate others.)


Help people of course, that is a great thing to do, but don’t give up all of yourself to others.  You really must have the time to find your own balance.  People often respect you more if you are more balanced about this instead of letting people push you around, or simply allowing yourself to be a martyr, often quite unnecessarily, or keeping yourself artificially busy.


Be a whole person, not just a servant to others or a slave to artificial systems or things.




We should respect others by listening to them properly, but at the same time we should expect them to do the same for us, and if they don’t, then try simply asking them politely to do so, otherwise they are disrespecting you.

Listening to yourself goes much further than what I have said so far. You need to basically monitor who you are being, and how you are doing, in order to work out if there is anything missing before you start to suffer consequences of stress for example.


You might find a new interest, take up a hobby, form of exercise, etc, or you might find you need some minerals or vitamins to help boost you physically.  We need to keep both physical and mental health balanced as they do greatly affect each other. They are not separate systems, and both are very interlinked via chemistry, which in turn affects emotions if not in balance.


You might realise you need to meet new friends, so perhaps you might like to join a club where people dance or paint, for example.  There are so many things we can do to give ourselves a lift, if we listen to our own needs instead of just slogging away, keeping on keeping on, as they say.


So you need to listen to all parts of yourself, not just your mind, or your body, or your spiritual self, but all of them.

You might like to learn a bit about meditation, as this is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves, to help relieve worry and stress, and to connect with the deep root of yourself, find your own sense of balance on this planet earth.  It can also give us a sense of connection to the wider universe, of being a loving part of the whole, which brings us a deep joy and serenity.  We get to understand things from a different perspective, or more objectively, and this can bring a new dimension to our existence.


Quality Time


It is important to aim to have quality time with your kids, partner, friends, wider family, and with yourself.  This sort of intense time is much more valuable, even in short bursts, than spending loads of time together that is unfocused.  It is precious to be able to place real value on time together and do something really special.  I don’t mean going out and spending money to appease partners or kids, or to try to make up for being away at work etc, I mean time where you talk deeply, cuddle, explore interests, learn things together, do really meaningful stuff that nurtures your relationships.  If you are always too tired after work or at weekends for example to do this, then you really need to examine your priorities and find a way to get a better balance for all concerned.


At home and at work it can often be better to cut down on hours spent on tasks and chores, and focus on making better use of your time.  Often we waste time dithering about with details, when we don’t really need to, and your mind will sharpen when you stop fussing so much about this, and you will find you can achieve more clarity and get more done in less time.


If you want to spend less time at work, it is always worth asking.  Companies will often consider allowing employees to cut down their hours if you ask them, so don’t be afraid to ask, just plan your reasoning clearly beforehand, so that you can present a convincing picture to them. (Of course if you do get more time to spend at home, just be sure that you don’t simply transfer your dithering time to your home life, check up on yourself to ensure that you use the extra time effectively.)


Young parents going back to work often manage to work part time instead of throwing themselves back into full time employment.  You could do the same if you are recovering from an illness, or suffering too much stress.  If you can afford to do it then why not do it?  Or perhaps you could even make a bit of money in other ways if you need to?  Even little things you can do at home, like baking for your local market, flower arranging for local events, making cards, etc, might make the difference, plus give you the chance to enjoy using some different skills and mix socially with some different people.


As parents we know that it’s best to have quality time doing something with our kids, like reading to them, drawing with them, going for walks where you chat about all the things you see along the way.  These sort of things are so much more rewarding for everybody than just flopping out in front of the TV etc.  You do need some flopsy time, but don’t be careless about it, think about how to get the most out of your time together.  Even shopping trips can be positive if you chat to children about why you are making certain choices, start to educate them about budgeting and values along the way.

Of course, time with your partner is equally important, to nurture your relationship.  It’s no good always being with the whole family, you need to plan occasional time out for yourselves, where you can focus on just the two of you  - do what you enjoy doing together, and talk at a deeper level than you would during a run-of-the-mill day.


