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This is the eighth in a series exploring Dr. Kristen Lee’s (Northwestern University) nine lessons in personal and collective fortitude. Seen through the lens of a business operation, each lesson has application in the current national health and economic challenges, and for successful endeavors in the future.


Every airlines’ safety announcement includes these instructions: “In the event of a loss of air pressure, oxygen masks will be released overhead…Be sure to secure your own mask before assisting others.” Self-care can seem selfish. Shouldn’t we help others before thinking of our own needs?

The urge to look after others is very strong. If you’re a business leader, your job is to fulfill your team’s needs, troubleshoot on behalf of others, anticipate customers’ problems and provide solutions. Looking after yourself is often at the bottom of the priority list.

Especially in these highly stressful times, burnout is a danger among hard-working, hyper-responsible, achievement-focused leaders at all levels of business. Have you stopped to consider what would happen if you ran out of oxygen (in a business sense)? Self-care isn’t selfish. It’s necessary, not just for your own mental and physical health, but for the health of your organization.

Try these stress-reducing self-care techniques recommended by the Mayo Clinic:

  1. Get active– Physical exercise produces endorphins, the “happiness hormone.” Any exercise is good, but outdoor activities have the added benefit of contact with the natural world.
  2. Get still– The deep, controlled breathing of yoga and meditation calm the anxious thoughts that create stress.
  3. Get healthy – Good nutrition helps to keep stress hormones at bay. Avoid smoking and overconsumption of alcohol.
  4. Get connected – Socializing with friends and family breaks up the stressful thought patterns of introversion.

If you notice you’re having to force yourself to go to work, having trouble controlling your moods, feeling bone-weary every day, you may be experiencing the kind of stress that leads to burnout. Step back, give yourself a much-deserved break, and take care of your needs.

Many people rely on you. The most responsible thing you can do is to look after of yourself. Put on that oxygen mask. Then you’ll be able to assist everyone else.


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