Dr. Sharmeen Shroff, on the importance of taking time for you.
‘If we are not accomplishing something, we feel like we are wasting our time. We write and work through endless checklists and feel our self worth is attached to being productive and getting things done.’
Dr. Sharmeen Shroff Founder and Clinical Psychologist at Central Minds Ltd
The B Project sat down with Dr. Sharmeen Shroff – Founder and Clinical Psychologist of the award winning practice Central Minds, Hong Kong – to discuss the importance of taking time out for yourself and how 20 minutes a day is a great start!
Do you think that taking time out for you everyday is important?
Absolutely! The demands of modern day living are overwhelming. Most of us feel like we don’t have a moment to ourselves and often, people think of this concept of taking time out as being ‘selfish’. The reality is, it isn’t. Taking time out for ourselves has so many benefits including reduced stress, increased productivity, improved concentration, increased creativity, better relationships with others and with yourself, self esteem and feelings of self worth.
Without time out, it’s possible that individual’s will become stressed and burn out and if stress and burnout are not dealt with then in many cases, it can develop into anxiety and depression. It is so important to take time out for you through down time and play.
Do you find that in general people find it hard to take time out for themselves? Why do you think they find it so hard?
Yes, I see this a lot with my clients. Most cultures around the world don’t promote taking a break or time out for ourselves. We are more likely to be rewarded for being productive and busy. We generally don’t get support and encouragement for taking time out for ourselves and doing nothing.
If we are not accomplishing something we feel like we are wasting our time. We write and work through endless checklists and feel our self worth is attached to being productive and getting things done. We are so focused on ‘doing’ that we find it hard to ‘just be’.
In Hong Kong, we have a challenge of living in one of the fastest paced cities in the world. This is amazing for business but terrible for our personal lives. We have one of the longest working days in terms of hours in the world on average due to our location and time zone. We are awake when most of the world is in the office (even if it is outside of our 9am-5pm). As a result, employees are generally expected to constantly be on or…we place the unrealistic expectation on ourselves to be on.
Even when we have nothing booked in our schedule, we find things to do. We pick up our phone and start scrolling. Mindlessly scrolling. It is so scary that that is how we fill a spare moment. Just ‘being’ in the present moment seems almost impossible.
How do you guide your clients to take more time for themselves?
This is always tricky as in Hong Kong, we are all so busy and the pressure at work is enormous. I hear again and again that individuals don’t ‘have time’ for self care. If they have this limiting belief, I always encourage them to define what self care is and to make sure they schedule it in and stick with it just like they would a weekly meeting with their boss. I know scheduling self care can sound a little counterintuitive, but it is really important to prioritise it. It’s actually the time when you think you have no time for self care that you need it the most.
It’s also important to note that self care isn’t just about exercising, drinking enough water or going for a massage. It doesn’t have to be self indulgent. It can literally just be sitting in silence for 20 minutes (or even 10). I also really try to teach my clients that saying ‘no’ to others is often saying ‘yes’ to yourself.
What do you see as the benefits of finding out what you love to do and doing a little more of that everyday?
I see it as a protective factor for your physical and mental health. When you engage in an interest you enjoy you lower your stress, lower your heart rate and improve your mood. You are more likely to want to engage with the world around you. Taking time out for you builds emotional resilience and it also inspires others around you to figure out what they like or love doing.
So often, our life is set out for us and we don’t spend enough time in trial and error figuring out what we do love and what we don’t. Our self worth is so tied up in external factors such as socialising, travelling, the gym, going out with friends or into the office. Without these stimulants, we can struggle. Covid-19 took a lot of this interaction away for many people all over the world and forced people to check in with themselves and figure out what they needed and wanted. For many this was an uncomfortable place to be.
What if people only have 20 minutes in a day, would you recommend that they still do something anyway? What are the positive effects of this that you have seen?
Surprisingly, 20 mins a day is a lot so…it’s a great start! Even 10 mins a day, three times a week will have a very positive effect so 20 mins a day is amazing. If you take out 20 minutes a day for a year, you will have 15 x 8 hour working days for yourself. This is a significant amount of time. If you set that aside each day, you will focus on your priorities and the things you need for yourself. There really is a misconception about self care and ‘me time’. It doesn’t have to be long stretched – 20 minutes is more than enough to get the productivity and other benefits from taking time to yourself. If you start small, you will be less likely to get frustrated and give up.
Sharmeen Shroff’s top 10 tips on how to make time for you
- Block time off in your calendar. Schedule it.
- Set an alarm or reminder for your ‘me time’ so you don’t miss it.
- Set rules for your rest time (phone off, landline off, time in a room/space alone where you won’t be disturbed).
- Set healthy boundaries – say no to things that don’t serve you. Saying no to others is usually saying yes to yourself.
- It’s not ‘all or nothing’. Getting started and just taking a step is the hardest part.
- Find your ‘why’. What motivates you to take better care of yourself. Know why it matters otherwise you won’t follow through.
- Be proactive and not reactive. Be intentional when committing to take time for yourself. You might not feel you need it but know that ‘self care’ isn’t only something that you do when you feel like you are going to fall apart.
- Ask for help. We live in a culture where we think we can do everything – we can’t and we shouldn’t have to. In the past, we had villages to help us do things – call on your modern day village (community) if you need to.
- Don’t be afraid of trial and error. What works for others may not work for you. Self care is not one size fits all.
- Self compassion – be kind to yourself. If you don’t have 20 mins one day, don’t throw your hands up in the air and say ‘I can’t do this’. Give yourself a bit of a break. If this feels hard, it’s normal because it is hard, we’re living in the midst of a global pandemic. Give yourself a break and don’t hold yourself to such high expectations and standards.