How to Take Care of Yourself…when you’re taking care of everyone else.

How to Take Care of Yourself…when you’re taking care of everyone else.

Is It Possible?

You’ve probably heard the cliché, “If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to take care of anyone else”.  Right now, however, in the midst of a pandemic that is imposing overwhelming demands on you as a leader, you’re probably realizing that taking care of yourself is a lot easier said than done.

Every day I’m talking to leaders who are giving their all to care for others during this time of crisis.  Long-term care managers who are working 14 to 16 hours a day to contain outbreaks.  Emergency room doctors who are adapting to new protocols with dwindling supplies each shift.  Business owners who are pivoting strategies in the hopes of keeping the lights on.  And in many cases the reality of home schooling their children and taking care of elderly family members is above and beyond these work demands.

You can easily start to wonder if it is even possible to carve out time to care for yourself with all of the expectation around caring for others.

A Tension to Manage

“As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.”
Audrey Hepburn

Like many complexities in life, it’s important to realize that taking care of yourself while taking care of others is not a problem that you’ll ever solve, but instead, an ongoing tension that you need to manage.  As this graphic illustrates, there are positive results that can only come from embracing both Care for Self and Care for Others; and, there are negative results that are inevitable if you overdo one side to the neglect of the other.




Reflect on the past month. Have you reached out to make a difference in the lives of your clients, team members, friends and family? Have you prioritized time to give yourself the care you need to stay strong and positive? Take a look at the graphic below and assess which of the four quadrants you are currently living in.



“The key is not spending time, but investing it.” 
Stephen R. Covey

Before you make a list of what you’re going to do to take care of yourself, you would be wise to figure out how you’re going to find the time to do these things.  The implications of COVID-19 such as social-distancing, being an essential service, and working from home have resulted in everyone having new schedules to manage.  For some this means more hours at home than you’ve had in years.  For others it may mean more hours away from home than you’ve ever experienced.  Because of this schedule disruption, it’s important to go back to some time management basics and reflect on where most of your time is being spent.

In the book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, author Stephen Covey offers a simple yet profound way for you to look at how you spend your time.  He suggests that everything you do throughout the day can fall in one of the following four quadrants:


Covey’s big idea is that the most effective people in life are always looking for ways to spend less time in quadrants 1, 3 and 4, and invest that time in quadrant 2.   This often comes from eliminating things in quadrant 4 (shut off the Netflix) – delegating or declining things in quadrant 3 (it’s OK to say ‘no’ to people) – and doing things now in quadrant 1 to be done with them.

  • Since dealing with the COVID-19 crisis, what quadrant(s) have you been spending the most time in?
  • What is one way you can spend less time in quadrant 1, 3, or 4, and spend more time in quadrant 2?
  • What quadrant 2 activity would be the most effective use of your time right now?



Once you’ve succeeded at carving out some time to invest in some much-needed self-care, the question becomes, “what is going to give you the biggest bang for your buck?”  And the answer is going to be different for everyone.

When talking with self-care expert Laura Hughes she stresses two important things you need to keep in mind when investing in yourself.  First, you have to find the unique form of self-care that works for you. Each of us have different needs and part of practicing effective self-care is knowing which actions feel most supportive and help you feel the way you want to feel.

Second, you need to remember that effective self-care is both manageable and meaningful. It’s doing simple things consistently that make the biggest impact on your mental wellness and health.  Don’t beat yourself up for all the things you’re not doing!  Instead, just start adding simple rituals to your day and to your week.  Things that you know you can commit to and follow through with. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Move Your Body – Schedule time each day for some stretching or a walk outside.
  • Drink More Water – Fill up your water bottle after breakfast and after lunch and commit to drinking it fully each time.
  • Connect – Call a loved one. Set up a daily or weekly phone or video chat.
  • Relax – Rewatch a favourite show that feels nostalgic.
  • Rest – Enjoy a cup of tea in a cozy spot before a shift or opening your laptop in the morning.
  • Reflect – Ask yourself, “How do I want to feel?” (e.g. calm), and then, “What would help me feel that way?”

As you work to find the time – even a small amount of time – to invest in yourself each day, you will gain the strength and peace of mind to serve others well.  When you acknowledge and accept your needs and prioritize them as much as the needs of others, your resilience begins to grow.  As you find new ways to care for yourself, while still caring for the needs of others during this crisis, you become both supportive and strong.


Tim Arnold is passionate about helping people understand the chronic issues that limit leadership and teamwork, so they can thrive.  He is the author of The Power of Healthy Tension and speaks to organizations around the globe on how they can overcome chronic issues and conflicting values.

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