Why it matters to take care of yourself first (and how to do it)

In case you haven’t noticed, self-care is everywhere. Trust me, it’s definitely a buzzword. In fact, every day, I get an email from Google Alerts listing three articles about self-care that were published the previous day. Clearly, people have a lot to say about self-care.

But the thing with these articles is that they take a very surface-level approach to self-care. They tend to define it as a self-indulgent activity that is similar to the “treat yourself” mentality. You’ll often see self-care described as treating yourself to a manicure and indulging in a movie marathon. Sure, these activities feel good in the moment (I definitely don’t have anything against manicures and movie marathons) and can help you temporarily feel better but, once that manicure is over or once the movie credits start scrolling, you’re back to feeling the same way you were before. Is that really all self-care is?

The real answer is that self-care is so much more. Authentic and long-lasting self-care is not about feeling good in the moment. Rather, it’s about taking care of your physical, emotional, mental, relational, and spiritual needs so that you can be at your best and to build up your resilience to stress. When you are feeling your best emotionally and physically, you’re up for whatever life sends your way and self-care can help you do that. It’s far from being lazy or self-indulgent. Instead, it’s more of a discipline that, in the long run, can help protect you against the effects of stress and feel good about yourself.

Whether it’s physical or mental, stress is part of our everyday lives. Stress can come from having a busy schedule, being in a high-pressure job or school program, strained relationships with family or friends, dealing with a physical illness, or living with a mental health issue like anxiety or depression. And if you aren’t already taking care of yourself (e.g. eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, reaching out to your support system, etc.) stress can take a toll on your health.

The American Psychological Association (APA) reports that stress levels among Americans are rising: 71 percent of Americans reported experiencing stress in the last month of 2016 and that number increased to 75 percent in 2017. Stress can affect you in many ways including headaches, increased depression or anxiety, insomnia, compromised immune system, high blood pressure, digestion issues, and muscle tension.

When you’re stressed, you’re not at your best. You feel exhausted, short-tempered, and overwhelmed. And if you don’t take steps to manage the level of stress in your life, it can lead to chronic stress, which is also called burnout. Think of it as your body running on fumes. You can only do that so long before you run out of fuel and crash. In order to prevent that from happening and to keep your tank full, it’s important to have some kind of self-care routine in place.

While escaping to a deserted island can seem like an ideal way to get away from the stress in your life, it isn’t realistic for most of us. So how can you practice authentic self-care in your busy life right now and have it still be effective? The APA recommends maintaining a healthy social support network, exercising regularly, and getting proper amounts of sleep as important aspects of stress management. These three strategies can be a good place to start if you want to begin practicing some basic self-care.

Maintain a healthy support network

Human beings are social but stress can feel so isolating. Spending time with family and friends can prevent that isolating feeling from becoming overwhelming. Maintaining healthy relationships, especially when you’re stressed, is a simple yet effective way to help you manage stress. In fact, research shows that spending quality time with friends reduces your body’s stress response. This can look like simply calling a friend or family member to chat if you’ve had a stressful day, asking a friend to go for a walk with you, or inviting a friend over for dinner. Supportive friends and family can listen to what you’re experiencing and can provide you with advice and support.

Exercise regularly

Exercise is a great way to combat the effects of stress. When you exercise, your body reduces stress hormone levels, which can help to combat the physical symptoms of stress. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends getting 30 minutes of exercise six days a week.

When I tell my clients this, most of them feel overwhelmed at the thought of adding exercise into their busy schedule. But remember: exercise doesn’t exclusively mean sprinting on a treadmill or joining a spin class. Instead, think of exercise as anything that gets you up and moving. Exercise can be going for a walk or bike ride with a friend (look, you’re accomplishing two self-care strategies at once!), taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or taking a fun exercise class like Zumba.

Get enough sleep

The Sleep Foundation recommends getting seven to nine hours of sleep a night. However, the APA’s 2013 study on stress found that the average American adult is only getting 6.7 hours of sleep a night. And a lack of sleep can affect your memory, judgment, and mood, and it can contribute to feeling listless and more severe health problems.

