Eight years ago I made a pact to honor myself every year by taking time away to do things that bring me joy. It’s a prescription I’d written myself after recounting countless times I found myself focusing on the wrong things such as responsibilities instead of my diverse experiences; financial pressures instead of abundance; deadlines instead of the peace in early morning silence; and a day’s hustle instead of the gift of seasons.

This year, I made October a traveling month to honor my birthday. I just returned from a six-day trip discussing science, spiritual philosophies, and how we may combine the two. The best part of the conference was the day I actually stopped feeling guilty for wanting to have some alone time and took action. I drove to Point Lobos State Reserve and did a six-mile hike.

Earlier in the month my sister also talked sense into me not to skip my twenty-year college reunion. So I did that too. She was right. I had an amazing experience at Northwestern University, reuniting with friends, and going back to pay tribute was a gift. Had I not gone, this was an experience I would never have had the opportunity to do over.

My decision to honor a need for some alone time, came from my realization that self advocacy is a must. Doctor’s cannot solve all of one’s problems. Many solutions are an inside job. I can recall a visit I had with a primary care physician I was trying on for size last year. I was exhausted. So much so, my usual practice of waking up early, reading, meditating, and enjoying the silence in my home was a thing of the past. I was so tired. I was sleeping through my scheduled “me” time. After waiting 40 minutes, receiving a “side eye,” depression screen, and domestic violence screen…she had minimal to add other than, “I think it’s stress, it’s your lifestyle.” And there I was sent off to the lab for blood work. As much as I was annoyed she had minimal to offer, so I thought at the time, the mirror she held in front of me was profound. She was right. I was suffering from stress and fatigue. From trying to do it all. In particular my Friday evenings, which had normally been free, were now filled with shuttling my daughter to gymnastics followed by softball which I volunteered to help coach. So this year I made adjustments. Friday evenings are now wide open. I no longer coach softball, and I took a serious look at my monthly calendar to foresee areas I needed to change. I’m also learning to ask for and accept help.

As a physician, many of the things I’ve learned to do in my life to fight stress and fatigue, I pass along the advice to all of my patients. I can be authentic in telling them about my challenges and struggles and solutions I’ve found to be helpful that don’t involve medication.

Here are things I’ve learned about the importance of prioritizing time for self, and particularly alone time:

  1. Time Alone is Essential:

 Being alone allows one to self-reflect, hear your inner voice and align with your body. Whether you need to renew from fatigue, get clarity about difficult questions, or reconnect with your body, start with an “I Am” date. Whether it is a walk in the morning before your house awakes, or a cup of your favorite drink in a quiet part of your home, time to tune in and self reflect is everything. We are all so caught up in our ego driven lives, relationships, careers, and parenting roles and forget that the common element in all relationships and interactions is self. Take time to be alone with yourself. Ask yourself to complete the sentence “I Am….” Who are you besides a significant other, parent, friend, and sibling? What are you feeling? What are you ignoring?

  1. Don’t Feel Guilty in Getting Away

Guilt is real and can paralyze you from making healthy choices. I felt guilty about leaving my husband with the kids for over a week this month. And not everyone has the means to actually get away. When I start to feel guilty, I talk it over briefly with a trusted confidante, and then I release those feelings and all the energy surrounding it. I refocus my thoughts to all of the time I am at home fully invested and all in. I’ve also learned to applaud myself for knowing that I give 100% all the time. Rewarding oneself from time to time is necessary to prevent burnout, fatigue and resentment.

  1. Be Authentic About How You Would Like to Spend Your Time

Be open to the alone time you have scheduled. Go with the flow. Perhaps you’ll want to mix that time cultivating your closes friendships. Perhaps you planned a trip and it’s not as enjoyable as you thought. Don’t be afraid to make changes.

  1. While Planning Time Alone Ask Yourself “What Would I Love?”

Do what you love, without explanation!

  1. Plan Ahead

 If you just cannot get rid of the guilt from wanting a few hours or a few days away… plan ahead as much as you can within reason. I often plan forward during the time I will be away. I do laundry ahead of time, reach out to friends for help for school pick up, make schedules, and communicate needs and expectations with family members. As my children grow, I also communicate responsibilities and expectations to them as well. Their independence translates into more freedom and less stress as a parent in the long run.

Honor Health Vow #3

Vow to Choose Happiness by Seeking Peace Daily