Why do we feel guilty about taking time for ourselves?

It’s Friday and I spent the day at the beach, just going for walks, having coffee and enjoying being by the ocean. I almost didn’t go. I almost listen to the little voice in my head that was reminding me of all the things I should be doing instead – it’s a work day after all and fun is for weekends. 

This past week has been more intense for than most. Some challenges at work, not sleeping well and feeling a bit stuck with my book had me feel a bit stressed and tired. I really felt like taking a time out and doing something to refresh and recharge my batteries. But when I first thought about doing a beach day yesterday, I right away felt guilty and like I shouldn’t. I should be working or writing or doing some of the other chores like cleaning the van and replying to emails. I almost didn’t go. But now I am so, so glad that I did. 

As I was walking along the beach today, I started to think about why we find it so hard to take time out to look after ourselves.

Why are things like work and household chores things we ‘must’ or ‘should’ do, while looking after our health and well-being is luxury and something we do when all the shoulds and musts are done? Shouldn’t looking after ourselves be the biggest MUST in our lives? I mean, what’s the point of having the cleanest house, the best track record at work or being crowned parent of the year if we’re not feeling well enough to enjoy it? 

Last weekend I was chatting with some of my awesome girlfriends. Many of them are mothers now and say one of their biggest challenges is finding time for themselves. I can only imagine how full on life is when you have little kids and how hard it is to get a break – after all, you can’t just leave the kids alone at home for hours just because you need me-time. But what really made me think, was the sense that many of my mum-friends seem to feel guilty about taking time for themselves, or even just the thought of wanting and needing it. It’s kind of sad that we live in a society where we are expected to prioritize everything else above ourselves. With my girlfriends last weekend, we talked about how important it is to look after yourself and make that time and we all agreed that we won’t be able to help others or be good parents, employees, colleagues and friends if we don’t occasionally put ourselves first. But are we doing that in real-life? 

If even I, who has comparatively little responsibilities and constraints, feel guilty about taking a day to re-charge my batteries than I can only imagine what it feels like for people who have families, full-time jobs and lots of other responsibilities. 

All day I’ve been thinking about how wrong and counterproductive this view is. Yes, I didn’t do any work all day, I didn’t make progress on my book and I didn’t do any of the chores on my list. And yet it was the most beneficial and in many ways most productive day I’ve had all week. I’m feeling refreshed and reenergized. I have new ideas for my book and plans for how to tackle some of those work challenges. Most importantly, I feel happy!

Something I’ve realized today is that just because something is fun that doesn’t mean it’s not important or valuable and that, sometimes, me-time really needs to be a MUST not a ‘want’ or ‘wish I could’. 

So for all you busy and exhausted people out there, don’t feel guilty about wanting a time out. Don’t feel like you’re neglecting other chores or people. Just remind yourself that nothing is more important than your health and well-being and sometimes looking after yourself must be your top priority. It’s why the on-flight safety videos always tell us to put our own oxygen mask on first before helping other. 

Because we can’t help anyone if we’re not getting oxygen.