4 Ways to Fulfill Your Needs While Helping Others


“We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.” ~Dalai Lama

“Take care of the self.” This was the last line of an email I received from a professor many years ago. It was in response to my message explaining that I would not attend class that week because my brother-in-law had been killed by a drunk driver.

I had expected a standard offer of sympathy and a summary of the assignments I would be missing. Indeed, my professor offered condolences for my loss, but then he told me not to worry about reading, assignments, or even showing up to class until I felt up to it. “Take care of the self,” he said.

This is the first situation in which I remember feeling that I had permission to allow myself what I needed. After all, fulfilling our own needs before the needs of others is often perceived as selfish. We feel compelled to make commitments, promises, and sacrifices for others, but rarely for ourselves.

It was not until several years after my professor’s email that I realized I did not have to choose between fulfilling my own needs and the needs of others. On the contrary, the more I focused on my own needs, the more support I was able to offer others.

Sometimes acknowledging what we need—physically, emotionally, socially, intellectually—is more difficult that actually acquiring what we need. More often than not we simply need to grant ourselves permission.

These are four methods I use to address and fulfill my own needs on a daily basis.

1. Admit when you need a break.

So often we push ourselves far beyond our mental and physical limits. This is often for a worthy cause, an important goal, or a valued relationship. Unfortunately, when we sacrifice our needs to keep working or giving and “push through,” we frequently sacrifice the quality of what we are doing as well.

If I have a week full of deadlines or commitments, I will often award myself a timeout. That might mean taking an evening off and just watching TV, curling up with a book, taking a leisurely walk with the dog, or maybe even taking a much-needed nap.

Taking a break can renew your energy and allows you to tackle projects with improved productivity and new perspectives.

2. Commit to yourself.

Smartphones and other technologies have made it even easier to over-commit our time and resources. Without even trying, I used to fill my week with coffee dates, book clubs, volunteering, and other appointments. With my life planned out by the hour, time with my family and to myself became things I had to “fit in.”

Recently, I made a commitment to reduce social outings and plan “me time” into my schedule. Now I am shocked at all the things I have time to do that I was missing before! Make two or three commitments to yourself throughout the week that help fulfill your own needs; take a yoga class, make time to read for fun, or cook a special, healthy meal.

Don’t just pencil in me time, write it in permanent marker! Be sure to honor commitments to yourself the same way you would keep plans with a friend. When we respect our own time and our own needs, it allows us the capacity to do the same for others.

3. Reevaluate your external commitments.

Make sure you are committed to something or someone because of genuine compassion or interest rather than a sense of obligation.

After reevaluating all your commitments to causes, events, or relationships, you might find that some of them do not align with your values. Continuing to give your time and energy when your heart isn’t truly engaged does you and the person or cause you are involved with a disservice.

My instinct whenever someone invites me to an event or asks for my participation is to say “yes” before evaluating how that request fits with my own values and needs. Now I try to take a moment, maybe even a few days, to consider whether I have the physical and mental capacity to truly commit to something.

Spending my time with people whose company I value, or doing work that I believe makes a difference allows me to fulfill my own needs while also connecting with and helping others.

4. Communicate your needs to others.

If a friend told you she couldn’t participate in your fundraiser because she was overwhelmed with other commitments, would you make her feel bad? Chances are you would tell her, “No worries! I understand.” Allow yourself the same courtesy and understanding.

Address your needs with others respectfully, but directly. If someone asks you to commit to something that conflicts with your needs, explain honestly why you can’t: “I’ve been tired all week so tonight I need to stay home and go to bed early,” or “I spent a lot last week so I need to save money; could we have coffee instead of dinner?”

I often hear people say “I just don’t have the time…” to exercise, take a day off from work, or explore something they’re genuinely interested in. The truth is, without making a commitment to acknowledge and acquire what you need, you will never have the time.

When you feel too overwhelmed to make time for yourself, remember that the help you can offer others will be limited if you neglect to fulfill your own needs as well.

