It’s a new year! Many of us are coming off of the holidays with hopes and expectations for the
coming year. Perhaps there are some major things you want to be different this year, or maybe,
you are simply making a small shift in one area of your life. You might be someone who’s had
enough of New Year's resolutions altogether and want nothing to do with them!
Whatever your particular philosophy, we probably all agree that it’s never a bad time to be
reminded of what it means to prioritize ourselves – to do a little “inner inventory” and take stock
of how things are going for us.
What does it mean to priortize yourself?
Prioritizing oneself involves making conscious choices to (at times) put your needs above and
before the needs of others. This is easier said than done, and some of us may not even
understand how this is actually possible, given all the demands of life.
Many of us consistently put others first, especially if we have children, aging parents, partners or
are in situations that seem to demand so much of us. Some of us place our friends first, and are
available to them at all times, even if it wears us down. Others put work first, making this the
priority at all costs.
Prioritizing yourself does not mean that we don’t attend to the needs of others. To the contrary –
we can be more fully available to others authentically because we are first available to
ourselves. It’s putting your oxygen mask on before you place it on someone else – no matter
who the “other” is. If we are not getting enough emotional, physical, mental, relational or spiritual
oxygen, how can we provide this to others in any sustaining way? Even if we do for a time, far
too often we end up exhausted, at the end of our rope or feeling disconnected from ourselves.
Let’s remind ourselves, this first month of 2024, that there is another way! It might take some
effort, some intentionality, and some hard conversations or decisions, but prioritizing ourselves
has a tremendous payoff both for ourselves and the people we love.
Think of a time you put yourself first, or, done something for yourself even when others didn’t
understand it. Just take a minute to bring something to mind. It may have been something as
simple as taking a walk by yourself in the middle of the holiday business, or as challenging as
establishing a boundary with a loved one. Even though it was probably difficult to do, what was
the outcome? How did it ultimately make you feel? More peaceful? More aligned with who you
When We Don’t Prioritize Ourselves
When we are in the habit of not making ourselves a priority, we can suffer and experience
negative effects. These can include:
● Becoming resentful of people or projects we care about. Sometimes we end up doing
things we don’t want to do, such as having unexpected outbursts of frustration or anger,
or treating others with less kindness and care.
● Pulling away from others unintentionally. This can happen when we consistently place
others’ needs before our own, but are unaware of how this affects us, or dismiss it is “not
a big deal”. When we do this, we may actually end up pushing that person away, or
withdraw from them, not because we don’t love them, but because we do not yet know
how to be in healthy relationship with them. Remember, this is NOT the same as
consciously moving away from reltiionships that are no longer good for us. Rather, this is
our way of unconsciously creating a boundary with others when we do not consciously
and intentionally do so.
● Negative health effects. Not prioritizing ourselves might result in health challenges. This
can show up as chronic back pain, headaches, unintended weight gain or loss , skin
issues, etc. Sometimes, our body is trying to tell us that something is wrong.
● Mental health challenges. We might experience feelings of anxiety, depression,
distractability, sleep issues or have a hard time feeling hopeful or motivated. Sometimes,
we aren’t aware of how much our mental health is being effected. It is only after we
make changes and begin to put ourselves first that we recognize the emotional toil it’s
had on us.
● Relationship challenges. When we are not prioritizing ourselves, we may not have the
emotional space or energy to love others the way we truly want to. We might find
ourselves neglecting relationships that mean the most to us.
● Emotional buffering. We may find ourselves using alcohol, food, screens, work, sex, etc.
in an attempt to manage uncomfortable feelings, without actually facing, addressing or
healing the root of what makes us uncomfortable. Buffering is a way to avoid what’s
really going on, and can be something we do when it feels too hard to change.
Give Yourself Time for Reflection
With the constant “to do’s” and business of life, we may not be aware of ways that we aren’t
making ourselves a priority and the effects this has on us. As a starting place, begin to make a
habit of creating time and space for self reflection, even though this may feel like the last thing
you have time for – it is so important!
Try and spend time with yourself as you would a good friend. Ask yourself:
● How am I feeling about the circumstances of my life? Is there something that needs to
● How are my relationships? Where am I feeling tired, resentful, discontent?
● How is my mood? Am I finding moments of happiness each day? Am I dreading certain
things that I’m doing or relationships I am in?
● How am I tending to my emotional, physical and mental wellbeing?
● Where am I not putting myself first, and what small steps can I do to change this?
Being honest with ourselves is the first step in identifying if something needs to shift. Ask
yourself these important questions, and then, as honestly as you can, answer. Having a journal
to write things out can be helpful. You can do this as often as you like, but it can be especially
helpful when things feel “off” or you feel out of balance, fatigued, agitated or are struggling in
Little things you can do each day
Putting ourselves first does not have to be a massive overhaul of our lives. More often than not,
its about the small decisions we make each day. Some examples might be:
● Saying “no” to a social event or time with a friend when we are feeling tired.
● Being more firm about bedtimes for your children, or implementing daily rest times for
them so that you have some time to yourself.
● Waking up 15 mins early to ask yourself “How am I doing?”.
● Listening to relaxing music in the evenings and lighting a candle, taking a few breaths.
● Establishing simple rhythms in your life that help you, such as walking for 10 minutes
● Asking for help – and then allowing it. Ask a friend, a parent, or someone in your church
or community. Perhaps you need help in organizing a space in your house that’s been
overwhelming to you. Or, maybe you need help with your children. It can be hard to ask,
but if you take the risk, you may be surprised who shows up.
Whatever prioritize yourself means, it is your journey, and ultimately only you will know what
your path is.
One step at a Time
Be kind to yourself. This isn’t about perfection – it’s about making small choices each day, and
taking steps to better tune into yourself to discover how to put yourself first.
You may be thinking, “You don’t know my life! There is no way I can put myself first given all the
things I have going on!”. Consider even the smallest of shifts that can give you oxygen.
Remember that learning how to better prioritize yourself is how you will be more fully equipped
for all the demands of your life.
If you could use support in cultivating healthy relationships, or anything specific to this topic,
consider contacting us for support. We would be honored to walk along side you.