How to Stop Feeling Selfish About 'Me Time'

10 ways to put yourself first

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According to a 2009 Pew Research Center report, called "The Harried Life of the Working Mother," 66 percent of women with children 17 or younger work full or part time. But these working women are extremely hard on themselves. Only one-third gave themselves top marks on being a mom. Among the full-time workers, only 13 percent agreed it was ideal for child rearing.

Hello, guilt. It's no wonder working moms feel the need to compensate for their lack of "mom performance," rushing to get to their families ASAP to ease the guilt of being gone in the first place. There's the added pressure to schedule kids' extracurricular activities, which can leave kids coming home late in the evening, just as tired as their parents! Then there's homework, dinner, and the work E-mails you can't seem to ignore. For everyone in the family, it's go, go, go. There is no down time, no more empty space on the calendar. It's not surprising that four in 10 working moms describe themselves as "always rushed," according to the Pew study.

Sound familiar? With that much on your plate, it's no wonder there is no more "me time" left. For many women, self-care may not even feel like an option. But it is your only option if you want to be healthy and energetic, and take care of your family for as long as possible. Just like those airline flight attendants who tell you to "secure your oxygen mask before assisting others," you have to make time for yourself to be an energetic and productive employee, mother, and spouse.

Many women have a hard time with this, because they feel self-care is selfish. It's not selfish, it's selfness. It's thinking about your needs, and taking care of them. You would tell your daughter to do the same thing. Give yourself permission to take care of yourself. It's imperative.

We all need exercise, good nutrition, and positive ways of managing daily stress. No matter how good or bad you think you are at balancing these needs, you can make progress. It's true that there are only so many hours in the day, so you have to schedule your "me time." If you need help, ask for it. Ask your spouse, family member, neighbor, friend … anyone who cares about you. You are still "supermom," even when you have an assistant hero. For example, if you need time to find, shop for, and cook up healthy recipes, schedule that time for yourself, and make it someone else's job to watch the kids and help with housework. If you need time to get your workout in, schedule it during your lunch hour. (That hour at lunch is yours to take. You are the one who is choosing to give it up to do more work.) If you must, take phone calls or check E-mails while walking on a treadmill. At least you are moving.

Everyone has the power to change. First, you need to decide you want to, and you need to believe it is worth it. Try this experiment. For the next two weeks, start giving yourself "random acts of selfness." Tell your friends about what you're doing on social media, or post comments in the section below this blog. I predict three things will happen at the end of the two weeks:

1. You will feel less guilty about taking "me time."

2. You will feel better, more energetic, and more engaged in your life.

3. You will inspire others to create their own selfness too!

Here are 10 guiltless "me first" ideas to get you started:

1. Whip up a smoothie. Keep frozen fruit on hand to make yourself a treat while you are making your kids' lunch. Simply blend 1 cup of frozen berries with half a banana and 1 cup of milk or yogurt. I like to throw in a tablespoon of heart-healthy flaxseeds or pumpkin seeds.

2. Plan for leftovers. Weekends are the perfect time to prepare for the week. You can cook up your family's favorite meals in advance, but double the size for easy leftovers you can grab in the morning. Casseroles, chilis, or anything made in a slow cooker make for simple, delicious meals that can be used as leftovers.

3. Stock and store fresh food. I like to create my own mini salad bar in my refrigerator with pre-prepped veggies like chopped red peppers, shredded carrots, and cucumbers. Chickpeas and other beans are easy to rinse and store for added protein in salads. To spice things up, prepare chicken, quinoa, and sautéd veggies on the weekends to have on hand for added flavor and variety.

4. Get the facts. If you need to go out for lunch or breakfast, make sure that you are prepared. Educate yourself on the healthiest options before you even step foot in the restaurant by checking nutrition facts online.

5. Stash snacks. To be the best and happiest you, be prepared when hunger strikes. You can't focus on much when all you can think about is how loud your stomach is growling at you. Stash snacks in the office or in your purse for such occasions. Great options include nutrition bars made by Larabar and KIND, homemade or store-bought granola, and emergency peanut butter to spread on an apple, banana, or whole grain crackers.

6. Team up to work out. Cut a deal with your hubby to give each other private workout time. For example, he might take care of the kids one morning while you go for a run or to your morning yoga class. Then, you get the evening shift, managing dinner and clean up while he exercises. It's all about teamwork!

7. Keep a gym bag on hand. Having workout clothes with you at all times can allow for a workout after work, or during your lunch hour. It might not seem satisfying enough for you elite athletes, but it all adds up, trust me!

8. Exercise with your kids. Use your kids' practice time to get a sweat going. Soccer practice and swim lessons can be an hour or more, so why not get a run in or some lunges and pushups? Who cares if you look like a hot mess? You're just setting a good example for your kids.

9. Kill two birds with one stone. It's all about balance, and when you are trying to juggle your career, your kids, your love life, and your social life , where's the room for exercise? Meeting up with your girlfriends is important, so meet up with them for an exercise class or a hike instead of happy hour.

10. Tackle your workout, bit by bit. If setting aside an hour or more for a workout seems impossible, then split up your daily routine into 15-minute chunks: 15 minutes before the kids wake up, 15 minutes at lunch, 15 minutes after work, and 15 minutes during lacrosse practice. There's your hour!

Hungry for more? Write to eatandrun@usnews.com with your questions, concerns, and feedback.

Rebecca Scritchfield, MA, RD, ACSM Health Fitness Specialist, helps empower people to build healthy lifestyles. A graduate of the Johns Hopkins University, Scritchfield is a Washington, D.C., based registered dietitian and fitness expert who encourages clients to find exercise that feels great, learn to manage stress, and establish lifelong eating skills that balance individual nutrition needs with hunger and pleasure. Visit her blog at: www.rebeccathinks.com.