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I didn’t always know how to take good care of myself. For a number of years, I prided myself on being the woman who “gets stuff done,” and somehow absorbed the lie that productivity mattered over a healthy relationship to my mind and body. I did not know how to listen to my spirit to find out what I needed to take care of myself in a given moment. I was too busy being, well, too busy.

As I’ve grown as a person, I’ve learned to ask myself a simple question when I am stressed at work or by life scenarios. When I’m feeling overwhelmed, or life feels heavy, hard, lonely, or confusing, I ask, “What do I need right now?” It feels both empowering and freeing, and in many ways helps me trust myself and my intuition.

Looking at your own life, how can this question help you take better care of yourself, especially during a hard time?

What do I need right now emotionally?

It might be helpful to think about this question as a fill-in-the-blank sentence: I am feeling ____, and I need _____. For example, “I am feeling overwhelmed, and I need quiet.” When you’re in emotional need, it’s sometimes difficult to identify what you need, so give yourself time to answer the question.

For example, I’ve learned that one of the things I need in emotionally trying times is to remain “emotionally zipped up” to keep myself emotionally regulated. Over time, I have learned that my big feelings or emotions do not have to overwhelm me—they can instead empower me to listen to my mind and body as to what I need (and can do) to take care of myself in any given situation.

When dealing with difficult situations, I visualize an invisible zipper on the inside of my body; I control it, and no one else can see it. Visualizing myself as “zipped up” helps me keep healthy emotional boundaries between my inner self and the people and events in my life. I can control how much I let other scenarios or people emotionally affect me; that is determined by how much (or little) I am zipped up.

When you’re in emotional need, it’s sometimes difficult to identify what you need, so give yourself time to answer the question.

Do you need...

What do I need right now physically?

Our physical bodies carry stress, anxiety, and even trauma in ways we do not necessarily see. Studies consistently show us the connection between our physical bodies and what is going on in our mind. Human beings are complex and there are many different factors that affect our persons.

I know when I am overwhelmed or stressed and I ask myself what I need, I almost always answer that I need to go on a run. Running helps me de-stress and feel more at home in my physical body. When I physically move my body like that, it helps me deal with and leave whatever stress or tension I am carrying on the pavement.

Do you need…

  • a glass of lemon water
  • a few deep stretches
  • some sleep
  • a restorative meal or snack
  • some focused, deep breaths
  • to dance in the kitchen listening to a fast-paced song
  • to leave your work desk and go outside for a ten-minute walk
  • to seek out some healthy physical touch, like a hug from a friend or snuggling with a pet

What do I need right now spiritually?

Sometimes people hear the word “spiritual” and can assume it means being religious or going to church. But being in touch with our spiritual selves is much more than that. We human beings are both body and spirit. We all have spiritual longings and desires within us, even if we are not aware of them sometimes. Nurturing our spirits with life-giving practices is important, especially when life feels hard.

A helpful spiritual practice for me is lighting a candle in the morning while I drink my morning coffee in the quiet. Being still is good for me in many ways, and it begins my day with more focus and clarity. Sometimes I will just be still. Other times I may do some intentional deep breathing or write in my journal for a bit.

Do you need…

  • to sit in silence and take some deep breaths
  • to write items down in a gratitude journal
  • to recite a prayer or phrase that feels peaceful or relaxing
  • to read some words of encouragement from a spiritual work
  • to listen to music that has spiritual or personal significance for you
  • to connect with a close friend or mentor to talk about your deepest self
  • to be outdoors and connect with nature
  • to make time for a meditative or prayer practice

Life can be hard sometimes, leaving us feeling tired and overwhelmed. I have asked myself “What do I need right now” both on good and hard days. Sometimes it is easier to answer and other times it is more difficult. But the power in a question like this is the ongoing way it teaches us to better listen to and trust ourselves. When we know how to take care of ourselves at any given time, we become a healthier and stronger version of the person we want to be.