Overcoming the Guilt of Self-Care: Why It’s Important For Leaders and How to Do It

Caneel Joyce
5 min readSep 19, 2023


Ah, guilt — the ultimate buzzkill when it comes to self-care. It’s a nagging feeling that you should be doing something ‘more’ productive or selfless instead of taking time for yourself. But here’s the thing — self-care isn’t selfish, it’s necessary.

Self-care is something often neglected in the pursuit of success. We push ourselves to the limit, burn the candle at both ends and forget to take a break. But what about the guilt that comes with taking time for ourselves? As leaders, we often feel like we should be working all the time, even if it means sacrificing our own well-being.

So, how can we overcome the guilt of self-care and why is it important?

First of all, let’s address the elephant in the room: self-care is not selfish. In fact, it’s the complete opposite. Taking care of yourself is essential for your mental, emotional, and physical health. It allows you to recharge, reset, and return stronger than ever. As leaders, we have a responsibility to set an example for our team members. If you’re constantly burning out and neglecting your own well-being, what message does that send to your team?

Instead, you can lead by example and show that taking care of yourself is not only essential but encouraged and that it’s okay to take a break. Productivity, creativity, and overall well-being are directly correlated with self-care practices. Self-care is a win-win for everyone.

Guilt loves to creep in on our self-care time, but why do we feel guilty about self-care in the first place?

For many of us, it’s because we’ve been conditioned to believe that putting ourselves first is somehow wrong or indulgent. But the truth is, when we take care of ourselves, we’re better equipped to take care of others and tackle the challenges life throws our way. The old airplane advice is right, you need to put on your air mask first before helping anyone else.

The bottom line is this: you can’t pour from an empty cup. If you’re constantly giving and never taking time and space for yourself, you’ll eventually burn out. So, instead of feeling guilty for taking time for yourself, I want you to think of it as an investment in your future productivity. Rest is a way to fill your cup back up so you can do more long-term.

Easier said than done right? Guilt is a powerful force to overcome.

Here are a few tips on how to bust through the guilt barrier:

  1. Give yourself permission — You deserve to take care of yourself, so give yourself permission to do so. Remind yourself that self-care isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.
  2. Set boundaries — Sometimes guilt can creep in when you feel you’re neglecting your responsibilities or letting others down. Setting boundaries and communicating your needs can help you feel more in control and reduce that guilt. Another part of boundaries is learning to live with the discomfort of others. It may take some time for the people in your life to get used to you taking time for yourself if that’s not a common practice for you and that can sometimes create tension or new dynamics. Try not to hero out of the discomfort. Hold your boundaries, they’re worth it.
  3. Start small — You don’t need to book a month-long vacation in Bali to start practicing self-care. If you can and want to do that, by all means, book the flight. But if the idea of taking even a day off for self-care feels overwhelming, start small. Take a few minutes each day to do something that brings you joy or relaxation, like going for a walk or reading a book.
  4. Reframe your mindset — Instead of seeing self-care as a selfish act, try reframing it as an act of self-love. Showing ourselves compassion and kindness is something we could all use a little more of.
  5. Schedule it in: One of the easiest ways to make sure self-care happens regularly is to create the time for it. Use your schedule to protect the time you need to rest and restore. Self-care is just as important as a big meeting, and you might not even be able to make that big meeting if you don’t take time to combat burnout, so start treating time for yourself like the valuable event it is and throw it on your calendar!
  6. Surround yourself with supportive people: If you’re constantly surrounded by people who make you feel guilty for taking time off, it’s going to be hard to overcome guilt. Surround yourself with people who encourage and support your self-care journey
  7. Practice self-compassion — It’s okay to not be perfect, be gentle with yourself during the process of breaking out of a guilty mindset around self-care. Practice self-compassion and remind yourself you’re doing the best you can. There’s no need to feel guilty about feeling guilty. We often feel like we have to be perfect in all areas of our lives, including self-care. But the truth is, there’s no such thing as perfect self-care. Do what works for you, even if it’s not Instagram-worthy.

Repeat after me: Self-care is not selfish. Self-care is not selfish.

Overcoming guilt is crucial for leaders.

When you don’t take care of yourself, stress can build up like a towering inferno, wreaking havoc on your physical and mental health. This can lead to a whole host of symptoms, from headaches and muscle tension to digestive issues and fatigue. And let’s not forget the emotional toll it can take — you may feel irritable, overwhelmed, or just plain burnt out.

But it’s not just your body and mind that suffer when you neglect self-care — your work performance can start to nosedive. When you’re burned out, it’s harder to focus, your motivation goes out the window, and you may find yourself missing deadlines or producing lackluster work.

Not exactly the recipe for success, right? And when you’re stressed and exhausted, it can strain your connections with loved ones, leaving us feeling disconnected and alone. In short, the cost of not taking care of yourself is extremely high.

Those costs are avoidable with just a few simple adjustments to your routine and mindset. Sounds worth it, right?

So, go ahead and take that bubble bath, read that book, or take that walk. Restore in the way that best serves you. There’s nothing to feel guilty about.



Caneel Joyce

Transformational executive coach to founders & CEOs of fast-growth companies. Mom, wife, speaker, former professor & startupper. Caneel.com, The Allowed Podcast