So getting seven to nine hours of sleep a night can be a simple way to help you manage stress. Give yourself 20–30 minutes to fall asleep and factor that into your bedtime. It’s also important to avoid screen time before you go to bed. Instead of scrolling through your phone before you go to sleep, try reading, journaling, or listening to calming music.

These three simple self-care strategies can be personalized to fit your particular lifestyle, ensuring that you can easily accomplish them each day. Make a commitment to take care of yourself by cultivating healthy relationships, exercising daily, and getting enough sleep, and watch as you grow stronger while the effects of stress melt away.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that self care seems like the latest buzzword and something that you don’t have the time to tackle. That even if you did try to give yourself some self-care you’d fail, or that you’d feel guilty for even trying. That’s why I’m sharing 7 secrets to self care and why it matters.

Here’s the interesting part, self-care is vital for living a healthy and abundant life. I finally understood that after attempting to “do it all”. Yep, that’s right, I tried to do everything from being a great wife, mother, daughter, sister, in-law, friend,volunteer, boss all at the same time and I left myself out of the equation.

If you’re like me and have a long list of what you are attempting to do and be there’s a catch. It’s kinda like when you’re on an airplane and hear the announcement that we’re supposed to put on our own oxygen mask first before helping others in an event of an emergency. I don’t know about you but thankfully I’ve never actually faced the whole put on the oxygen mask situation. But I do suspect if I did, the mamma bear in me would ignore the directions and help my child (or whomever I’m next to) first. That’s just how I’m wired.

It’s the same thing when we’re trying to live an abundant life and fulfill several roles. The trick is to engage in deliberate activity in order to take care of our physical, emotional and mental health. The key is to engage in deliberate activity !

Key Decisions

Most of our roles involve making very deliberate sets of decisions. We make thousands of decisions daily. In order to get on the path to a healthy and abundant life you must decide to take care of yourself. You must also decide not to feel guilty about taking care of yourself. Easier said than done, but important decisions to make and keep!

As if that’s not enough, a huge secret to self care is that we need to engage in deliberate activity in three arenas. The physical, emotional and mental health arena’s. This includes eating well, resting well, exercising well and even playing well.

Self Care Fact Sheet

Check out the infographic which highlights the 7 secrets to self care.

Why it matters to take care of yourself first (and how to do it)7 Secrets to Self-Care and Aging Well

Why it Matters

In order to make these secrets work you’ll have to engage in deliberate activity. It matters to yourself and those that you love the most to do so. The challenge is that you’ll need to be strategic in which activities you’ll deliberately engage. This is so as to actually stand a chance at forming new habits.

You see, many of us set out to make lasting changes in our lives and we fail through no fault of our own. Dr. Rosane Oliveira from the UC Davis Department of Integrative Medicine shares that one of the most common errors is that we try to change too many habits at once. Check out the full article here to learn how to avoid the trap of trying to do too much at once.

Choose Wisely

Since life is a series of decisions, do yourself a favor and choose one or two of the secrets to aging well to start out with. Like many things in life, self care is a journey. All journeys begin with a decision and first steps. Take a moment to decide to take deliberate action in an area that you know you need to work on and give yourself permission to start slowly. The key is to begin and then to continue to take deliberate steps to increase the activity.

Give Yourself a Break

Starting anything can be challenging. Same thing with self care. Give yourself permission to make changes to your routines. Establish new routines and celebrate when you’ve done so. Be kind to yourself, take care of yourself first so that you’ll be able to help others.

I know that when I finally stopped feeling guilty about the self care that I began to engage in, I felt like a whole new person. The heavy burdens that I placed upon myself were lifting. Growth began from the inside out and I became a better person for all of the roles that I play in my own life and the lives of those I love.

Drawing back to the airline metaphor, self care is just like putting on your own oxygen mask first. It might seem selfish to do so, but you’ve got to take care of yourself first before you’ll be able to help others. It can be done!

Is part of your deliberate activity to adopt a plant-based lifestyle and you’re not sure where to start? Check out our getting started section to learn how.

If you’ve already begun your plant-based journey and are looking for a place to learn and gain some support and encouragement, join our free private Facebook group called She Builds Healthier Habits This group will help you to learn to take charge of your health and stay the course with the whole food plant-based lifestyle.

