PUBLISHED: 4:08 PM on Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Don't forget to take care of yourself
A wise woman once told me that in order to take care of others I had to take care of myself first. I didn't pay much attention to this advice until many years later because our society frowns on people who are perceived as being selfish. Somehow I had confused the issue.

What I didn't realize was that by not taking care of myself first, I was being selfish because I was not available to others in a way that was truly meaningful.

Michelle Casey photo
  Relaxing - Alaska style!
I often put everyone else first and didn't take care of my own needs. I falsely believed that if I did something for myself I was taking something away from others. In fact, what happened was that I had less of me to give.

I recently took a vacation and had multiple "opportunities" to sit through the all-too-familiar pre-flight instructions from the flight attendant as we taxied to the end of the runway. While I had already heard the instructions enough times to recite them from memory, I found myself listening anyway. I often engage the flight attendant with my full attention because I know that I am probably only one of a few who are actually paying attention. What struck me was the part about donning our own oxygen masks before assisting anyone else in putting on theirs. It made total sense, of course. While you selflessly help another, you could easily pass out from lack of oxygen and be of no help to anyone.

A few years ago, I had to take a hard look at what I was doing. Overnight, I became the caregiver for a family member during a health crisis and I realized that I just couldn't do it all. Believe me, I tried! I was so involved with taking care of my family; working and volunteering that I never had a moment to myself. The more I did the worse it got.

I was so afraid of letting someone down that I was burning myself out. I was trying to do everything myself and wasn't asking for help. I was sapping my creative energy and contributing to the tension in our home and the harder I worked the less productive I became. I thought that what I was doing was best for my family and the people who depended on me. My intentions were good, but the results weren't.

I ended up crashing and burning. I got sick myself and came to a hard realization that something had to change. By stepping back, taking the time to exercise, learning to say NO and spending some time with myself, I became more resourceful, easier to get along with and more productive. The most amazing thing was that there seemed to be even more time available and life was definitely more fun.

It's important that we look for ways to take care of ourselves. Maybe you like to read or go for walks. Spend time with your family and friends or pets. More often than not the first thing to go when we get busy or stressed is our favorite relaxing activities, as if we suddenly don't feel that we deserve to relax or that we shouldn't waste the time. No matter what, whatever we feel is pressing will still be there when we get back to it. Working harder or longer doesn't make the work go away.

What are some ways that you can take better care of yourself? Here are some key methods:

• Take Time for Yourself. This is so very important. You need the time for revitalizing the spirit and remembering what is important to you;

• Make time for regular exercise. This is one of the easiest things to let slide, either because we don't feel that we have the time or that we just aren't worth it. You will actually have more time, or at least more productive time, if you see this activity as a must-do. This will make you feel more energetic and provide a break from your daily activities;

• Have healthy, regular meals. It is not always easy to do, but it is important for your long term health;

• Get enough rest and sleep. Tiredness and exhaustion often add to the stress of caring for others;

• Plan your activities. By scheduling yourself for what is important it is easier to say no to those things that are not a priority for you. You don't have to tell anyone that you are scheduled for a walk or a bath; you can just say "I'm already booked." It's the truth!

Only you know what special treatment is best for you, but the ideas mentioned above should get you started.

We often choose to do things for others that we really don't want to do because we fear being criticized as selfish or uncaring. Acting out of duty or obligation isn't the answer. It usually leaves us feeling resentful. We need to do those things that revitalize us and give us the energy and clarity to be supportive of others. From this space we can offer our best.

Being there for others requires that we take excellent care of ourselves. You owe it to yourself and those you love to take good care of your most valuable resource-you!