I have a confession to make: I don’t look or feel my best right now.
Part of it stems from being burned out from working a full-time job and simultaneously writing a book. Part of it is because my gym has been closed since March, and I haven’t had a decent workout since. And part of it is that feeling like cooking a healthy meal for myself is the dead last thing I want to do after a day of homeschooling and cleaning up after everyone.
All of these circumstances have taken a toll on my health – physically and emotionally. It has not only created havoc with my health habits, it’s resulted in all kinds of mental stress, mommy meltdowns, and resentment. And most of all, guilt that I don’t have it all together, all the time.
But since I’m a take-charge kind of person, I look for solutions. However, there were so many things going wrong all at once, that even my type A, problem-solving self couldn’t fix them all.
I hadn’t been working out like usual, I hadn’t been eating like my typical healthy self, and I for sure hadn’t participated in any kind of self-care activities. And when all of this happens at once, the wheels come off the bus.
So, after another one of my breakdowns the other day, I decided I had to figure this out. I locked my bedroom door and, after a good cry, started thinking.
I was reminded of a quote by Desmond Tutu: “There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river – we need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.” So I decided to figure out whether there was a common denominator in all of it.
And then I realized with full clarity the source of all the problems: I was meeting everyone else’s needs at the expense of my own. And the result of this created a vicious cycle that was keeping me trapped and wrecking my health.
I was doing, doing, doing all day long for other people. Some of it was necessary – I had to work to get paid for my job, for example – but a lot of it wasn’t.
I was getting everything my kids wanted and needed, right that very second. I was cleaning up after them. I was taking on extra work at my job when I didn’t have to. I was spending time I didn’t have to do things for people for fear of letting them down. I was answering every phone call, every text, every email. I was saying yes to everyone, even when I felt like saying no.
And it backfired in the biggest way possible. I wasn’t showing up fully for any of it. I was feeling resentful that I never got to do anything for myself. I was feeling like a failure that I wasn’t doing it all perfectly. I was pinging around my house like a pinball, frantically trying to get all of it done and make sure everyone else was ok – everyone, that is, but myself.
I was so burned out that all I wanted to do at the end of the day was drink a half bottle of wine and call DoorDash. So that’s exactly what I did.
Then I didn’t sleep well. Then I overslept because I didn’t sleep well. Then I rolled out of bed and hit the ground running without centering myself. Then I didn’t have time to work out, because I was already running late. Then I dove headfirst into work, tired and unfocused.
Then my kids woke up and needed me to go to Starbucks to get them breakfast, so I did. Then they asked me for the next four hours why I always work and never do anything fun with them. Then, because we truly don’t ever do anything fun – because “Mommy has a job” – they spent the day rolling around the house, making a mess. Then I cleaned it up for them. Then I called everyone back who called me that day, so they didn’t think I was ignoring them and was a terrible friend.
I spent the day saying “How high?” whenever anyone asked me to jump. And I was doing a half-assed job at jumping because I was so burned out. So even though I was hell bent on not letting anyone down, I was letting them down anyway. And by not letting anyone else down – ever – I was letting myself down the most.
I was also reminded that day of the oxygen mask analogy we all love to spout off but never put into action: You have to put the mask on yourself first if you want to save the other passengers.
So I made a big decision: I was going to start making time for myself to do all the things required to keep myself healthy, regardless of the short-term repercussions.
I was going to commit to going to bed at 8:00 pm – even though everyone else (including my kids) thinks it’s extreme – so I can get a full 8 hours of sleep. I was going to spend one hour prior to bedtime reading, meditating, and planning for the next day. Then, after an early-morning hour of coffee and getting centered for the day, I was going to commit to one hour of exercise and one hour of food prep to get a day’s worth of healthy meals ready to go.
I committed to do these things – no matter what, without fail. I committed to these four hours, every single day, even if I had to tell everyone else a resounding “No.” And even though some of those activities cut into time spent with my kids or working or doing something for my business, in the long run all of those things would improve with a healthy, energized, well-rested me.
So if you ever feel like you never do anything for yourself – and your physical, emotional, and spiritual health is suffering because of it – here are three suggestions for how to commit to yourself and get back on track.
Make a schedule and stick to it. Spend time each evening planning your next day. Schedule your workout, your meal prep time, quality time with your kids – and especially your recharge time. Jumping out of the bed and diving headfirst into your day without a plan is a recipe for disaster.
You’ll have to deviate sometimes, but make some of the scheduled activities nonnegotiable. Make workout time and time to do self-care activities sacred. Do not be tempted to skip those, thinking that it’s selfish or you don’t have time. You have to make time. Make a schedule for yourself and resolve not to drop everything for everyone else.
Eliminate distractions. Turn your phone off when you need to get important tasks done. The quality of your work will improve dramatically without distractions, and it will take you less time in the end. If you need to clean your kitchen, turn your phone off and spend 30 minutes giving it a full scrub down – instead of wandering around for an hour, tidying up while you check social media alerts.
Distractions include people (and, yes, I mean your kids). If you scheduled time for a home workout, tell your kids you are not to be bothered. Tell them that the afternoon will be all about them, but right now it’s your time. Tell them you need 30 minutes to plan for the next day, and tell them not to come in your room. Set an alarm for them if you have to.
Get help. The moment my meltdown was over, I called a housecleaning service. Enough was enough. I paid them $200 to clean my house for two hours – and went shopping with my youngest while they did. I spent quality time with my daughter and came home to a house that was so sparkling clean I almost cried. I also bought myself a treadmill to make it easier to get a good workout in.
Do whatever you can to make your life easier. Order a meal delivery service that does healthy meals for a week. Ask your husband to keep the kids for you while you do something relaxing or fun. Get a sitter to take your kids to get ice cream while you get an hour’s worth of totally focused work done.
It’s a real problem for women, putting ourselves dead last. And when we do, we give all the people we’re prioritizing an exhausted, worn-out version of ourselves. Then we feel guilty for falling short and letting them down.
But by never letting anyone else down, we let ourselves down.
What one thing could you commit to that would have the biggest impact on your health – and make everything in your life easier? Leave a comment and let me know.
Stop telling everyone else yes and saying no to yourself. Put on your oxygen mask and resolve to make your health a priority. You deserve nothing less.