No matter what area you choose to focus on, best wishes on unlocking the secrets to self-care. It’s a journey worth taking!

Taking care of ourselves and doing what we love is not selfish.


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Why it matters to take care of yourself first (and how to do it)

Most of us are taught from an early age that being selfless is a good thing, and there are many proven benefits of altruism, to both our mental and physical well-being. However, sometimes the messaging we receive to be giving of ourselves, to push ourselves to the limit, be productive, and forgo our needs can be taken to an extreme in our everyday lives. If we’re not attuned to who we are and what we want, we can start to make sacrifices that don’t just hurt or limit us, but actually negatively impact those we care for.

Socrates gave two injunctions: Care for oneself and know oneself. He and other ancient ethicists understood that caring for ourselves is to exhibit an attitude not only toward ourselves, but also toward others and the world, to attend to our own thoughts and attitudes in self-reflection and meditation, and to engage in ascetic practices aimed at realizing an ideal state of being. Maintaining a certain regard for ourselves and engaging in self-compassion and self-care are actually fundamental to creating a good life for ourselves and the people who matter most to us.

1. When we feel depleted, we have nothing to give.

When we fill our time with responsibilities and constantly prioritize the needs of others over our own, we can drain ourselves of energy and desire. We’ve all experienced the difference between giving from a feeling of having something to offer—happily getting our kids ready, helping a colleague at work, cooking a meal for our partner, doing a favor for a friend, and making ourselves do these same activities because we “should.” The tasks remain the same, but our attitude shifts, largely based on our attitude toward ourselves. If we are kind to ourselves and considerate of our own needs, we are more likely to show up fully for the people to whom we extend ourselves. Otherwise, we may be going through the motions, but not engaging in a way in which everyone benefits—i.e., our kids feel nurtured, our job feels rewarding, our partner feels seen, and our friend feels cared about.

2. Doing what we love recharges us.

When we’re lit up and excited, we have more energy and positivity to offer the people around us. The time a parent “takes off” for a date night or an employee uses to rest instead of working at all hours is not self-centered. Just because it feels good to us doesn’t mean it denies others. In fact, by tending to our own needs and practicing good self-care, we alter the very quality of how we relate to others. Our families, friends, and coworkers get to experience us as the best and fullest versions of ourselves—happy and present.

3. We lose our real selves in the “do, do, do” mentality.

I know many parents who go above and beyond for their kids on a practical level. They literally pack every minute of their day into being chefs, chauffeurs, coaches, and clean-up crews for their kids. I also know people in relationships who focus on doing everything they can think of for their romantic partner. However, when we fall into a cycle of “go, go, go,” we often tally up achievements that we use to prove our worth, but rarely stop to experience what makes our hard work worth it to us. We may sacrifice our own interests altogether or stop enjoying personal connections that make us feel like ourselves. In doing so, we give up aspects of ourselves, but the people close to us also miss out on really knowing us.

4. We can drain others when we don’t get our own needs met.

One of the best pieces of advice my colleague Pat Love gives to parents is to get their adult needs met by other adults. When parents center their entire lives around their kids in an effort to be selfless, they put a lot of pressure on their kids to fulfill their lives and meet their needs. It’s so much better for kids to witness their parents as full and fulfilled people in and of themselves, thereby experiencing their parents’ example and not just their devotion. This is true in all of our relationships. If we don’t practice self-care and find healthy ways to meet our needs as individuals, we tend to have less energy, complain more, drag our feet, feel more resentment, and criticize ourselves and others, all of which can be draining to all the people we are seeking to benefit by setting aside our own wants and needs.

5. We lose ourselves to our “critical inner voice.”

When we are preoccupied by a drive to be “productive” or “helpful,” it’s valuable to look at what’s pushing us. Are we doing what we do because it makes us or the people we care about happy? Or are we driven by something else? Many of us have an inner critic that tells us we have to achieve certain objectives to be acceptable or worthy. This harsh internal coach tends to attack us from all angles and reinforce the idea that anything we do for ourselves is selfish. When we’re listening to this voice, it’s easy to lose track of what’s really going on around us. Are we living our lives the way we want? Are we really doing justice to the people around us by being present and feeling good? The critical inner voice is a huge distraction that affects our mood and behavior, and it can often be at the helm of an unrealistic desire to be “perfect” and always put others first.


