I have recently added a question for my patients during their annual exams, “What do you do to take care of yourself?”

Most patients look at me blankly for a moment, and then respond with something like this, “Oh I eat pretty well and try to get some exercise in.”

But that isn’t really what I mean when I ask the question. Most of my patients are busy women. They work, they go to school, they care for children, they care for parents, they run a household or they run a business.

Some even do all of that simultaneously, and it often seems that they can barely squeeze time in for annual exam, let alone any time for themselves. They are so busy juggling so many responsibilities, there is no extra time left for any type of self-care.

Many of the common complaints my patients bring up during the annual exam can be helped by taking a little time to care for one’s self. New onset of diminished sexual desire is a prime example. Many women find that if they devote some time to themselves, their libido and desire increases, and their sex life is improved.

Very simply, taking time for self-care decreases stress levels. Tension headaches, fatigue, heartburn, bloating and insomnia are just a few common manifestations of high stress levels.

For the busiest of women, I try the basics first. Are they getting enough sleep, enough healthy food and some exercise? Do they have any time during each day for something they enjoy like reading, meditation, knitting or even catching up on a favorite television show?

I then encourage them to start carving out some time every day for themselves, even if it is only a few minutes. I also advise patients to schedule time either weekly or monthly for a massage, a pedicure, yoga, or even a cup of tea or walk with girlfriends.

Finally, I recommend that they “unplug” for some time during every day, and turn off their mobile devices and electronics. The demands of being reachable by phone, text or email 24/7 can significantly add to stress levels.

Self-care is a very basic component of health promotion, but possibly the most crucial one. It will be defined by different patients in varying ways, but should be discussed and encouraged at every visit.

Robyn Carlisle, MSN, CNM, WHNP, works as a full-scope midwife at University Doctors and Kennedy University Hospital in Sewell, N.J.