For a while at ESSENCE, I’ve been kicking around the idea of our magazine telling our readers to put themselves first. The germ of a thought grew out of my own example of running, gunning and trying miserably to keep up with the never-ending to-do list. From closing pages at ESSENCE to helping my kids with homework, to editing my husband’s blog, to helping run a nonprofit, to cooking two meals on Sunday (yes two)—the list is a constant reminder I say ‘yes’ too much to too many people way too often. Yet, Tanisha is no where to be found on the list while she walks around feeling crazy, gaining weight and watching her tender, natural curls fall on the shower floor. Whoa. Wait. STOP. What in the heck have I been thinking? Truthfully, I haven’t. Since hitting age 30, I’ve been on a tear like a wild animal trying to prove “I can do it!” When in reality, crossing off lists and saying ‘yes’ in excess have caused my short-term memory to fail and forced me to the doctor’s office listening to him say, “Lose weight or else…” That was earlier this year, and it wasn’t pretty. I was angry, upset and disappointed in myself for sliding so far down my own list that my health was suffering. Although my list is still way too long, the tide is turning. Here’s what I’m doing to put myself at the top of the list:

1. I exercise and eat better. Sugar is my enemy. Diabetes runs in my family. My mom used to say the disease would skip a generation. It hasn’t, so I’ve cut out sugary drinks and apple pies and overdoing it on potatoes and other starches that turn to sugar when they enter your blood stream. Oh yeah, and Zumba, Spinning and Club Soda are now my BFFs.

2. I say ‘no.’ I am a lot more mindful of my time because others aren’t. Whether it’s my family, friends or colleagues, I think before committing to a task, participating on a new task force, or attending an event. This fall, I’ve said NO a lot. It instantly took the stress and pressure off of me to come up with a plan to make the request doable. And stop assuming you have to say yes to every request your Boss has. Ask questions: Is this the #1 priority? Will I have the necessary support? Can we hire a project manager while I oversee the team? Can someone else take the lead on this? Explain why this isn’t the best time for you and if you still have to do it, get it done, always keeping your time commitments in mind.

3. I do something nice for myself. For me, scheduling a day of beauty has taken a back seat to everything else. Now I am using the gift certificate from last year (yes last year) to schedule mani-pedis, deep-tissue massages and microdermabrasion. For me, it’s the spa, a good movie or a night out on the town with the girls. It gives you a chance to relax, rejuvenate and renew your spirit.

The Lesson: Take care of yourself before you take care of others.

Tanisha A. Sykes is the Senior Editor for Personal Finance & Careers for ESSENCE Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @tanishastips.

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