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6. We fail to practice self-compassion.

One risk of becoming lost in all the things we “should” be doing for others is that we stop feeling for ourselves. To no surprise, research has shown that being kind to ourselves and practicing self-compassion improves our well-being. It also benefits the people around us. Researcher Kristin Neff has argued that having a kind attitude toward ourselves actually makes us better able to look at our mistakes and make real changes. In addition to self-kindness, she describes two other key elements to self-compassion—mindfulness, which involves learning to accept our thoughts and feelings without over-identifying and being overcome by them; and a sense of common humanity, which means not seeing ourselves as isolated or different in our struggles. Each of these three elements is important to practice because they help us stay attuned to ourselves, who we are, and what we need without judging ourselves too harshly or feeling unworthy or different from everyone else. If we can take time to practice self-compassion, we can feel more comfortable being ourselves, and extend this attitude to others.

7. Our stress hurts us and those close to us.

Our failure to stop and check in with ourselves and make time for the things that are meaningful to us can increase our stress. Filling our lives with responsibilities can generate a cycle in which being stressed feels like the norm. As a society, we are unapologetic about our stress levels, even wearing them like a badge of honor, proving our value. However, stress takes a serious toll on our mental and physical health. These effects often catch up with us and prevent us from enjoying our lives, not to mention affecting how we relate to others, often leading to more conflict, tension, and acting out in our relationships.

If you don’t take time to celebrate your accomplishments, you’ll never feel fulfilled.

Why it matters to take care of yourself first (and how to do it)

Why it matters to take care of yourself first (and how to do it)

A couple of days ago on Facebook, I was scrolling through the Medium Dreamers group. I came upon a post that said:

‘#SoProudSaturday This is the time to brag about curation, articles, pubs, success, life… What made you proud this week?’

I was going to keep scrolling. I thought I hadn’t done anything special enough to be proud of, but I forced myself to pause and think. Then, I remembered one thing I’d done.

I typed, “ I made top writer in Productivity and Creativity!” When I wrote that, I remembered another thing, and when I wrote that, yet another accomplishment came to mind.

In the end, I ended up writing, “I made top writer in Productivity and Creativity, my pub reached fifty followers, and I’ve published ten articles in six days!”

I also thanked the woman who’d asked the question. I told her I was thankful because I felt I hadn’t done anything significant this week, and her question forced me to acknowledge what I’d completed.

I felt pretty damn good after sharing those wins, and I realized I don’t usually feel that pride. Most of the time, I look at what I haven’t done and always feel disappointed in myself.

I’ve had enough of that.

In an article I read, Weight Watchers shared,

“Feeling proud of yourself will only motivate you to move forward with your short-term and long-term goals, therefore increasing your feeling of contentment.”

When I took a moment to recognize I’d written ten posts in six days, I felt proud because I thought I could never publish two articles in one day. And yet, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday, I did just that.

It made me realize I could do it again. That win motivates me to continue.

While you should remain hungry, there’s nothing wrong with leaning back against your chair to enjoy a sip of water before diving back in again.

Weight Watchers also shared the words of Nicole McCance, a psychotherapist based in Toronto.

“[When] You deprive yourself of feeling happy, proud, empowered and strong… this can cause general dissatisfaction about yourself and life in general. It can be a vicious cycle, one of striving to get somewhere but when you are there you don’t feel the happiness you expected.”

If you don’t take time to celebrate what you have done and the steps you’ve taken, you’re always going to be striving for more. All of us know from experience that when you do that, you find you’re never happy.

If you don’t stop this cycle, you’re never going to be content with what you’ve managed to accomplished.

While you should remain hungry, there’s nothing wrong with leaning back against your chair to enjoy a sip of water before diving back in again.

Over the past few months, I learned of two ways to feel proud of myself. Sadly, I don’t implement them enough, but when I have, it’s easier to feel happy for myself.

