How to Put Yourself First (Plus, a Self-Care Checklist)

Blanche Baxter |

by | Updated: March 9th, 2021 | Read time: 4 minutes

You’re feeling cruddy; you try to fight past it. You took the kids to practice, made time for your partner and met every deadline, but now you’re wiped out. Next morning you can barely get out of bed. Forced to stay home, while the world goes on without you, frustration hits.

The only time people stop is when their bodies give out. You want to be everything to everyone, but there’s a simple truth you need to realize first.

If you don’t take care of yourself, there’s nothing left for anyone else.Woman Learning How to Put Yourself First Sitting on Couch Writing Self-Care Checklist in Journal | in-flight instructions, a flight attendant says, “In case of an emergency, put on your oxygen mask before you put it on others.” A plane depressurizes, and there’s only a small window of time before you lose consciousness. You try and put a mask on someone else first; there’s a good chance you’ll pass out, and then both of you are in trouble.

If you put on your mask first, you are then able to take care of the people around you. By saving your life, you’re ready to safeguard others. So how does this translate into everyday life?

Well, it’s especially applicable to parents but true of everyone. People want to take care of those they love. You give them your all, even when you don’t have it to give. That works for a little while, but at some point, depletion hits and your gasping for breath. Cue irritability, sickness, depression, anxiety and all kinds of unhealthy coping strategies to get you through. If you don’t deal with the culprit, wipeout is imminent. But it can all be fixed with a little personal TLC.

How to put yourself first

The word selfish has gotten a bad rap. Picture yourself like a bucket filled with your mental and physical energy reserves. Everything you do empties the bucket at different speeds. Learning to put yourself first allows you to fill your bucket so that you can then share with those around you. If you don’t take time to fill it first, and often, you’ll reach a point where there’s nothing left.

A self-care checklist

There are a few simple things you can do every day to see where you stand on the self-care meter and remind you to look in on yourself.

Set an alarm (with a soothing ringtone) a couple times a day. Once it goes off, run through this list.

Mental self check-in:

  • Have I had enough water?
  • How’s my sleep/can I nap?
  • Did I eat anything/healthy snack?
  • Do I need to take a few deep breaths?
  • Where am I at emotionally?
  • Do I need a stretch break or a walk or exercise?

Pick at least one thing from the list that you can do for yourself right then and there. You may not need to do everything on the checklist each time, but it will get you in the habit of connecting with your own needs and filling them.

Add some calm

Yes, you’re busy. But you can still take moments, even small ones, that are just for you. Brew a cup of tea, take a bath, listen to music, call a friend or meditate. It’s easy to get wrapped up in life’s busyness, but five minutes here or there will go a long way to securing your sanity. Setting aside small chunks of “you time” will lead to larger pieces later.

Learn to say no

There will be many moments when we need to do for others, but there are also moments when they can learn to do for themselves. When someone asks you for something, try not to say yes automatically. Take a pause and evaluate. Ask yourself, “Does this help them? Does this feel right? Is this mine to do? Am I currently able to fulfill this request?”

After asking yourself those questions, you’ll feel more confident when you say yes that it is helpful to all parties involved, including yourself. If you say no; you can do it with less guilt. Besides, stepping back a bit lets others step up. The people around you might start to find added strength and confidence as they learn to take on more responsibility for themselves, be it your kids or coworkers.

Be kind to yourself

There will be moments when you let it go too far. When you get exhausted, overextend, snap or complain or whine. It’s all okay. Learning the art of self-care is a work in progress. Every kind thing you do for yourself adds up. You aren’t going for perfection. You are on a journey of self-care. Know you’re rocking it. Now give yourself a hug.