Get off the Wheel – Taking Care of Yourself First

Have you ever watched a hamster running on a wheel?  He just runs and runs, but eventually he gets tired and hops off for a rest.  I feel sometimes that in our culture of busyness, we are like those hamsters, vision focused forward to what is coming, blinded to what is going on around us.  Only, when we get tired, we don’t get off the wheel; we keep going until we are exhausted and our brains are bogged down in a deep fog.  Over time, this wears us down and the fog becomes a part of our existence that we don’t question.  It is what it is, right?

I began my journey to wellness five years ago at a time when I was in a deep, deep fog and feeling utterly disconnected from everyone around me and, especially, from myself.  As a mother of two young boys, a partner, a teacher, a coach, a facilitator, and a perfectionist, my “To Do List” was never-ending.  Somewhere at the bottom of the list was “Take care of me” but I never got there. Things have changed so much since then and, over time, I’ve become much better at putting myself first.  I’d like to share some of the things I’ve learned that have helped me to get here.


We don’t take breaks.  We push through because there is just so much to do, and we believe we don’t have the time.  We eat at our desks.  We push ourselves until we are so exhausted there is nothing left over for friends, for family, for ourselves.

  • Take a 10-minute tea-break mid-morning.  Go away from your desk.  Find a quiet space alone, preferably with some natural light.  Bring a book or a magazine, for pleasure.  Sip and allow your brain to unplug.
  • Take your lunch away from your desk.  Spend time with colleagues talking about anything but work.  Or find a quiet place with natural light, and spend some time alone.  Breathe. Allow yourself to just be.
  • Take the time throughout your week to be alone with yourself, and mindfully choose to do something that brings you joy and that is creative and/or meaningful for YOU.  You might need to reflect a bit on what this would be.


  • Spend some time alone to get in touch with yourself and discover what is important to you. What brings you joy? What makes you feel creative? What reboots your brain and recharges your battery? If you had to backwards plan from the end of your life, what goals are non-negotiable and must be met? Narrow this down to 3 – 5 things.
  • Take the schedule of your week and put in these important things that you’ve identified. Be realistic and make sure the goals you’ve set are reasonable for where you are right now in your life. For example, my biggest non-negotiable is that I want to be physically healthy and strong. So my minimum goal is Hot Yoga every Friday night + 2 visits to the gym each week. If I can fit in more, I do so. (By the way, it doesn’t always happen.)
  • Share your goals with your partner or a friend. Make a commitment to yourself and do your best to stay with it. Forgive yourself when it doesn’t happen and know that this is a long process and that the journey is a life-long one.

I feel that in our culture, taking care of ourselves first feels selfish. Doing things that bring us pleasure but that don’t add to our career can feel somehow frivolous. We feel guilty when we are not being “productive” enough and we are harder on ourselves than anyone could ever be on us. What we need to remember is that, by taking care of ourselves first, we become happier, calmer, more understanding versions of ourselves and thus, better parents, partners, teachers, colleagues and friends.

Get off the wheel. Look around. Connect with others. Connect with yourself. Find quiet time, quiet places, sunlight. Reach out, because we are all in this together.

Take Care of Yourself,


@vhcivan @jmedved @gnichols @adamcaplan

#cohort21 #wellness #time #life balance


8 thoughts on “Get off the Wheel – Taking Care of Yourself First

  1. Hi Kelly! This reflection is so important and has lots of practical – yet so simple – suggestions to improve wellness (which will positively impact all other areas of our life, work and relationships. I know there is much talk of work in the field of Positive Psychology, but I wonder how your experience and insights might translate into an action plan about spreading your vision and encouraging others to join you in your deeper investigations. Thanks for posting!

  2. I agree 100%. I think many teachers and parents put themselves last. I actually started on a similar journey 2 years ago. I was 1-year postpartum after 5 pregnancies, 3 children, years of breastfeeding and teaching all along, not to mention my role as a partner, friend, daughter, sister etc….

    I think there is nothing more important than teaching my children (and students) that I matter too. Teaching self-respect is critical to ‘well-being’ and a healthy mindset.

    I think the norm is to put ourselves last, and we are trained to feel guilty or embarrassed to be someone who prioritizes ourselves, but I think it is so important. Thank you for highlighting this important idea.

    I wonder what we can do in the workplace to encourage this sense of self-respect and care.

    1. Hi Allison,

      Thanks for your post, it’s so nice to see my feelings mirrored by others and know we’re in it together! I’d love to talk to you about your last comment, as my thoughts are definitely on what we can do in the workplace to encourage these conversations.

      Looking forward to future conversations,

  3. Thank you for this post, @kcarlson. The winter term for me can especially feel like how you describe that hamster on the wheel. Interestingly, my school’s tagline is “education with balance” and yet it feels so often that the term “balance” can just mean “lots and lots of everything!” and everyone is expected to contribute, sometimes to the point of exhaustion. As part of our new strategic plan, an emphasis on wellness and balance has been identified, but I will be interested to see how that can be achieved. Putting your own wellness first is such an important priority, but it can feel impossible to actually put into practice. Thanks for the practical tips. Would love to hear more about your efforts to make this a school-wide priority.

    1. Dear Jen,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I think winter term is the worst for everyone, being so cold and dark and stuck as it is between the “start of the year optimistic enthusiasm” and the “yay spring is here” of term 3. I don’t think there is an easy answer to the overloaded schedules and high expectations that are a part of our jobs as educators. I think if we can just try for some small, easy changes it can lead to feeling better over time.

      Taking breaks, eating healthy, drinking lots of water, taking vitamins, setting priorities, being thoughtful about our free time to ensure we are doing something that is meaningful to us and recharges our batteries… For me, going to hot yoga 2 or 3 times a week is turning out to be a miracle thing. Physical activity has never been easy for me, and maintaining a fitness routine over time has always been especially difficult. My yoga classes are from 8:45 to 10:00 at night and I often don’t feel like going, but the fact that it ends up being exercise, meditation and de-stress all at once makes it easier to get out the door. I feel stronger, more rested and clearer in my head.

      I’m hoping to create either a “Staff Wellness Page” for our school platform, or a website on which I hope to share links, articles, books and practical information about mental, physical and spiritual well-being. With everyone’s busy schedules, my thought is to find some information to get the conversation started, and hope that it might turn into more of a sharing thing that we can all do together. I’ll let you know how it goes ok?

      Take care of you!

  4. Yes! I loved reading this. I’m getting a pedicure right now as my partner cares for our child! Self care is a way to put our oxygen mask on first to make sure we have the capacity to care for others.

    While I know my students don’t struggle with the same things I do, I know that things like eating well, sleeping lots, and getting ample physical activity is hard for young people too. I wonder how your action might address this?

    Also, have you read Shawn Achor’s book The Happiness Advantage? I wrote a post on it here:

    There is some great evidence for how when we take breaks, infuse our day with joy, take time to connect with others, we actually get much more accomplished.

    Thanks for the reminder!

  5. @kcarlson As a school we are starting to build some of your suggestions into the “way we do things”. Starting PD day off with lots of choice of physical activity (yoga,run etc) and other holistic options like (nutrition talks, meditation etc). If we want some of this for our students we as schools have to practice what we preach. I look forward to reading you final action plan post.

  6. @jmedved I can’t tell you what it means to me to know I’ve somehow made a positive impact on your school, no matter how small. It’s been such a pleasure working with you this year through Cohort 21. I’ve finished my Powerpoint for my final presentation and will figure out how to post it as my action plan this week. Thank you for all your support and encouragement!

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