OK, ladies, does this sound like you? You make it to your son’s baseball game but forego your favorite yoga class—again. You cook a nutritious meal for your family but just have a diet soda while they eat. Or you spend all day Sunday cleaning an elderly relative’s home while your own laundry piles up.

If you see yourself in any of these scenarios, slow down and think for a minute. When was the last time you took care of your own health and your own needs?

Whenever you board a plane and prepare for takeoff, a flight attendant reminds you that if oxygen masks are necessary, be sure to secure one for yourself before helping children or others. Why? Because if you don’t take care of yourself first, you will be of no use to the people around you. This is true on an airplane and in every aspect of your life.

Taking care of yourself is not selfish; in fact, it is a pure form of stewardship. You were given one body in this life, and it is your job to care for it and treat it with love. If your body breaks down, you will be unable to be a mother to your children, a loving partner to your husband or significant other, or even a productive member of society. There are probably so many things you want to accomplish! But you won’t be able to achieve them if you don’t put yourself first occasionally.

Here are some ways to carve out the time that you need:

  • Make a trade. If you care for small children, swap babysitting time with another mom. Then use your free time to go for a run, take a long bath, or go grocery shopping in peace.
  • Write it down. If you are pressed for time—as a mother or as a career woman or both—schedule exercise on your calendar. Whether you hit the gym during lunch or after work or during your kids’ naptime, give it the importance of a business meeting. Your health should be a priority.
  • Get help. If an older relative or neighbor need assistance, don’t try to do everything yourself. Find a local cleaning service (with workers who have had a background check) to help around the home.
  • Divide things up. If your spouse expects you to care for the kids and work and manage everything around the house, do a reality check. Make a list of all the responsibilities in your household and talk to him about ways to divide tasks up equally. If he has time for a weekly golf or tennis game, so should you.
  • Do an inventory of your health. When was the last time you got a checkup, a dental cleaning, a mammogram, or new glasses? Your kids aren’t the only ones who need to see a doctor. Take time to schedule medical appointments and then be sure to keep them. Not only is it good for you, but it sets a good example for your family.
  • Avoid eating on the run. No matter how crazy your days are, good nutrition is critical for your overall health. Keep plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables on hand, since they make for good snacks. Also focus on lean protein, low-fat dairy, and whole grains. Take time to sit and eat a meal—not grab a granola bar or eat chips in front of the computer.
  • Listen to your body. If you’re feeling short of breath or if you have chest pain, don’t just assume these issues will go away on their own. Women experience heart attacks differently from men, so be sure to get medical attention right away if something feels wrong. This holds true for any unexplained symptoms you are having.
  • Slow down and breathe. Even if you are racing all over town, taking your kids to practice, picking up the dry cleaning, getting prescriptions, etc., find ways to relax. Just taking a few deep breaths at a stop light can help. Remember that occasional stress is a normal part of life, but chronic stress can lead to a host of medical issues.

Dr. Karen V. Smith, a physician with Aggie Family Doctor, PA, who is associated with North Hills Hospital, explains it this way: "When a master artist enters the studio, the first thing he does is take care of his tools. When he leaves for the day, the last thing he does is care for his tools. The tools are not the painting, but oh, how critical they are. In the same way, taking care of our own selves—body, mind and spirit—keeps us ready to help others."

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