Help Yourself First: Make Time for Self-Care

According to the Harvard Business Review, “presenteeism” costs U.S. companies over $150 billion a year.  Presenteeism happens when we aren’t as productive or effective at work, because of illness or medical conditions.

Unfortunately, I see this all the time. Some industries are full of people who are burnt out and/or ill, with a variety of health problems that affect their ability to meet the industries‟ vision.

Abraham Maslow’s famous Hierarchy of Needs points out that our basic physical needs must be addressed before we can focus on growth or accomplishment in any other area.

Remember the instructions you are given each time you fly somewhere? What are the instructions? Put the oxygen mask on yourself first, otherwise you won’t be able to help anyone.

Help Yourself First (photo courtesy of

Help yourself first.

Your health is the most important thing you have, a lesson brought home to me in a very personal way since I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

I no longer think it’s selfish to make sure I eat the right foods at the proper time. That’s what I need to do to function at my top capacity. I’m not helping anyone by pushing myself and ignoring my health. My work and my relationships are bound to suffer, and what’s the value in that?

The simple fact of the matter is that whatever you make more important than your health you risk losing, right along with your health.

When I first started speaking professionally, I didn’t think I could say no to work. I wanted to keep everyone happy and I thought in order to build my business I had to accept every opportunity. Before long, I was flying in from one city and out to another city on the same day. I’d have less than a day to reconnect with my family, relax and recharge my batteries.

It didn’t take long for the signs of burnout to creep in, and I could see that if I didn’t change things FAST, I wouldn’t be pleasing anyone, least of all myself.

Is life stressing you out? (photo courtesy of

Don’t Have Time to Take Care of Yourself?

Doing a leadership training session with a group of youth, I asked them how long they spent watching television every day. The answers were pretty typical, just what you’d expect from a bunch of teenagers.

But when I opened their mind to all of the other things they could be doing with that 168 hours every week, wow! We quickly filled a flip-chart with things like reading, playing sports, spending time with friends – things they didn’t think they had time for.

Here’s an eye-opening exercise for YOU about time:

1. Now that you’ve decided self-care (taking care of your health) is a priority for you, write that down on a piece of paper, next to the number 1.

2. List the 4 other most important things in your life.

3. Write down exactly how you spent your time in the last 24-hour period, and compare the activities with the list you just wrote.

To change this, write a personal mission statement that incorporates what you’ve defined as most important to you.

Forget about those long and confusing mission statements you might have seen in the corporate world, stick with one or two sentences that are meaningful for you.

Mine is: In everything I do, I want to be positive, help others and be inspiring.

Every evening use your personal mission statement to plan your next day. First include time for self-care, e.g. planning meal times, physical activity and time for relaxation. Use the remaining time to plan whatever else is important to you. If family was on your list, plan some family time. If a hobby was on the list, carve out some time for that.

You can also check in with your personal mission statement during the day to stay on track. It can become the guiding foundation for all of your choices.

At the end of the day, remind yourself what you really enjoyed doing. Then, ask yourself what you’re looking forward to doing the next day. These two steps will help to reinforce your new positive habit of helping yourself first.

And remember, illness is a message from your body, “stay home and slow down!” It’s a gift; the chance to change your routine, get rid of toxins in your body and give yourself a little TLC. Oh, and it’s also a chance to take back some of that television time, but don’t get too used to it!

The Gem – Whatever you make more important than your health you risk losing, right along with your health.

Your Piggy Bank Payment – Create a self- care reminder that you’ll notice during the day. I have the words “Happy, Healthy, Wealthy” on the cover of my Day Timer. These words quickly remind me to go for a walk, reach for an apple or listen to an uplifting piece of music.

On the Write Track – Create a personal mission statement using the instructions from this article.

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