Proceed to the Top of Your List

— Written By Christine Smith and last updated by

If we don’t take care of ourselves, we won’t be of much use to anyone else. 

Does this sound familiar? Your office has become an unorganized storage room cluttered with stacks of papers, books, and boxes. Your in-box is overflowing. Your supervisor just added two more high priority things to your to-do-list. The phone rings and a customer is frantic demanding your immediate attention. And, another caller is waiting on the other line to speak with you.

The frenzied work routine does not stop at the office. You pick up the kids, stop by the store to pick up something for dinner, unload the car, start dinner, the kids start crying for attention, the phone starts ringing off the hook, at the same time you smell dinner burning on the stove. It’s 11:30 p.m. and you’re exhausted. And, in about six-and-a-half hours you’ll begin the whole 24-hour cycle again.

Before you know it, multitasking had become the accepted norm by which you measured the success of your day. The demands of life are enough to drive anyone crazy and there is never enough time to tend to your own needs.

If you find yourself saying ‘Stop the merry-go-round, I want to get off!’ you’re not alone. Most of us- especially women, but men too- have at some time found themselves at the bottom of the list when it comes to taking care of our needs.

Why is it that we feel guilty about taking a time-out for ourselves? If we don’t take care of ourselves, sooner or later we won’t be of much use to anyone else—or to ourselves.

Just as the airline attendant tells you to put on your own oxygen mask in an emergency before helping a child with theirs, you must take care of your own basic needs before you can attend to the needs of others. In fact, being skilled at taking care of yourself may improve your capacity to care for others; if you’re not fulfilled, you’re only able to see other people through the filters of your own needs. And studies suggest that not taking care of ourselves is unhealthy for those who depend on us. So go ahead, be selfish every now and then.

Remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: human beings must meet their basic needs before they can move on to higher-level goals.

Since most of us already know that we should take care of ourselves—but often have trouble figuring out how to do it, here are some guidelines for getting there:

  • Preserve your physical health with adequate sleep, exercise, and nutrition.
  • Value your emotional health as much as the physical, with a support system of friends and a willingness to laugh—especially at yourself.
  • Schedule fun activities on a regular basis—it’s just as important to plan pleasure as it is to plan work.
  • Kill two birds with one stone, combining family time with exercise, for example, which benefits everyone involved.
  • Try to look at the problems in your life with new eyes to find solutions. If you’re a new mom, for instance, see if you can trade childcare with another new mom to get some time for yourself.
  • Learn to say “No!” Your “yes” is valuable and should not be automatic. Instead, reserve it for the things that are most important to you.
  • Don’t try to change every problem area in your life all at once. Start with one or two items, then expand as you get things under control.

Your life should be like a checking account, balancing out on a regular basis so that you always have assets to draw upon. By making even small deposits—taking care of yourself with a 10-minute walk or a nutritious meal—you’ll be amazed at the interest you’ll reap.

Thought to Ponder:

It’s really ok for there to be times when you stop putting everyone else first and just do what’s best for you. ~ Unknown

The 3 C’s of Life: choices, chances, changes. You must make a Choice to take a Chance or your life will never Change. ~ Unknown 

Christine Smith is an Extension Agent in the department of Family & Consumer Sciences with N.C. Cooperative Extension, NCSU. Information on other services available can be found online at

Written By

Photo of Christine SmithChristine SmithExtension Agent, Family and Consumer Sciences (919) 731-1525 christine_smith@ncsu.eduWayne County, North Carolina
Posted on Aug 18, 2014
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