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Put your own oxygen mask on first



At a recent strategy session, I was asked, as a leader, what keeps me awake at night. My first response was the wellness of our staff. That has been one of our most important focus areas for 2022 and will continue to be going into 2023. Then, discussing the strategy with our board, the theme of leaders also taking care of themselves became a key discussion point. The sad truth is that we don’t take it seriously and are even resistant to the notion. I’ve collated a list of things we can do to ensure our own wellness so that we can be role models of strong female leaders, give more of ourselves and have more impact.

1. Get enough sleep

In a hybrid working model, where we work all hours of the day and are always connected, I often see that leaders are online and working at all hours of the day. We need to be disciplined with our boundaries and ensure that we get enough sleep. Lack of sleep impacts productivity, quality, and decision-making capability. I have always been an early riser and find that the older I get, the more I struggle with sleep. No screen-time one hour before bedtime (a challenge for me), breathing exercises, positive affirmation self-talk, and journaling are all recommendations for improving quality of sleep.

2.Make healthy eating a priority

We all know the importance of eating healthily, yet we often struggle with this. It’s too easy to order take-aways or nibble on snacks. The importance of having regular, nutritious meals and snacks is linked to better moods, higher energy levels and reduced depression. I found some tips for healthy snacking: keep nuts and dried fruit in your desk drawer for when the blood sugar levels drop. Add a little protein to your snacks. Drink lots of water. Schedule your lunchtime – remember those boundaries.

3. Exercise

During this year, I found that I rarely found time to go to the gym. I simply don’t have a spare 90 minutes every weekday to go. When I started feeling tired and irritable during the day, I realised that it’s time to get the dopamine levels up and boost my energy. So I decided that I may not have 90 minutes, but I do have 30. Now I go to the gym every morning for half an hour, and I feel the difference in my energy levels. Not everyone likes going to the gym. This is where the experts say we must get to know ourselves and decide what energises us. Maybe it is yoga, or taking a walk, or hiking, or dancing. Whatever gives you genuine joy. And if you can do it with friends, even better. That’s two for the price of one.

4.Take breaks

I know diaries get extremely full and fill up very quickly, but studies show that taking breaks can help prevent decision fatigue, renew motivation, increase productivity, and improve memory. It is very important to schedule break time for yourself. And these can be “micro-breaks”; they don’t have to be long, but they must be things you love doing to focus on your soul. Walk in the garden, cuddle your dog, give your child a hug, have a good stretch – again, whatever allows you to connect with yourself. I think we need to be disciplined about literally giving ourselves a break.

5. Be kind to yourself

This weekend I read something that really spoke to me. “When you are alone, mind your thoughts.” Be mindful of your thoughts and accept yourself. As a perfectionist, I often beat myself up over the smallest mistake. I need to learn to accept that I’m perfectly imperfect and that I am enough. Let’s focus on the wonderful things we have in our lives, like a fantastic family and friends, loving pets, supportive colleagues, a good job and be grateful. If we focus on these positive thoughts and emotions, we will be better able to handle the demands and stresses of our professional lives.

6. Prioritise time for yourself

Religiously make time to do the things you enjoy doing on a daily basis. I read about a high-profile leader who has a candle-lit bath every night before bedtime, without exception. If you discover what you really enjoy, taking the time for your own little self-care ritual every day can contribute significantly to your ability to successfully fulfil your leadership role.

7. Community

Stay connected with friends and family. Community is known to be one of the core contributors to happiness. Reaching out to friends and family reduces isolation and sparks joy.

By practising self-care, we become role models to our staff by giving them the mandate to treat themselves with kindness as well. It makes business sense to ensure staff are happy, healthy, and engaged.