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Living Right: Putting Yourself First

When your work involves taking care of someone else on any level, making sure you're also taking care of yourself is especially important—but also sometimes difficult. Consistently letting yourself drop to the bottom of your priority list can negatively impact all aspects of your life, from your work to your personal relationships.

Taking care of yourself, however, isn’t a one-size-fits-all endeavor: only you can figure out exactly what works for you. Marcie Stern, a leadership development coach and motivational speaker from Marcie Stern & Associates in Homewood, Illinois, talks about self-care this way with her clients: “We each have our own needs, various work/life demands and own definition of what self-care looks and feels like,” she says.

“I encourage everyone to define self-care for themselves, especially in the areas of mental, emotional and physical self-care.”

Find Your Definition

The goal is to find a good balance between your professional and personal lives, and one place to start is by taking the time to really pay attention to your own needs. For Stern, assessing your needs means to thoughtfully consider your values.

“It’s critical for people to know what their core values are and then align their decisions of how they choose to spend their time and energy with those core values,” she explains. “Using a values inventory exercise, for example, may help you have ‘aha’ moments as you drill down on your values.”

Identify where what you’re doing might be bumping up against your core values. Getting to the heart of who you are and what you value will make understanding what you need to take care of yourself less difficult.

Start Small

 For some, self-care is going to have to start with a change in perspective, moving away from putting everyone else first and taking time to really make self-care a priority.

“The bottom line is that if we can put ourselves on the priority list, then we will be more likely to take the necessary actions to support self-care,” Stern says. “This may require a shift in attitude because so many caregivers are people pleasers and want to focus on caring for others first.”

According to Stern, when you’re able to shift your perspective to a point where “I matter” becomes a natural thought for you, self-care also becomes natural. 

Start with small changes. “Think about where you are now when it's comes to putting your health first and where you would like to be in the next 90 days,” she explains. “Then, break down these goals into small and reasonable steps that can translate into a personal action plan.”

So, can you pinpoint areas where you know something isn’t working and find relatively simple solutions? If you're not already, integrating regular massage therapy into your routine is one step toward self-care, along with committing to a manageable exercise program.

Stern also encourages people to take the time to say yes to those activities that support them and the work they do instead of simply eliminating those things and people who might be encroaching on their ability to practice effective self-care.

Overcoming Stumbling Blocks

As with many things in life, self-care can have a two steps forward, one-step back feel sometimes. You might find you’ve diligently followed a self-care program and were derailed somehow, by an illness, for example, or an unforeseen scheduling change. The fact is that there will probably always be times when you find yourself slowly dropping down your priority list.

Knowing where you might stumble can go a long way in helping you keep yourself at the top of your priority list, however. “I suggest identifying barriers in advance,” says Stern. “Essentially, the people and situations that will be obstacles for moving forward.”

Also, don’t be surprised when you find out that it’s you who are getting in the way of your own self-care. “We can be our own worst enemies when it comes to taking actions on our own commitments,” Stern says.“Putting yourself on the priority list is something that may feel uncomfortable at first, but with baby steps, people will start to seek out self-care activities in a fairly short period of time.”

Finding what works for you is key. Remember to find the right mix of self-care practices that keeps you at your best.

Source: This article was excerpted from mtj® (Massage Therapy Journal®) Spring 2013. Subscribe to read the entire article.

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