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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