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Every few months, Sharon takes a secret personal day from work. In the morning, she says her usual goodbye to her husband and 20-year-old stepdaughter and heads to the gym. After an extra-long workout, she has the entire day to herself. "I do things I know my husband wouldn't enjoy: I go guilt-free shopping at secondhand and consignment stores, take myself out to a nice lunch, get a pedicure. A couple of times I've just driven up the coast, playing all my favorite CDs and singing along at the top of my lungs," says Sharon, 44, from Claremont, California. "Later, I come home happy and relaxed. When I'm asked 'How was your day?' I can just smile and say 'Fabulous!'"
For many women, taking alone time might seem like a guilty pleasure -- if not an impossibility. But M.J. Ryan, author of Trusting Yourself: How to Stop Feeling Overwhelmed and Live More Happily with Less Effort (Broadway, 2004), says that it's absolutely essential. "We have to have time for reflection, to ask ourselves 'What's going on for me?' and 'What are my priorities?' Otherwise, we end up living someone else's life," she says.
Robin, 39, from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, knows that alone time is essential to her mental health. Nevertheless, she still feels guilty about how much she needs and often "sneaks" it, too. A mother of three and writer, Robin uses the excuse of work to get time to herself. "I'll pretend I'm working and instead end up having coffee alone at Starbucks or even clothes shopping for some made-up reason, such as a bar mitzvah -- for which I already have five acceptable outfits," says Robin.
For Dianne, 47, from New York City, even sneaking alone time is an impossible dream. "Alone time? Ha!" says Dianne, who finds that her days are devoured by an endless cycle of chores and errands. "When you factor in what needs to get done -- work, grocery shopping, laundry, housecleaning, and the one thing I 'elect' to do -- going to the gym -- there's nothing left over. No time to daydream, walk slowly, get a massage," says Dianne.
So how do you create that much-needed, often-elusive alone time? Our experts offer some suggestions.
The problem, says Ryan, is that we think we need an excuse. "Often we don't think we have the right to time for ourselves. People don't understand that it's as critically important to stop as it is to go," says Ryan.
So whether you're a single woman who wants to catch a 6 p.m. yoga class or a mother who longs to see a matinee, understand that treating yourself well will enable you to be more generous with your family and more productive at your job. Do it for your husband, your kids, your friends, your employer. But most of all, do it for you.