2107535714_52fb014000Remember Atlas? Strongest of the Titans, he shoulders the Earth to keep it from falling. Despite his superhuman ability, he was not a free entity. He was trapped by his job.

And he only had ONE job!

These days most of us have more like five jobs and counting. It can be so overwhelming. People come to my office hoping to get a grip over their
anxiety or depression often because life stresses have creeped up on them, the frog in the pot syndrome. They tell me that they have no time for
themselves. The complaint goes something like this:

"There is no way I can find time for myself. I get up in the morning and first thing is I do feed the kids, get them ready for school, and make sure they make it out on time for the bus. Then I have to get ready for work. At work everyone expects me to do everything. After work, there's the PTA, church events to organize, kid's sports to coach, games to attend, the kids homework, dance, piano. Not to mention my parents, who are getting more and more dependent on me. And you want me to find time to exercise?"

Yes, I do.

As seemingly impossible as finding time for ourselves is, the alternative is not pretty. It's downright dangerous. Anxiety and depression, medical illness, head aches, stomach problems, high blood pressure, insomnia, food and alcohol abuse, strained relationships, irritability… are a few of the consequences of poor self-attention.

We seek to find a balance but forget that the fulcrum beneath the balance beam is (you guessed it) ourselves! A crumbling fulcrum causes the whole apparatus to crash and burn. So how do you do the impossible and find time for yourself?

1) Learn to say no. You've heard this before. What makes it so hard to say no? Usually it has something to do with archaic guilt or a dysfunctional sense of responsibility or co-dependent tendencies. In other words, we say 'yes' because we are afraid of losing love, respect, regard, if we say no. The paradox is that by saying no and taking care of yourself you are as likely to gain respect as you are rejection.

A few years back I was asked to be the President of the local chapter of the psychological association. It was certainly an honor to be asked but I already had a full plate with my work, kids, and caring for my parents. As afraid as I was of alienating my fellow psychologists, I explained my position and hoped that I would be asked again in a few years (after the kids are in college). Later, at an association gathering, a colleague congratulated me on setting healthy limits.

2) Take a hard look at your 'To Do' list. Divide the tasks into two columns, essential and non-essential. Be brutal. Stop doing the 'non-essential' immediately. Then take a hard look at what's on the essential list. Divide that list into two columns: things that really only you can do and tasks other people can do. Finish by either handing those latter tasks off or learn to share.

A middle-aged patient once said that only she could care for her aging mother, even though she had a capable brother and sister living close by. She was having daily panic attacks before she finally admitted she needed help and let her siblings take a share in the responsibility. Months later, my patient's health restored, she marveled at how much closer she was to her siblings now that they were a team.

3) Delegate! Here's the irony: If you weren't there to carry the weight of the world, what would happen? Chances are the world would carry on somehow, by someone, somewhere.

An over-extended mom was convinced that she had to go to every single one of her three kids' soccer, baseball and hockey games. She was a nervous wreck; she was literally losing weight and her hair!  But she had convinced herself that her kids would hate her if she wasn't there every single time. Her husband finally intervened and helped her draw up a schedule, dividing up the games between them. They also recruited aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents to attend games. The kids got a great cheering section and a lesson in responsible self-care. To be honest, their mom continued to struggle with guilt but it was significantly reduced. She eventually learned to recognize guilt's toxic effect on her over-all health and she stuck to the schedule.

4) Start small. What have you been putting off that would bring you pleasure? Nurture you? Feed your soul? Whatever it is, carve out just 15 minutes a day to do it.

What are you doing that is draining you? Causing you to lose sleep? Or may be that one straw that broke the camel's back? If you can't stop doing it or give it away, at least arrange a temporary respite from it.

All of a sudden I was busier than I've ever been at work. For every hour I see a patient for a session there's another hour where I write notes, make phone calls, check email and do research. I also needed time for my family, to exercise and to play. Something had to give. So I gave myself permission to reduce the number of postings on this blog. I hoped that readers would be as happy with the idea of quality over quantity as I was with preserving my sanity.

5) Get in touch with your inner bitch. This is the hardest thing. It's always the nicest people who get anxious about saying no. Take a serious look at defining yourself in a new way. Refuse to continue offering yourself up as a sacrifice on the alter of misdirected martyrdom. Find a healthier source of self-worth. This might take some work with the help of psychotherapy, to explore the reasons why you fear rejection. Or, at the very least, take a few rowdy friends out to lunch and let some of their chutzpah rub off on you.

Photo courtesy of Wallyg via Flickr