Healthy Leaders


Self-Care Is Never Selfish

Dr. Stanley ArumugamDr. Stanley Arumugam

I’m vulnerable to burn-out. I had a very dark experience as a corporate director some years ago. More recently in my INGO role, I came close again as I was severely stressed. I suppose none of us are immune from stress, especially as we have chosen to work in demanding callings.

I’ve realized that it is our ethical responsibility to take care of ourselves so we are fully available and able to do the work we have committed to.

Escalating demands

Many of us are expected in our work to do more with less. As aspirational and idealistic as this might be – the reality is that we can only do so much. Recognizing the limits of our capacity is a vital first step in looking after ourselves.

Trapped in giving out

The irony of my burn-out episodes is that I know all about this condition. I did a Masters and later PhD on the subject! In my research among clergy, many felt guilty about self-care. As Christians we feel we must always sacrifice our personal needs to serve the cause of Christ. We get caught in a trap of continuously giving without replenishing.

Are we stronger than Jesus?

We are all familiar with the habit of Jesus who regularly took time away from the crowds. He made time for silence, prayer, rest and relaxation. If Jesus needed this, how much more do we need to listen to the quieter internal demands of our body, emotions and spirit? As we listen, we will hear our bodies asking us to slow down, retreat, rest, and take care of ourselves.

Make a start

I recently started a mindful stress reduction course. To overcome the challenge of dedicating time in a busy schedule of international travel, meetings and high volumes of work, I’ve started with a few basics that work for me: daily meditation; stretching exercises; sleep well; regular walks; breakfast; drinking water; breaks in the office; walks on the plane; switch off the smartphone when sleeping; don’t read e-mails when taking breaks; weekend breaks; setting boundaries at work in terms of your time, meetings you join and weekend working. I don’t always get it right but I’m mindful of developing these new habits of self-care.

Stewardship of our only gift

Taking care of ourselves is an intentional act of good stewardship. We are the only gift we have to offer other people. Self-care gives others permission to do the same without feeling guilty. The Bible describes our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit. We need to look after that temple.

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