People who consistently put the needs of everyone else in their life first eventually come to resent it, and can actually get hurt in the process. Either that, or it’s a much deeper form of dysfunction that’s harder to spot, e.g. enabling, or a martyr complex. In the spirit of keeping it light, this article will take a brief look at the former.
While selfishness of course does not help anyone, neither does self-neglect. It’s important to know that it’s okay to place your needs at the top of the list and that there are times when it’s actually essential, not only for your own health and safety, but that of the others in your life as well. Remember, you matter!
Here are 9 times when it’s important to put your needs first:
1) When You’re Neglecting Regular Meals
Food is a basic need for humans to survive. In order for our bodies to perform well, they need to have sustenance. Sure, eating is time-consuming — the preparation and consumption of food can pull you away from the tasks you’d rather focus on, but there are real consequences to not providing our bodies with food.
Blood sugar levels in the body dip when a body needs food. Low blood sugar can make a person irritable and more likely to become impatient with others, make snap judgments and battle to handle stress. A study by scientists at the Max Planck Institute has shown that hunger impacts decision-making and perception of risk in fruit flies.
To put yourself first, which will prevent a blood sugar crash and the fallout from it, keep snacks on hand. Make it a priority to feed your body. If you work at a desk, be sure to have a stash of nutritious options to stave off any “hanger.”
Also, keep prepared meals in your fridge for when you’re running low on time but still want to perform your best.
2) When You’re Overtired
Lack of rest can lead to all kinds of problems for you and others. Being sleep-deprived can slow your thinking and learning. You won’t be as sharp, alert or able to concentrate and problem-solve. With your focus and clarity lacking, accidents big and small can happen, hurting you or others.
Feeling overtired can result from a number of causes:
- Underactive Thyroid
If your thyroid gland isn’t functioning well, there won’t be enough thyroid hormone (thyroxine) in your system. This hypothyroidism will make you feel drained and make your muscles ache.
A depressed mood can cause very real sleep disturbances. Not being able to sleep and insomnia is common for depressed patients. Interrupted sleep, where a person wakes up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back asleep is another common effect of depression. This can become a vicious cycle as lack of sleep can perpetuate and advance the depression.
- Alcohol Use
One common belief claims alcohol helps with sleep. However, it has quite the opposite effect. Studies have revealed that people who don’t consume alcohol before bed achieve more restful sleep. Alcohol affects the REM sleep cycle, causing a person to not feel rested upon waking.
This describes someone who’s running low on iron. This iron deficiency can cause reduced work capabilities in adults, as well as fatigue.
- Screen Time
Spending too much time in front of your smartphone, tablet or computer before bed messes with your melatonin levels. It’s the hormone that’s in charge of your sleep/wake cycle. You need to practice sleep hygiene.
3) When You’re Sick
We’ve all tried to push through sickness, whether we pop pills to minimize our symptoms or just cough our way through the workday. Downplaying diminished health is extremely common. There’s even a name for it: It’s called “presenteeism”.
Researchers at the University of East Anglia looked into occurrences of people attending work while under the weather. They found that in 61 previous studies involving 175,960 participants across 34 countries, people came into the office while they were sick because they were dealing with heavy workload, limited time and financial pressures.
It might appear to be in the best interest of a company for an employee to come into work regardless of their health status, but this has detrimental effects. A sick employee can transfer the illness to other employees, substantially decreasing the output of the whole organization. The working sick cost the U.S. economy an estimated $160 billion each year in lost productivity.
If you’re sick, put yourself first and stay home. If this is too much of a stretch, stay home for the sake of your coworkers’ health. This minimizes the impact the illness has on the overall workplace and allows your body the rest needed to recover quickly.
4) When You’re Being Exploited
Helping others is a selfless act. It is kind to assist friends, family and coworkers in projects and problems. However, there must be boundaries on how much time, energy and money you will contribute.
If you give too much of your resources to others, you will be left emotionally, physically or financially diminished. In order to help others, you need to reserve resources for yourself. You won’t be able to help anyone if you’re completely spent.
Put yourself first by setting boundaries on how much you’re realistically capable of contributing to others. This will allow you to maintain your own security and help others.
5) When You’ve Promised Yourself Something
Taking time to cultivate your interests and hobbies is vital to a balanced life and healthy perspective. If you’ve promised yourself you’re going to get active, meditate or participate in a sports league, book club or art class, it’s important that you honor that commitment.
If you don’t respect your time and word, who will?
6) When You’re Overwhelmed by Family Expectations
We can choose our friends but we don’t choose our family. Navigating familial history and roles can be a minefield. An American Psychological Association study found 73 percent of parents find familial responsibilities to be a major stressor in their lives.
You can’t just quit your family or parental responsibilities, but you can focus on establishing realistic expectations with yourself and others. Setting boundaries for adults and children is not only helpful but is also healthy, as boundaries help everyone understand the limits of relationships.
7) When You’re Unhappy in your Career
The rent or mortgage has to get paid. However, the job you’re working to make the money to pay for your living expenses is taking too big a toll on your emotional and physical health. If you hate your job, you aren’t alone! According to Gallup study, 70 percent of U.S. workers feel negatively about their jobs.
You have some choices to make! One option is for you to seek a new role in the company or pursue a new career altogether. Yes, this means altering your day-to-day routine and letting go of job security. Still, the alternative is dissatisfaction with your work life, which can impact your whole outlook.
Another option is to change how you approach your work.
If you don’t change anything than you are complicit in your own misery — it might be time to put yourself first on this one!
8) When You’re Burnt out
You’ve moved beyond tiredness and are faced with a constant state of physical, emotional or mental exhaustion. This is coupled with doubts surrounding your abilities.
This isn’t just a lack of sleep — it is caused by various factors. These include feeling out of control with at work where you have little to no influence on decisions impacting your duties. Another factor can be unclear expectations causing you to be uncertain about what you are responsible for and will be held accountable for — this can cause unnecessary worry and fear. A dysfunctional work environment can also contribute to burnout. This can be caused by a supervisor micromanaging your tasks or by the need to deal with an office bully.
Recognizing you’re on your way to complete burnout is key. You’ll need to seek the support and assistance you require. Put yourself first and reevaluate your work options, environment and work/life balance, and reconfigure where necessary.
9) When You’re Experiencing Abuse
Perhaps in your romantic relationship you’re experiencing coercive or abusive behaviors. These are used to establish and preserve a sense of power over an intimate partner. The abuse can take many forms, with threats, isolation and intimidation contributing to emotional, sexual or physical abuse.
Breaking the cycle of abuse can be extremely challenging and scary but it is possible. Know that no one deserves to be abused. You can take necessary steps to become ready to leave and make the move.
Putting yourself first isn’t selfish or self-indulgent, it’s a way to take care of yourself in all types of situations. You need to be your own advocate because you know your needs and boundaries. Ultimately, if you neglect to take care of yourself, you can end up experiencing very negative physical and emotional effects.
When are you putting yourself first? Tell us in the comments and let us know what you think should be #10 on this list!