Carers also need to arrange time out for themselves.  If you don’t have a friend or relative to give you a break, then use an agency.  If you try to do everything yourself without a break then you are risking wearing yourself down to a point where you become less able to function well in your role.  Choose carefully what you do with your time out, choose something that will give you exactly what you need to renew your energy and joy, your interaction with yourself and the world – without the encumbrance of your responsibilities for just a while.

When you’re self-employed, it is all too easy to work 24/7.  You may have given up a job to do what you love – you want it to work, so you put everything into it – but it can easily become a millstone round your neck rather than the joy you wanted it to be, if you don’t watch out.  Remind yourself that you are in control of your own freedom, so take that freedom to use for yourself once in a while, otherwise you might just as well be working for someone else after all.  It can also destroy relationships with your family if you don’t make sure to make quality time for them, as well as for yourself.  Set yourself schedules if you like, but do be strict with yourself about taking that time out.  If you really have to keep going at something at certain points, then remember to make up for it when you are past that stage.  Explain it all to the family so that they understand the situation and why it is necessary, and can look forward to your time out later on, instead of maybe misinterpreting what is going on and thinking you are going to go on ignoring them forever.  They could then maybe enjoy planning what they would like to do when you become available.  Yes, you could plan treats in the meantime maybe, like meals they really like, or something else they enjoy doing, but do ensure that you are not using these as bribes to keep them quiet.  And when you do take that break, really make sure you have time together that is rewarding and enjoyable for all.  Plus remember to schedule in that time for your own exercise or meditation, meeting with friends, or just having a read – whatever it is that you like to do most.


Communication with yourself is important, as always, so that you are aware of what is going on, and make your choices accordingly, for the good of yourself, your partner, your children, and even your friends and wider family.  Don’t neglect the people you love – including yourself.


In relationships of any sort it is still important to take time out for just you, and you must communicate these needs clearly too.  Some people are very needy and may interpret requests for space or time for yourself as a threat to the relationship, so you need to give due thought to how you explain your needs. Don’t ever be tempted to lie, pretending you are going to see friends when you aren’t, just be clear about what you do plan to do and why it is important to you.  When you come back, make a point of thanking them for their understanding, and this should help to make it easier next time.  If your partner is always hanging round you and you want some time home alone, you could maybe suggest they take some time out with their friends or wider family.  Be tactful, you could say something like “You haven’t seen (so and so) for ages, are you still in touch?”  That might be enough for them to plan an outing, but if not, then you may need to be a little more direct and say what you want to do with your space.  Partners must try to understand where the other is coming from and not take it personally or jump to silly conclusions.  We are all coloured by our past experiences, other relationships, and our upbringing. Certain things can trigger fearful reactions if they have been precursors to negative events in the past, for example if a mother used to leave the child promising to return in a few minutes but only returned after several hours, then a person would tend to expect the worst until they grew to trust that things were going to be different now.  The same applies if a previous partner asked for some space for themselves, but it turned out to be the start of more separation and an eventual end to the relationship.  So people need to be told the truth ideally, but they may need reassurance, and gratefulness, then they will gradually learn to trust more.




It’s always good to remember to show appreciation when things go well.  Acknowledge when someone understands your needs and makes allowances – then they will feel rewarded for the effort, and everything will tend to go more smoothly next time.  They might even think of something themselves, wanting to please.  If everyone in the family has a decent level of self-esteem, then things will trot along quite happily.  Showing your appreciation for each other builds self-esteem, plus it engenders consideration and a natural willingness to be helpful.

Show appreciation for the good things in your partner and kids any time you get the opportunity, it is part of nurturing your relationships, but keep it in balance, don’t overdo it or they might get big-headed!


It’s good for you too, to think about things to be grateful for, it just generally engenders a positive focus in life, with surprising ease. 


Open communication of course also helps create greater understanding of each other and thus wonderfully close and trusting relationships, where everyone is aware that people may sometimes want a bit of time or space to themselves, and won’t read extra things into it.

by Julia Woodman