Most of us that have flown on an airplane have heard the familiar safety presentation given at the beginning of flights. It goes something like this: “In the event of an emergency, oxygen masks will drop down from the overhead compartment. Put on your own oxygen mask first, and then help those around you.” It’s natural, especially in an emergency, to think of assisting the person next to you first, especially if that person is a loved one. The reality, though, is you will be of no good to anyone else if you run out of oxygen and can’t breathe!

It’s a great metaphor for life. Many of us, especially women, are programmed to think we should be able to “do it all.” That includes taking care of a partner, perhaps children, managing household duties, finances, and increasingly, extended family, such as aging parents. Taking care of ourselves often doesn’t even make it on to the daily “to-do” list. Yet, nothing is more important, not just for ourselves, but for those around us. If we are over-extended, sleep-deprived, struggling with eating well, and finding little or no time to exercise, we are likely to end up feeling run down, chronically sick, or burned out. At that point, we are no good to anyone, not even ourselves!

What’s the answer? I believe part of it lies in our lifestyle choices. I also believe a shift in thinking may be in order. Often, we feel that if we are taking care of ourselves, we are being selfish, or self-indulgent. Actually, the opposite is true. When we make our health and well-being a priority we are, in the long run, benefitting everyone around us. Our personal wellness means we are better able to serve our families, our workplaces, and our communities. The bottom line is this: Being healthy, strong and fit means we are better able to contribute to everyone and everything around us. As health care costs continue to rise in the U.S., even health care companies have started to catch on and are creating wellness programs to encourage subscribers to implement personal wellness programs. Some companies are employing health and wellness coaches as part of their team. The coaches are available to assist individuals in creating a personal wellness plan. Paying attention to wellness and disease prevention is gaining momentum as these companies realize the benefit to their bottom lines.

Taking care of yourself, far from being selfish, may be the most important thing you do. It’s fundamental. A bonus is that when we role-model healthy behavior for those around us, especially our children, we make a positive impact on them as well. We are encouraging and supporting them to do the same. Next time you are tempted to skip your morning walk, or go for the fast food because it’s well, fast, remember this: Taking good care of you is your gift to those you love, for years to come.