Set goals that you can control

On the last day of June this year, I set two goals for July. My first goal was to publish one article on Medium per day, and the second was to make at least $100 by the end of the month.

What’s the difference between these goals? I can control the first goal, but I don’t have any say over the second.

You can’t set goals based on factors you can’t control.

I can’t regulate how many people clap, how much, or even what their clap(s) will end up earning me.

I can, however, control whether or not I’m going to write and publish every day because that’s on me. I decide if I’ll write the post or if I’ll be lazy.

“Big goals are important. You should always have a clear vision of where you would ultimately like to be. But be sure to set yourself a number of smaller goals along the way. Accomplishment drives ambition. The dream might be the destination, but the little triumphs will get you there.”— Beau Taplin

I surpassed my $100 goal by three dollars. I didn’t reach that goal because I put it out into the Universe. I reached it because I took my first goal seriously and put in the work.

You can’t set goals based on factors you can’t control. When you tie your worth to that uncontrollable result, and you don’t reach it, your self-worth plummets.

You control the journey, so set goals around that.

Acknowledge what you’ve done

Our minds are always looking at what we’re lacking, rather than what we have. This applies to our work too.

Instead of acknowledging the work we’ve done and the goals we’ve reached, we focus on everything we have left in our journey.

We don’t look at the crossed off items on our to-do lists, but at the ones we’ve yet to do.

“Allow yourself to be proud of yourself and the process you’ve made. especially the process that no one else has seen.”— Unknown

N.A. Turner recently wrote about the importance of creating an ‘I Did’ list, which is where you’d put everything between the mundane tasks you do and the big ones you cross off from your to-do list.

He said that at the end of the day, he looks at that list and feels proud of what he’s managed to do.

He wrote, “By focusing on what I’ve done instead of what I haven’t… I would feel more content and in control.”

If you don’t take time to feel proud of what you’ve accomplished and only focus on what you haven’t done, your entire life will be filled with discontent, and you won’t feel fulfilled.

Perhaps you do have a long ways to go — maybe you’ve just begun — but that doesn’t mean you can’t already feel proud of yourself.

You leaped, didn’t you? That’s one of the hardest steps to take, and you might not have taken time to celebrate it yet.

“It’s highly important to be proud of your true self before you expect others to be proud of you.”― Edmond Mbiaka

So, feel pride. Believe me when I say: You deserve it.

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By Dr. Glen Xiong

Why it matters to take care of yourself first (and how to do it)

Why it matters to take care of yourself first (and how to do it)

Mental health is integral to living a healthy, balanced life. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), one in five American experience mental health issues which translates to more than 40 million adults a year.

Our mental health encompasses our psychological, emotional and social well-being. This means it impacts how we feel, think and behave each day. Our mental health also contributes to our decision making process, how we cope with stress and how we relate to others in our lives.

Why is emotional health important?

Emotional and mental health is important because it’s a vital part of your life and impacts your thoughts, behaviors and emotions. Being healthy emotionally can promote productivity and effectiveness in activities like work, school or caregiving. It plays an important part in the health of your relationships, and allows you to adapt to changes in your life and cope with adversity.

How can you improve your emotional health day-to-day?

There are steps you can take to improve your mental health everyday. Small things like exercising, eating a balanced and healthy meals, opening up to other people in your life, taking a break when you need to, remembering something you are grateful for and getting a good night’s sleep, can be helpful in boosting your emotional health.

When is a good time to reach out for help?

Issues related to mental health can impact different people in different ways. If you start to see changes in your overall happiness and relationships, there are always ways get the support you want. Here are some ways you can get help:

  • Connect with other individuals, friends and family — Reaching out and opening up to other people in your life can help provide emotional support.
  • Learn more about mental health — There are many resources you can turn to for learning more about emotional health. Some examples include Psychology Today, National Institute of Mental Health, and Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
  • Take a mental health assessment — An assessment can help determine if stress, anxiety or depression may be having an impact on your life. Doctor On Demand offers a free and private online mental health assessment that you can take at any time.
  • Talk to a professional — If you start to feel like your emotional health is starting to impact you, it may be time to reach out for extra support. With Doctor On Demand, you can see a psychologist or psychiatrist and find the personalized support you want.

