Feel the Guilt and Have a Break Anyway!


Years ago, I remember seeing a book called ‘Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway’ by Susan Jeffers. Have you read it?

I love the title of that book. A good title is a one sentence summary of the whole book. The key message you need to remember.

And that book gave me the idea for the title of this blog.

Why Kind People Don’t Take Breaks

In my work, I come across lots of very kind people. People who want to do good in the world. Who want to make the world a better place. A kinder place. A more sustainable and fair place to be.

BUT, almost without exception, I find those same people suffer a lot.

Working so hard, they’re worn out. Shattered. Just about keeping things together.

When I delve deeper to ask them, ‘Why don’t you take a break now?’

I suggest: ‘Have a bath, take a day off, go for a long lunch break.’

They often say no, or say yes but just don’t do it.

I ask the reason why.

‘Well, if I don’t keep working on this, I’ll feel guilty’, they respond.

Do you also feel too guilty to take a break?

So on one side of their motivation, they want to make the world a better place, but are unable to take a rest. And it’s emotions, not just thoughts, that really determine our actions.

I have been there too. Guilt does come up if I take too many breaks. But I’ve learnt to work through the feeling and recharge myself when I need it. I can see the benefits for myself and those around me.

And that gave me an idea...

A new approach to embracing self-care

So what?!

So what if we feel guilty for giving ourselves a break?

The cause of the guilt is probably thoughts like:

‘I should be working more’,
‘I’m being lazy’,
‘there’s people out there who need my help’,
‘they’ll think I’m not a nice person for not helping them’

and so on.

Challenging Thoughts

One approach could be to write the thoughts down and gently question them.

For example:
Thought: I’m being lazy.
Challenge: Am I? I’ve been working for over 10 hours a day for weeks now. The reason I don’t feel very efficient in those hours is probably because I’m just tired.

Feel the Guilt and Chill Out Anyway

Another approach is to use a technique that’s extremely successful for overcoming phobias, but would work well for overcoming feelings of guilt too.

This powerful technique is called ‘systematic desensitisation’, usually used for overcoming phobias.

Start by making a list of all the activities you could do, that you’d feel guilty for, when being kind to yourself.

Make the list in order of difficulty or level of guilt in doing the self-care activity.

For example, you may come up with a list like this:

  1. Taking a 5 minute break to just enjoy a cuppa tea or coffee. Nothing else.

  2. Going for a 10 minute walk around the block at lunchtime.

  3. Spending 20 minutes meditating or practising yoga.

  4. Chatting to your friend for half an hour, just for fun.

  5. Having a 45 minute nap.

  6. Taking a bath for a full hour

  7. Taking half a day off without your phone, and going to a local spa.

  8. Spending a day at your local monastery or church in a one day retreat

  9. Booking a weekend holiday away, without your work. Or just a weekend doing no work at all.

  10. Having a whole week off to recharge. No emails, no work calls. Just resting or doing something fun or creative.

Remember, the top of the list is easiest for you to do, and it gradually becomes more of a challenge as you go down the list.

Using this approach, you start with the easiest one, whatever number 1 is for you.

In this case, it’s 5 minutes enjoying a nice, hot drink and not doing anything else. So you do that, even if it makes you feel a bit guilty. And you keep taking these breaks until the guilt no longer arises. You enjoy your tea and feel good about it. It may be hard to believe now, but with time, you’ll surprise yourself.

Then you move onto number 2. Again, keep doing the activity daily or even several times a day if you can, until you no longer feel guilty doing the self-care action.

Remind yourself you’re not bad or being bad to practise self-care. You’re recharging yourself to better serve others in the long-term. You’re actually doing everyone a favour!

Keep moving on in this way down the list. And notice the positive effect of each step you take.

Taking things further with The Power of Kindfulness

You can then take this approach to the next level by combining it with Kindfulness - mindfulness and kindness.

If you find the feeling of guilt overwhelming when deciding on the self-care strategy that’s right for you, try this:

  1. Sit or lie down and close your eyes for a few moments if you’re willing to do so.

  2. Take some nice deep breaths in and out.

  3. Become aware of any feelings of guilt. No need to be frightened of guilt. The fear of guilt just gives the feeling more energy, so move towards guilt if you can. Nice and gently.

  4. Place your hand on the feeling and massage it. Or just feel the warmth of your hand against your body. If you’re not sure when the feeling is in your body, place your hand on your heart area.

  5. Cultivate as much kindness as you can. This activates a part of your brain called the ‘soothe system’ in compassion-focused therapy. You begin to relax. Long, extended outbreaths help to engage your soothe system too.

Combining all these different strategies will make you stronger.

You’re going from making guilt your master to making guilt your friend. And eventually you’ll find yourself finding a healthier, happier balance between your work and your time to rest and recharge.


Everyone needs to take care of themselves. Even the Buddha, Jesus and Mother Teresa needed to eat, sleep, meditate and have a break from time to time.

So you too deserve to rejuvenate. You can’t give from an empty cup. A phone is useless when it’s got no charge. The axe needs time to be re-sharpened.

So, refill your cup. And if you feel guilty when doing so, start with small steps and try the above strategies.

I look forward to hearing what you’re going to do to treat yourself today.

If you share on social media, use #treatyourself and tag @shamashalidina and I’ll look out for it! Thanks!


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