Are you suffering from the “self-care gap?”

Are you one of the women who only has five hours of “me time” a week? A new survey exposes just how squeezed women are in midlife – so what can we do about it?

Women spend less than five hours a week on their own needs by the time they reach midlife, according to a new survey.

Work, caring for ageing parents, and looking after children are among the day-to-day tasks that take priority for the 1,000 women surveyed by online community The Latte Lounge. Seven out of 10 said they spend less than five hours a week on their own needs, self-care and hobbies – that’s 42 minutes a day, which is not even long enough for a Pilates class.

Women having coffeeCredit: Shutterstock / DGLimages

The squeezed generation who need their “me time”

Socialising also comes low on the to-do list, with nearly 70% of women in the survey saying they spend less than three hours a week with friends. The same amount say they spend less than five hours a week of quality leisure time with their partners.

Katie Taylor, founder of The Latte Lounge, tells Saga Exceptional: “I’m not surprised by the results, because if I look at my own life, at 54 – working full-time, with four children, a dog, parents in their mid-eighties and planning my daughter’s upcoming wedding – I hardly get a minute for a cup of coffee. But it does make pretty poor reading. And it doesn’t just apply to women with kids. The to-do list is never-ending.”

If you’re not spending any time doing the things you love, it can be hard to start, but midlife and beyond is a good time to rediscover what matters to you. “I think self-care can become a chore, but we need to make it a habit. It’s whatever makes you feel good,” says Taylor.

“Look at the time you’re giving to everyone else who’s relying on you and take what’s left in the day to do something you love. A common theme in our community is: ‘I wish I could go back to doing some of the things I used to love, such as ice skating or painting.’ It might sound unrealistic to try and fit anything else in, but we’re very good at juggling, so we might as well try and plan to fit that in as well if we can, without it feeling like another chore.” 


Less self-care leads to more stress

Having a hobby in your sixties can help to prevent depression and give you a purpose, so midlife is the time when you need to find out what you’re passionate about – and do it.

Chartered psychologist Dr Louise Goddard-Crawley tells Saga Exceptional: “If you get out of the habit of looking after yourself in your forties and fifties, it can have adverse effects in later decades. You may be more susceptible to health problems, experience increased stress and struggle with adapting to the physical and emotional changes that come with ageing. Neglecting self-care in midlife can lead to a lower quality of life later on.”

If you’ve left it a little later to start a self-care routine, you can start any time, but with behaviour becoming more entrenched, it’s a good idea to take it slowly.

Psychotherapist Keeley Taverner tells Saga Exceptional: “I think for many women, putting themselves last is a norm and a role they perform. Often, women don’t consider their lack of self-care until a health problem comes up. People handle stress – they just push through – but a crisis becomes the opportunity to reflect.”

“Self-care is not selfish”

A lot depends on factors that have been with you your whole life, so it does take more of a push to change what you do. “There are lots of dynamics, including where you are in the family. Culture also plays a part,” says Taverner. “For example, I work with a large proportion of Asian clients and there’s an expectation that you not only look after your parents, but your in-laws too. Microwave meals don’t cut it, so batch cooking happens on the weekend, which also denies you the opportunity to take time for yourself.”

So what small steps can you take to start a self-care routine? “Other people become dependent on our selflessness, but we can gradually change that. It’s too overwhelming to make big changes, so I always encourage people to start small – that could be treating yourself to something you’ve always wanted, saying yes to colour in your wardrobe or taking time away with the girls to replenish. For some people, self-care is regarded as going to the hairdressers or getting your nails done, but it can also be leaving toxic WhatsApp groups. They’re little things, but they’re all so important,” says Taverner.

“Self-care can be associated with being selfish and that invokes feelings of guilt. But it’s not selfish. Think about the things you love and enjoy – are they a part of your life? If it’s important to you, that’s important. You’re important. Give self-care the same respect in your diary as you would going to work, because otherwise it gets pushed back and you find a wonderful reason not to do it.”

If you feel like taking a little time out for self-care, you can get a free ticket for The Midlife Festival, an online event featuring talks from journalist Louise Minchin, women’s health expert Dr Nighat Arif, dietitian Sophie Medlin, and more.

Hannah Verdier

Written by Hannah Verdier


Hannah Verdier writes about fitness, health, relationships, podcasts, TV and the joy of reinventing yourself at 50 and beyond. She’s a graduate of teenage music bible Smash Hits and has a side hustle as a fitness trainer who shows people who hated PE at school how to love exercise.

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