Lastly, you can also learn more about taking care of your mental health on our blog. Discover ways to take a healthy approach to your emotional wellness, as well as understand issues like depression and how it can affect men and women differently. Read more articles by our caring team of psychologists and psychiatrists here to help support a healthy mind and lifestyle.

Why it matters to take care of yourself first (and how to do it)

Dr. Glen Xiong attended college at UC Berkeley, medical school at UC Davis, and completed his residency at Duke University. He has more than 15 years of clinical experience with expertise in psychopharmacology, depression, anxiety, neuropsychiatry, and memory care. Dr. Xiong takes a collaborative approach to patient care, striving to improve the lives of patients through compassionate clinical care while promoting choice and autonomy. He grew up in San Francisco and continues to live in Northern California.

Why it matters to take care of yourself first (and how to do it)

Interviewing over 4,000 of the world’s most influential leaders, there is one thing I know for sure. Your “why” matters.

The most common thing I find during my interviews is that the world’s top leaders have a strong clarity around their true purpose, and their actions are focused around supporting that why.

There’s another thing I know for sure. If you know your why, you’ll figure out the how.

The power of serving a strong why has resulted in more innovations today than we can count — not the least of which includes almost everything Steve Jobs created at Apple.

This is why determining one’s why is even more powerful for business owners and/or leaders.

So the immediate question becomes: How does one determine their why?

This question is one that I have dedicated much time to, and I can tell you that discovering your why probably won’t be easy. It often takes time and it absolutely takes action.

The good news is that even though there is no surefire exercise for guaranteeing the discovery of your why, the exercise I’m about to share has helped many people discover theirs or get much closer over the years.

First thing’s first: grab a pen and piece of paper. Of course, you can use your laptop or phone, but I think this is one of those exercises that benefit from an old-school approach.

I’d like you to start by making a list that answers some, or perhaps all, of these questions:

What is it that I would do if money wasn’t an issue (perhaps if I won the lottery)?

What is it I did when I was a child that got me most excited?

What would I do for free?

When I wanted to go in one direction but people talked me out of it, what did I want to do?

What do I think I’d be good at?

What do I love doing (i.e., when I do this, I don’t watch the clock)?

What do I believe strongly in?

What would I do if I knew I couldn’t fail?

When people talk about winning the lottery, they often say that if they were to win, they would move to a beach and never work again — they would do nothing. It sounds good in theory, but I believe we all need a purpose to identify with.

Most people would move to the beach for a short time, but most people would get tired of being at the beach daily and miss people close to them, interacting with people, etc. I also believe that when people lose their sense of purpose (be it a job, being around family, etc.) they also lose their innate desire for living.

That’s exactly why I believe it’s so important to truly reflect on and answer that question of what you would do if money wasn’t an issue.

So now that you have a list of things you would do if all other obstacles were removed, I invite you to prioritize the list in order of which items (i.e., playing guitar, photography, coaching others, teaching) you feel are the ones that most speak to or call out to you.

I’m all about spending your time efficiently, so the next step involves taking action in these areas, as they will have the best odds of helping you discover your why. In fact, one of those top passion areas on your list may be the thing that helps serve your why.

For instance, perhaps you choose coaching as the top priority on your list, and as you start taking baby steps in that direction, you ultimately figure out that your why is helping others realize their biggest dreams and/or goals so that you can have an invisible impact on the lives they positively impact.

In terms of taking action on the list item (and I realize this is the scary part for some) I recommend you figure out what the baby steps look like in relation to your item list. For example, if it were coaching, perhaps the baby steps include researching coaching online, reaching out to some coaches to see if you can take them out for lunch and pick their brain or schedule a coaching call with a potential coach or maybe even hire a coach yourself.

Once you’ve outlined the baby steps, it’s time to start taking the small steps that bring you closer to the item on the list. This way it’s not as scary as jumping into the big item.

I also recommend you reward yourself each time you successfully take another baby step as this will help motivate you to continue.

