Do you pause often to ask: How much care am I devoting to myself?

Being good to yourself is the key to taking care of all your other relationships, as well as your daily responsibilities.

Neglecting yourself means you’re depleting your own emotional bank account. You’ll feel tired, distracted and depressed.

Filling up your emotional bank account means paying attention. You’ll have to figure out what you need in your life to feel nurtured and empowered. No one else can make those assessments for you.

“I learned after my divorce that I could cope with anything, if I took my own needs seriously,” says a high school football coach we’ll call Justin. “I like to exercise an hour a day, read about 30 minutes every night, and talk with my sister every evening right after dinner. These three things keep me sane.”

All of us have certain routines and activities that calm us, build us up, and help us feel we matter.

Here’s how you can define what feels good to you:

  • Decide which people make you feel safe. Connect with them often. These are people that show interest in your health, financial stability, and physical well-being. They do small things to make you feel nurtured, such as asking you out to lunch or giving you gifts.
  • Name what makes your body feel nurtured. Is it a workout at the YMCA or a soak in the tub? Honoring your body will make you feel healthy and whole. Going for weeks with no exercise and living on junk food will drain you emotionally.
  • List activities that feed your mind. Engage in daily rituals that help you relax and feel calm. This might include watching old reruns of “Bonanza” or “Happy Days.” Or, do you enjoy attending stage plays in your region?

“I am a fairly healthy 40-year-old who stays in a dead run,” says a friend of ours we’ll call Vickie. “The problem is, my husband’s family and my relatives always have these chores for me. They are using me for every errand, using me to run their kids around, and even asking me to go to doctors’ appointments with them. I can tell I’m going downhill mentally and in my spirit. I dread picking up the phone or reading a text!”

We advised Vickie to take a step back and prioritize. Vickie needs to take care of Vickie! If not, she will end up paying a huge price for “helping” all these other people.

Any individual must learn to say no. This takes practice and some new “inventive” tricks. For example, you can wait a few hours to return a phone call. You can use a personal errand as an excuse not to help someone else. A deadline can be pushed back a little, unless it’s a medical emergency.

“I found out that creating some breathing space won’t kill anybody,” says a young dad we’ll call Rob. He got into a tailspin emotionally when he took a new job.

Rob goes on to say that his wife pointed out his sadness.

“She told me about a year ago that I never smiled anymore,” he says. “She used the word ‘joyless’ to describe me. That’s when I realized that something had to change. Nowadays, I keep a calendar just to pencil in some fun things for myself. I sneak off to a movie or a ballgame, or I take a long walk.”

Judi Light Hopson is the Executive Director of the stress management website USA Wellness Café at www.usawellnesscafe.com. Emma Hopson is an author and a nurse educator. Ted Hagen is a family psychologist.