You Have Needs

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You Have Needs

It is vital that you take care of your own needs, yet so often those are put on the back burner until you hit the point of collapse. Granted, it is possible to walk around for years feeling exhausted, cranky and worn out until that collapse happens. Recently someone asked: “How can I possibly take care of my needs when I am taking care of everyone else?”  

The Lists of Things

Here’s the thing: Multiple times a day you think about what to do next.  As coffee is brewing you consider your day’s priorities. On the drive to work or home you think about what you will do once you arrive. As soon as a series of tasks is completed, or even while doing them, you are considering a list of next steps.  

For parents at home, it sounds something like this:   

      • What does Tommy need? 
      • What do I need to do for dinner? 
      • Is it time to feed the cats? 

At work it is running list of next tasks:  

      • What was that email I needed to answer? 
      • What do I need to do to prep for that meeting? 
      • Do I still have time to make that phone call before the next Zoom meeting? 

These examples are an incredibly simplified version of what may be swirling through your head and populating your to do list.  

Your Place in The Lists of Things

The first step to taking care of yourself is to check in on your needs just as you do with your other priorities. Add yourself to your active list of things to prioritize. My suggestion is to use the third person. By this I mean ask, “what does _________________ (add your name here) need?” Do this all day long, just like you do with every other priority on your to do list. 

I was forced to do this years ago after I came down with mono. I was working so hard and putting my needs on the back burner that I literally collapsed. The only way to recover was to add my needs to the list of things to do.  

Later I saw that same risk of collapse in parents I was working with in my therapy practice. I started to write out post it notes “What does Joan need?” “What does Mark need?” and have parents place these where they would see them.  I asked parents to report back. Most often the answer was, “I needed to pee!” Other parents realized they hadn’t eaten in 6 hours, or they needed to make a phone call about their own appointment or schedule.

Why It Matters

Why does it matter that you use your name as if you are talking about someone else? Doing it this way tricks your brain; it gets around the automatic “I’m fine” response that we often use in response to “How are you?” We are socialized to take care of other people or tasks as a priority. Saying that someone is self-sacrificing is a compliment. It is not, however, a workable long-term lifestyle. Taking care of yourself is your first responsibility in this life. It is what allows you to do all the other things you want to get done.  

So…find a post it note and write “What does _________ need?” putting it as many places as you need to until it becomes part of your habitual task list. And send me an email at to tell me what you learned about yourself in the process.


Laura A. Gaines

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