The key goal here is to start striking items off your list until one lights your fire and reveals the area that serves your why. It will reveal your why in the process.

Although this exercise isn’t guaranteed, when you consider that so many people live their entire lives without discovering their why, while so many have accomplished so much in serving their why, isn’t it worth taking this small journey?

Who knows — perhaps in doing so, you’ll impact hundreds, thousands or even millions of lives in the process.

You’re overwhelmed at work. You have a ton of projects piling up at home, and your calendar is packed with overdue tasks. To make room for all of this stuff, you skip lunch, stop going to the gym, and forget about your social life entirely. When we’re stressed, self care is usually the first thing to go. And that only makes things worse.

As fluffy and indulgent as the phrase “self care” may sound, it’s just a few basic habits that are crucial to your functioning. Most of us grew up believing that the more you sacrifice, the bigger the reward. In high school, for example, I once signed up for a debate tournament and forced myself to stay up all night preparing. I figured pushing myself to the point of exhaustion had to pay off. Of course, the next day, I was so exhausted I could barely form coherent sentences, and I tanked.

The point is, it’s easy to take the “hard work pays off” adage too far, to the point that it becomes counterproductive. Your abilities are worn. Your skills aren’t as sharp. You lose focus. You might think you’re working hard, and maybe you are in some ways, but you’re not working efficiently.

Self Care Isn’t Just Important, It’s Crucial

It’s easy to neglect taking care of ourselves because when we’re busy and overwhelmed, even a small reprieve feels like a luxury. So actually taking time to eat lunch, exercise, and hang out with friends? That just feels like slacking.

Why it matters to take care of yourself first (and how to do it)

Why it matters to take care of yourself first (and how to do it)

Teaching is an all-consuming career often characterized as emotional labor. It’s physically, mentally, and emotionally draining. It’s also a job that’s almost impossible to “leave at work,” whether in the form of a stack of papers to grade or persistent thoughts about how to help a struggling student. Practicing self-care, for teachers, is both vital and challenging.

Why Self-Care for Teachers Matters

The term “self-care” might imply selfishness, but that’s far from true. Teachers who don’t practice self-care are likely to experience exhaustion and burnout. In that state, you can’t bring your best self to the classroom.

By taking good care of yourself first, you can take even better care of your students. You can access your brilliance, your composure, and your patience. You can greet your students with a smile, and answer their questions with a smile too. (Even for the fiftieth time.)

Self-care is even more important for teachers who work with students impacted by trauma. And considering almost 35 million children in the U.S. alone have experienced trauma, most teachers probably fall into this category.

These teachers are “trauma-adjacent” and may experience secondary traumatic stress, also known as compassion fatigue. Signs of compassion fatigue include anxiety, aggression, depression, difficulty focusing, excessive drinking, and sadness and/or anger. Trauma-impacted children need structure, stability, safety, and connection, which you can’t offer when struggling with these symptoms.

Sacrificing your needs for the needs of others will make you less effective at what you do, ultimately helping no one.

Self-Care for Teachers: 7 Tips

Take care of yourself—and those around you—by implementing these simple self-care tips.

1. Start your day with something positive.

Create a positive morning ritual, even if it means waking up 15 minutes earlier than usual. Write in a journal, meditate, stretch or exercise, or read a chapter in a good book while sipping your morning coffee. Listen to some of your favorite songs and sing or dance along. Cuddle with your dog. Take a walk, or say a prayer if you’re religious.

Whatever lifts your spirits and sets the tone for a positive and productive day, do it! It’s highly beneficial to spend some quiet time alone before the needs of others come rushing in.

2. Practice healthy habits.

Healthy habits include drinking enough water, eating balanced meals, getting plenty of sleep, and exercising. When you feel good physically, you also feel better mentally. These practices also keep you feeling regulated, stable, and strong.

If you struggle to set new habits, link them to existing routines. For instance, drink a glass of water before brushing your teeth in the morning and at night, or briefly exercise while dinner cooks.

3. Make time for activities that soothe your stress.

Find at least three stress-relieving activities that work for you. What helps you feel calm, happy, and at peace? These might include taking deep breaths, listening to music, squeezing a stress ball, writing in a gratitude journal, painting, etc.

