I was having a stressful week and was pushing harder to get things done. I found myself working some at night and setting the alarm before 5. On day three (Wednesday), I found myself feeling scattered considering pushing even harder the next day. But this time I caught myself. I decided to take Thursday morning completely off. I let myself sleep longer, did an extra-long meditation, organized my to-do’s, and met a friend for coffee. And you know what? I came back seeing my stress clearly with extra energy to boot. Here’s what I’ve learned: during midlife time for me is a must. And the more permission I give myself to take that “me break,” the better equipped I am to conquer daily stressors.
Noticing the signs before the storm
When we don’t take time for ourselves it comes out in other unhelpful ways. Maybe it’s lingering on the internet, eating/drinking more to take the edge off, or not being productive despite putting the hours in. Our bodies are telling us “I need a break” but we just push through. I feel like a person can ride on this treadmill for a time and I did when my kids were small. But at midlife the signs the body’s had enough become louder. If you can notice them before the storm actually hits everyone is better off. For me, it’s when everyone in my family is getting on my nerves. All of a sudden, I can hear my kids chewing loudly. Just a few “eat with your mouth closed please” and I’m planning my escape. Or it can be when I’m feeling overstressed about work as mentioned earlier. I’ve learned that this isn’t a sign I need to push harder. It’s a sign that I need to take a step back and get some perspective.
Carve out regular time
It’s smart to plan regular days for yourself or simply work “me time” into your routine. I typically run three times a week with friends but that can feel like work too. So I take nature walk breaks and try to carve out time on the weekend. But the weekend time doesn’t always happen and that’s when I get in trouble. “The next and most important thing is for women to take time to care for themselves,” says Dr. Jerilynn C. Prior, Scientific Director, Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research. “That means women need to take time out for exercise, meditation, a cup of coffee with a friend, and to say no to more overtime, or continuing to make their 12-year-old’s lunch.” I don’t count “me time” as doing things like organizing the kitchen or going through bills. It’s the things I don’t have to do but that makes me feel better, giving me energy. It’s sleeping, getting lost in a book, meeting a friend, listening to music, watching anything I want, or sitting in my me spot.
But saying no is so hard!
It was Saturday and I was feeling slightly under the weather coming off several nights of going out over the holiday season. Plus, I just ran 10 miles in preparation for a half marathon. But it was a planned night out with old high school friends, one of which recently had a big birthday. And I said yes right when the invite came up. The old me would have sucked it up and went but I just knew I couldn’t so I backed out. I felt so bad. Letting others down is one of the hardest things for me. For much of my life, others’ happiness stood in line before my own. I would gladly suffer not to disappoint someone. But at midlife, I’m gaining the courage to say no because the stress associated with the wrong yes comes at a cost. I realize time is short and am keenly aware how much my body can (and can’t) take. In hindsight, I should have made plans to see friend early in the season and stayed a “maybe” for the night out. Live and learn.
Some won’t like the change
Taking time for you can be hard on others. Your child may not like that you no longer are making his lunch or your significant other may complain when you make plans without the family. This is normal and to be expected. But when we say yes to something, we should say yes out of love and true desire, not out of guilt or to avoid a bad reaction. Good things can happen too. I think of the movie Bad Moms when all of a sudden her son made a frittata because she stopped making him breakfast. Others step up when they have to. See The Simple Change That Will make You Family Healthier and Happier
The moral of the story
Making time for you and putting yourself top of the list may or may not come easy. But I hope, like me, you’re realizing that it’s a vital part of health and well being at midlife. A skill that’s never too late (or early) to learn. Have you been successful at carving out time for yourself? Please share your challenges and successes!