why is self-care so hard

Why is Self-Care so Hard When We Need it Most?

When we are the most frazzled, exhausted and depleted is when we most need to take care of ourselves and recharge. But it seems to be the time that we are least likely or able to do it. Why is self-care so hard to prioritize and stick to? Read on to find out why and what to do about it.

It happens to all of us. We are just getting into a good routine with self-care and actually starting to feel better. Maybe it’s exercise, meditation, a walk in the woods or a hot bath every evening. Or an occasional (or frequent!) service like a pedicure or massage. We all KNOW it’s important, and others may have even commented on our new, relaxed vibe.

But then it all goes to hell in a hand-basket. Why is self-care so hard?

As soon as the schedule gets thrown off or life gets busier, self-care is often the first thing to go. A big week at work, kid activities, family obligations or holidays can all make the schedule go from tight to seemingly impossible.

We’ve all heard that old adage about putting your oxygen mask on first.

Of course you are no good to anyone if you are passed out. Yes, we all KNOW that’s true. But would you really put your mask on first? If are on a plane with your kids, and it’s going down, and the mask comes down from the ceiling, would you REALLY put your mask on first? Most of the moms I know wouldn’t even think twice about holding their breath and helping their kids. When things get rough, the kids come first. Call it instinct, love, socialization; it’s just what moms do.

Something has to give, but why self-care? Why is self-care so hard to prioritize and commit to?

Because self-care takes boundaries, and boundaries take energy.

Many of us are socialized to people-please and take care of others first. Care-taking others is the default setting. We learn through practice and support, therapy and hitting rock bottom that we have to take care of ourselves.

In order to prioritize our own needs, there will be other things we need to say NO to.

We know that self-care is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. But it is not an easy thing to do. In fact, learning to say no can be agonizing when we first learn to do it and we stumble through.

For some people, this may make no sense. Just say no already! But for many of us, women especially and some men too, it feels impossible. An example: You are already overbooked, the week coming up looms ahead. You know it’s going to be a challenge to be everywhere you need to be and get it all done. Then your friend calls asking you to pick up her kids from soccer on your way home. “What the heck”, you think. “I’m already running non-stop, what’s one more thing?”.

Why is self-care so hard to put first even when we know we need to?

Imagine the following scenarios:

1) You are well rested. The routine is flowing smoothly and the kids are doing well. You and your partner have a good balance of responsibilities. You’ve carved out time to take care of yourself, you are getting plenty of sleep and you are on a roll with your exercise routine. Your friend calls and you’d love to help, but you’ve already committed to meeting another mom at Boot Camp class. You tell your friend you are not able to help this time, and she figures something else out.

2) You’re depleted. You haven’t been eating or sleeping well this week and you just have to power through. You’re not going to make it to Boot Camp because you’re too tired and you don’t have time anyway. So you say yes to picking up your friend’s kids because you’re already out running a hundred errands and you really don’t have the energy to say no. So now, just when you need your self-care the most, you have even less time for it.

The point is NOT that you shouldn’t help your friends out. Especially when it works for you, you feel good saying yes and you have the time and energy to do so. The point is that you are exhausted, you are depleted, and you have fallen off the list completely because you just can’t. You are going to burn out at this rate.

So what can you do about it?

3 Ways to Prioritize Self-Care

1) Schedule it. Put it on your calendar and treat it like you would any non-negotiable priority. If a true emergency comes up that can’t be helped, don’t move your self-care appointment without finding another place for it, the sooner the better.

2) Watch out for black and white thinking. Have you been feeling like unless you can do your full workout, or unless you have a WHOLE day to yourself, you won’t be able to recharge and you may as well forget it? Instead, look for ways to build some self-care in to your day. Maybe you can find 20 minutes or an hour. What can you do to help yourself recharge in the time you do have?

3) Add meditation to your routine. One of the best things about meditation is that a little goes a long way. I aim for 3 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes at night, and even this short time makes a huge difference. You may be surprised at what even one minute can do.

Aim for consistency rather than perfection. Make time for yourself every day and see if it changes how you feel! Drop me a note in the comments and let me know how it goes.


Related articles:

Relax and Get Grounded Quickly: Feet, Seat, Shoulders, Breathe

A Calm Place Meditation to Lower Stress Quickly

These Easy Breakfast Muffins Will Get You Out the Door Fast!

Mindfulness to Go: 30 proven strategies to keep you calm on the run! 


I am a mom, wife, therapist, knitter, crafter and a lousy but persistent runner. I am always looking for ways to make mom life a little easier and a little more fun.
  1. Interesting question that was posed to me: Is it really self-care if it’s scheduled? Then, isn’t it just part of the protocol of what you have to do? I was conversing with a friend of mine and it was something that she brought up — it was a point I hadn’t thought of before.

    Great post! x


    1. Such a GREAT point Michelle! I have thought about this a lot myself. To me, things like hair appointments really don’t count because it’s somewhere I have to be. True self care to me is time at home alone, doing nothing. But I do think that even time to do nothing can be prioritized and blocked off in my calendar- otherwise it won’t happen!

  2. Great post! It’s why I get up early every morning. I need that time to myself to exercise, drink a coffee in piece or just sit quietly before everyone is up and work starts… it’s basically scheduled time for me to figure out what I want to get done each day! Very helpful tips

    1. That is so great! I have been doing a short meditation after my coffee and it makes all the difference in how my day goes!

  3. I love this ! I am a BIG advocate of self-care! “We’ve all heard that old adage about putting your oxygen mask on first.” I tell my clients the same all the time!!

  4. These are such great tips and I do agree with them all! It is so hard to carve out time for ourselves as mothers but it is so important! I really need to get in a routine and stick to it myself!

    Thanks for the great reminder!

    Josephine | Better as Us

  5. I am literally exhausted as I write this comment so this post was meant for me! I often overbook myself because I add in things without checking my calendar so I end having to run around non stop then I feel guilty when I can’t finish my to do list. This post has really helpful tips to help me plan my time better so I’m not exhausted at 6 pm. Thank you!

    1. Thank you Beau! Remember that taking care of yourself is just as important (or more!) as anything else on the list!

  6. These are fantastic tips and came at a really great time. I’ve been feeling rather burned out lately. I need to start implementing some of these strategies in my day. I really like the idea of meditating. I need to add that to my day. 🙂

    1. Thank you Lindsey! Meditation has made a huge difference in my life. Even just a couple of minutes.

  7. This post is so relevant, even for non-parents. Self care is very imporant and should be prioritized. As a young adult, I have been focusing on myself and it is the best thing I could do for myself.

  8. My favorite point, “Aim for consistency rather than perfection”. It’s so easy to get caught up in “I don’t have time to get to the gym today”, rather than the goal of moving your body and getting your heart rate up. I can do that walking around my property or walking up and down the stairs of my home. It’s just important to do something.

    1. YES! I get really caught up in that too. And then it becomes way more complicated- worrying about a change of clothes, shower, etc. Just get up and move!

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