Do these activities consistently. Pay attention to what triggers your stress, and learn to recognize the signs that your stress is building. Create an “emergency self-care” kit for work, so you can break out some of these activities as needed.

4. Take breaks.

As a teacher, your day is exhaustingly social. Take 10-15 minutes to decompress at the end of the school day or during your planning period. Sit quietly and reflect, or do a favorite stress-relieving activity.

If you can only grab five minutes, that’s OK. Just remember that you don’t always need to rush to answer the next email or plan the next lesson. Take a few minutes for yourself, and you can attend to these tasks with a clear mind.

5. Have reasonable expectations for yourself.

Teachers want to fix every problem for their students, take away their hardships, and change the world. When this isn’t possible by the time the bell rings, they feel a sense of failure.

Remember, even teachers are only human. Be kind to yourself by setting reasonable expectations. Think in terms of what you’d like to do and what you reasonably can do. For instance, you can provide a loving and supportive classroom environment. You can advocate for your students. You can take good care of yourself so you can show up as your best self every day.

End each school day by taking a few deep breaths and saying a mantra like, “I have done what I could do today,” or, “I have done good/important work today.” Then say, “I will let the worry and stress go until tomorrow.”

6. Set boundaries.

Similarly, it’s important to say “no” sometimes. You simply can’t do everything for everyone, even if you’d like to. Don’t try to volunteer at every school event, attend every game, or serve on every committee.

Another valuable boundary is to leave your work where it belongs—at work. However, some teachers report feeling more stressed when using this strategy. Find a compromise that works for you. Don’t work after 7:00 P.M., don’t work on the weekends, or designate every other weekend as “work-free.” However you choose to do it, make sure you hit the off switch sometimes.

7. Ask for help.

Interestingly, the people who offer the most help often have the hardest time asking for it. Create a strong support system both in and out of school, and don’t be afraid to reach out when you have a hard time. After all, you aren’t asking for anything you wouldn’t happily give!

Many teachers (and others in helping professions) also benefit from talking to a therapist or counselor. In addition, take time off when you need it. Your students will be OK for one day, and you’ll return feeling refreshed, recharged, and ready to offer love and patience to all.

Final Thoughts: Self-Care for Teachers

Self-care for teachers is an essential practice if you want to avoid chronic stress, burnout, and limited productivity. Banish any guilt you associate with self-care, and think of it as the only way to offer your best self to others. And remember, you deserve to be cared for too!

Follow these seven self-care tips, and you’ll feel much better—and teach better too.

Why it matters to take care of yourself first (and how to do it)

Take time for you.

Do something indulgent for yourself because you deserve it.

By the end of the day, I want to numb out on my favorite Netflix show with a glass of wine and maybe some chocolate. Who can blame me with all the messages that bombard my mind on an hourly basis, like the ones I just mentioned.

I work outside the home and have three kids; two of those children have special needs which means the official clinical syndrome of “Burnout” applies to my life and I have a feeling yours too. The World Health Organization characterizes this burnout as mental, physical, and/or emotional exhaustion, this condition of chronic stress threatens millions of Americans who face long work hours, difficult work and home situations, and little time for rest.

We as women, mothers, wives, joke that self-care is indulgent. Who has time for that? Who has the luxury of locking themselves in the bathroom for three hours to enjoy a voluminous bubble bath in a clawfoot tub and a glass of wine? We have very little time to ourselves or at least that’s what we are supposed to think.

Perhaps this is why all the commercials we view have the same script: A stressed out, overworked mom who needs to escape her reality with “insert product here,” ads. Wine, chocolate, a girls weekend in Vegas, bubble bath soap that has that extra something special for your senses. These self-care promises do not even skim the surface of a much deeper issue: there is no miracle product that fixes the more serious need for a woman to be revitalized, replenished, and refueled from the inside out.

What if I told you self-care was so much more than a desired list of activities but rather more about soul-care, and filling our cup from the inside out? We, as Christian women don’t need Self-Care, we need Soul-Care. We need Spiritual-Care. We don’t need to escape our reality. We need spiritual vitality.