Can Self-Care Be Prioritized When Life's "Super Busy"?

How to make time for ourselves when everyone and everything "needs" us.

Posted Sep 28, 2017

Vida Dimovska Escaping into reality via photopin (license)
Source: Vida Dimovska Escaping into reality via photopin (license)


You’ve decided to take the afternoon off. A well-deserved gift to yourself.

You’ve been looking forward to this precious time all week long.

You’ve got a lovely book to read, your favorite music loaded into your mp3 player, and plans to enjoy a quiet walk to reflect on your life, your career, your new goals

Your boss has OK’d it. Your children are taken care of.

Everything is handled. Nobody needs you right now.

But then …

Your boss sends an email wanting help with an urgent deadline.

Your teen misses the public bus and needs a ride to dance class.

Your partner — who promised to cook dinner for the family so you wouldn’t have to — is running late and asks, “Can you whip something up instead?”

Suddenly, “real life” is colliding with your beautiful self-care plans.

It’s totally unfair and annoying. But what’s the right thing to do?

Say “no” to everyone and stick to your original plans? (While feeling guilty and worrying that you are letting people down…?)

Say “yes” to everybody and accept that self-care will have to wait? (While feeling resentful and irritated for having to cancel your lovely plans…?)

Some combination of both? Or what!?

We often hear, “Put yourself first! You can’t take good care of other people if you are not taking good care of yourself.”

This make sense in theory. But in reality? This can be difficult to implement.

A viable solution could involve a combination of advance planning (to anticipate potential distractions and issues that might disrupt our self-care time) and forgiveness (of ourselves and others when things don’t go according to plan).

Here are some basic guidelines to consider, on how to do both: plan for the best and forgive when things go askew.

Or, in other words, guidelines on how to take care of ourselves even when life is “super busy” and everyone “needs” us:

— Before your scheduled “self-care date,” designate a person whom you trust, to be in charge.

Unplugging from work for the day? Turn on an email auto-responder that directs people to connect with your assistant — or another trusted colleague.

Unplugging from your “other” role as a parent, for the afternoon? Remind your children that if they need anything, dad / grandma / your babysitter is the person in charge.

Give your person-in-charge clear instructions about when (and when NOT) to contact you:

“If there’s an emergency, you can find me / reach me at _________________________________________.

I define an ‘emergency’ as ___________________________________________________________________.

Anything less critical than that? Please let it wait until I get back. Thank you.”

— Turn all devices to OFF or “Do Not Disturb.”

When it comes to our physical and emotional health, taking a temporary digital sabbatical is one of the best things we can do.

But it can feel a bit unsettling — especially if we’re not used to unplugging completely or if a parent, for example, has a child with special needs.

One option might be to put the phone in “Do Not Disturb” mode.

It’s possible to set it up so that only certain calls — say, an emergency call from the sitter — come through. Everything else goes straight to voicemail without even ringing once.

Liberation and peace of mind! Best of both worlds.

— Keep in mind that tough love is good love.

Even with the best possible planning, scenarios might come up that can rattle us emotionally and challenge our commitment to self-care. Like when a child irresponsibly misses the bus, and wants a ride.

And in this type of moment? Tough love can be good love.

Say your teen missed the bus because she was socializing with her friends and lost track of time, and then she calls you in a panic, begging for a ride to dance class.

(In her mind, this qualifies as an “emergency!”)

But assuming she’s not in harm’s way, a “tough love” response might be:

“Sorry kiddo, I’m not available to pick you up. You’ll need to miss dance class. That’s a consequence for not managing your time. So catch the next bus home, it will be there soon.”

That kind of response might seem “mean,” but it’s not.

It’s actually a loving action for a parent in that situation to take — for the parent and the child.

The child can learn a valuable lesson about time management, early in life.

And the parent can get much-needed rest and space, to recharge and be best possible parent, upon returning back home.

— When all else fails…

… and “real life” completely wrecks our plans, despite all of our preparation…

We would be wise to accept it.

Breathe deeply.

Plan to create another opportunity for self-care soon.

It can be helpful to keep in mind that when we make plans to take some personal time for ourselves, we’re not just refilling our own energetic tank.

Our actions can teach a valuable lesson to others.

A parent who engages in self-care, for example, can be a powerful role model — showing a child, partner and colleagues what taking good care of one’s body and mind looks like.

That parent be much better for it — and so will they.

So, enjoy being a beautiful self-care teacher — savoring your quiet, restorative (and hopefully!) blissfully uninterrupted day.

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Suzanne Gelb, PhD, JD, is a clinical psychologist, life coach, and author. She believes that it is never too late to become the person you want to be: Strong. Confident. Calm. Creative. Free of all of the burdens that have held you back—no matter what has happened in the past.

Her insights on personal growth have been featured on more than 200 radio programs, 260 TV interviews and online on Time, Forbes, Newsweek, The Huffington Post, NBC's Today, The Daily Love, Positively Positive, and much more.

To learn more, visit

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Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional or psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always contact your qualified health provider before implementing or modifying any personal growth or wellness program or technique, and with any questions about your well-being.

Copyright © 2017 Dr. Suzanne Gelb, All rights reserved.