Photo by skyseeker

About Elizabeth Kanost

Elizabeth Kanost works as an editor and lives as an avid reader, yoga practitioner, cheese fanatic, and dog mom in Lawrence, KS. Her blog,, features posts about mindfulness, compassion, and the occasional book review.

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  • lv2terp

    GREAT tips/advice! Thank you for sharing your story, experience, and insight! 🙂

  • ekanost

    Glad you enjoyed the post! These are all discoveries that took me awhile to recognize and implement in my life, and ones I still struggle with from time to time, but I hope they can be helpful to others.

  • baris

    I am living a taugh situation at this moment.ı was always kind of pulled back when it comes to love,so ı was sometimes looking after my neighbours child she is living by her own so that ı can fullfill my emotion and passion for love honestly.So i fell in love with her and have a deep affection for her for a long time but i failed to express my emotions to her so i decided to write a note instead but when she found it she didnt like it and she is cold to me since then but i have still have feelings for her and ı cant yet to make progress to be with her.I CANT get over my fears with women ı dont know what to do , i am at the verge of a decision i came to a dead end if i cant get over this i am sure something will be always missing.ı afraid to go her door to clarify my emotions but she seems to know it already she seems more experinced than me.ı couldnt have much experience in this but i cant stop fantasy about her , i somehow get her attention but cant seem to go and talk to her , this is a cycle in my life until now even though i have no bad intentions i alwsys get hurt and left alone without loved.Will i ever find the love i desired i am stuck all the way in my life dont know what to do…

  • Hi Elizabeth – enjoyed reading your post and glad that you’ve given yourself permission to put yourself first. What an empowering and kind email by your former professor.

    Often, we do a whole lot of life without thinking about it and just push ahead, agreeing haphazardly to everything until we are overwhelmed or burnt out. If we stepped back, re-prioritized and then decided what was important and what wasn’t, life would be more meaningful and would afford us the time to do what mattered to us.

    Yes, checking in with your core values is key! Once we do that, then all these decisions and commitments become very easy and straight-forward. The more time we give ourselves, the more we can give OF ourselves to others. Thanks for sharing your insights with all of us.

  • ekanost

    I’m so glad you enjoyed the post! You’re absolutely right that identifying strongly with one’s values helps immensely with prioritization and decision-making. Often we try to make decisions based on what others make us feel we SHOULD value, rather than what we ACTUALLY value. Allowing ourselves a break to really check in with what we want and need can help us distinguish between these things.

  • Recently, my mother, who is retired, took a “vacation” and came and visited me for two weeks. I had to work during the day, and felt bad that I couldn’t take her around as much as I wanted to, show her the sights, etc. She kept insisting that all the wanted to do was sit around, journal, take solitary walks while I was at work, etc. She told me that she had so many social engagements, volunteer tasks, etc. etc. that she hardly had any time for herself – and she’s retired and doesn’t really have any financial worries! I found this amusing and sad at the same time, and your article suddenly made me think of it again.

  • ekanost

    Your mother is a wise woman to recognize she needed to make time for herself like that. I think the obligations we feel toward friends and volunteer causes outside of work are the most difficult to turn down because we’re often afraid of hurting the feelings of those we care about.

  • Hi Elizabeth – that makes sense. That said, I’m a strong believer in “if they’re really my friends, then….” For me, I wouldn’t want a friend to hang out with me if I knew that s/he was doing it out of obligation and really needed the downtime. It’s a “do unto others” thing I guess.

  • Mahesh

    Very good article. thanks for sharing. It actually incorporates the self love in daily life in practical way.

  • ekanost

    I’m glad you enjoyed it! You’re right; allowing ourselves the things we need is an important part of cultivating love and happiness that we can then share with others.

  • ekanost

    I wanted to share that on Monday I reached out to the professor who sent me the email I mention in this post. I thanked him for helping me discover how to “take care of the self” and shared the post with him. He responded that my email and post were quite timely, as he was just meeting with a student who was going through a difficult family situation who could benefit from the tips. The world comes full circle. 🙂