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Why it’s time for leaders to prioritise their own self-care

by Mel Kettle, Leadership Communication Specialist

  • One in three employees and senior executives are struggling with fatigue and poor mental health.
  • Self-care is clinically proven to reduce or eliminate anxiety and depression, and reduce stress at home and work.
  • This article describes five core foundations of self-care.

The uncertainty of the last two years has been relentless, with overwhelm, anxiety and burnout impacting all organisations. A recent report by Deloitte and independent research firm Workplace Intelligence indicates that employees and senior executives are struggling to prioritise their well-being. It found that one out of three are constantly struggling with fatigue and poor mental health, and the main reason they aren’t prioritising themselves is due to a heavy workload, stressful job and a lack of time due to long work hours.

As leaders, we have a responsibility to care for ourselves first. A lot of livelihoods rely on us. Our staff, our colleagues, our families.  However, with so many of us feeling like we are stuck in survival mode, it can be hard to know where to turn and what to do first.


It’s time to for us to prioritise our own self-care

So often we get caught up in work and life and family and commitments that we forget to look after ourselves. To put ourselves first. To recharge OUR batteries. We recharge our phones every day, we need to do the same with our minds and bodies.

When we connect with ourselves first, we are happier, healthier and more human. We become better versions of ourselves, so we can be better leaders — at home, at work and within our communities. With so many competing priorities, it’s often easier to put the needs of others first. It can be hard to find time for you.

Connecting with yourself and prioritising self-care is a conscious choice. We make decisions around this every day, about what we think, what we eat and drink, when we go to bed, who we associate with, and how we bring joy to our lives. Self-care means giving yourself permission to pause, take a breath and focus on yourself, even briefly.


The benefits of self-care

When we practice self-care, we do things that make us feel good. It’s essential for our physical health, mental health and emotional wellbeing, and is clinically proven to reduce or eliminate anxiety and depression, and reduce stress at home and work. It allows us to reconnect with ourselves, which makes us more effective as it gives us improved concentration, happiness and energy, and reduces negative emotions such as frustration and anger. Demonstrating that we are important enough to practice self-care also sets an excellent example for our employees, colleagues, kids, and others who look up to us.

A lot of people think self-care needs to be expensive. Or that it is all about champagne, massages and pedicures. It’s not — not that I would say no to any of those! Self-care is really about creating the time and space to focus on yourself. Self-care also looks different for everyone. What’s soothing to me could be stressful to you. One of my most effective self-care methods is to have a walk on the beach and a quick swim in the ocean. It restores my energy and refreshes me enormously. Some of my friends love a pyjama day in front of Netflix. One of my clients loves bushwalking. Others go for long bike rides.


Foundations of self-care

There are five core foundations we need to get right when it comes to self-care:

  1. Be aware of your health — make regular medical checks not-negotiable, and understand and manage your stress levels
  2. Get the basics of food, exercise and sleep right
  3. Have clear boundaries and stick to them — saying no to things you don’t want to do is a good way to take back some control over your life
  4. Do something every day that brings you joy — when we focus on joy, even for as little as thirty seconds a day, our stress hormones reduce, oxygen flow to our bodies increases, and we are happier.
  5. Practice gratitude

If you’re not sure where to start when it comes to self-care, pick one thing that resonates with you and do that. And if you’re not sure where to start, my top tip would be to make a doctor’s appointment for a health check and create a baseline to measure your future health.

Mel Kettle can be contacted on 0404 600 889 or by email at

Material published in Governance Directions is copyright and may not be reproduced without permission. The views expressed therein are those of the author and not of Governance Institute of Australia. All views and opinions are provided as general commentary only and should not be relied upon in place of specific accounting, legal or other professional advice.

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