This time last year, I took myself away for a mini-retreat. It was a low-key kind of break but it felt like a decadent thing to do at the time. Like many women and most mothers, I rarely take time for myself despite knowing that everyone benefits when I do.
If you’re like me, here are some tips that will help you make it a priority.
1. See it as self-care, not selfish
It’s easy to get the two confused. There’ve been times in my life when I was told I was selfish for not wanting to socialise. These days, I know it’s self-care to say no sometimes when I have an overly busy schedule – but not everyone sees it the same way.
When you understand the difference between extroverts and introverts (I’m definitely the latter) and what energises and drains us, you know you’re not being precious asking for a quiet night in. It’s essential sometimes – even when you’re not naturally introverted.
If you let yourself get to the point where you’re running on empty, you’ll have nothing to give to anyone. Each of us needs to manage our energy so that there’s always something left in the tank.
2. Know your patterns
Like many people, the end of a year is a psychological milestone for me. I know there’ll be a two-week break after Christmas but in the lead-up, I often find myself taking on too much and burning myself out by November.
For other people, winter is a difficult time. With shorter days and dreary weather, your energy is lacklustre and you might be prone to feeling flat.
Get to know your natural rhythms and plan ahead for them. Put a reminder note in your diary each year just ahead of your most challenging times and get into the habit of planning time to replenish.
3. Call in the village (or be the village)
As my friend Lisa reminds me, it takes a village to raise a family. When our girls were growing up, we didn’t have family around to help out. As much as I loved being a mum, I knew from the early days that getting away occasionally would improve my relationship with Chris and make me a better mother. We used a babysitter whenever we could afford one and when the girls were a littler older, a generous family friend offered to have them for a night here and there. It was the greatest gift we could have asked for and one that I now pay forward.
Reach out to your village and ask for help if you’re drowning. If you don’t have children, be the village for someone else. Offer a friend an afternoon of babysitting – it might be tiring in some ways but it will be joyous in others.
4. Give up the notion of all or nothing
When you’re not able to take a two-week trip to Thailand or even an extended weekend down the coast, a regular weekend can be transformed into a mini-break.
Nominate a date a few weeks in advance and let the people around you know you won’t be available at all. Keep the time as commitment-free as possible. Spread your usual weekend errands throughout the prior week and where possible, share them around with family members. Better still, let some things go and just get by with the basics.
Order your supermarket shopping online, ask a friend to ferry the kids to sport and order in a few healthy pre-cooked meals. Once Friday night arrives, put your phone on silent and put your feet up. Turn the telly off. Talk to your partner (and not just about the challenging stuff). Take a picnic to the park, walk along the beach, lie on the grass and watch the clouds go by.
5. When even a weekend is too much
If it feels like even a quiet weekend is out of the question right now, take a mini-mini break during the week.
Head to bed at 8.30pm with a book or your favourite mag and leave your phone and iPad out of the bedroom. Or try waking at 5am. It’s slightly painful at first but once you’re up and you’ve had a cup of tea, you’ll be grateful for the time on your own. Write in your journal, watch the sunrise, do a few yoga stretches or meditate.
Sometimes it’s not a question of whether you can afford the time but rather, whether you can’t. Be honest with yourself before you burn out and everyone will benefit.