The Best Gifts to Yourself

-By Sunél Veldtman


This year our family embarked on an adventure, although it wasn’t one that we had planned.

When you wake up every morning too exhausted to face the day, this “adventure” is knocking on your door. When you are told repeatedly by specialists to reduce your stress levels, you know you have no choice but to go on this journey. Something had to change, and we are very much still changing the way we live. I guess you could call it a journey to conscious living.

The funny thing is, I’ve always thought that I lived consciously. After all, I’ve read countless books on time management, healthy relationships, parenting and health. I’ve never thought of myself as stressed. I exercise, watch my diet and work on my relationships. Clearly, my body experienced stress, signaled by my subconscious.

What has this got to do with financial advice, you may ask. How we live has a direct impact on our money. Investing in your wellness is a long-term decision with potential for a high return. Lower healthcare costs. Higher earnings potential. Higher productivity. Greater enjoyment of your money. The opposite is true, sometimes disastrous, when you’re faced with burnout or a terminal illness, the direct result of stress. It’s the best financial advice I can give to my clients. Live well.

What I have learnt on my journey can be summarised in four words, or gifts. My hope for you is that you give yourself and your family these gifts in the year ahead.



We create stress by our frenetic pace. Most of the craziness is self-inflicted but driven by our culture. Where I live in Johannesburg, everyone lives and works at a hectic pace. Instead of “Howzit?”, we ask, “Are you busy?” We consider it a sign of success.

I’ve come to realise that it’s the opposite. It’s a sign of an unconscious decision to be swept up in the torrent of the ruling culture.

It is possible to stay in this city and your job but change your pace. It involves being committed to your values and priorities and saying “No” to most other things. It asks of you to become aware of your pace and the impact it’s having on your well-being. When was the last time you made time for thinking about your work? When was the last time you did something unhurried like cooking a meal without doing something else at the same time? When was the last time you drove somewhere without fitting in a phone call? When was the last time you noticed the birds in our city?

It all starts with our thoughts. We obsess about what we should have done, what we shouldn’t have done and what we have yet to do. Our lives reflect our thoughts. Meditation has helped me to slow down my thoughts. Frenzied thoughts produce anxiety. Since calming my thoughts, I am able to benefit from a slower life.

Give yourself the gift of slowing down. Start with your thoughts.



“For years, studies upon studies have shown how bad sleep weakens the immune system, impairs learning and memory, contributes to depression and other mood and mental disorders, as well as obesity, diabetes, cancer and an early death.” This is according to an article published by the New York Times entitled Sleep is the New Status Symbol.

We’ve lost our connection with one of the most natural things: sleep! We need to reconnect urgently to this source of wellness, creativity and success. Our society praises people who survive on little sleep. We should change that. We should be bragging about how much we sleep.

This year I learnt the value of sleep, after suffering for the first time in my life from insomnia. I am now religious about sleep. I’ve started a sleep routine, a ritual for winding down: switch off from screens, relax in an Epsom salt bath, use essential oils, and an easy read to send me off to dreamland.

I’m waking up before my alarm clock. It’s improving my energy levels, productivity and quality of life.

May sleep be with you!



Most ancient cultures or religions had a form of the Sabbath, a day for rest. In our modern Western culture, we destroyed this tradition with a seven-day trading week. We have lost something in the process.

If we don’t stop, at least one day a week, and break our routines, we never find rest. Rest is essential to our wellbeing but also vital for productivity. If you think that working or keeping busy for seven days a week makes you productive, think again.

In his book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Cal Newport stresses the importance of rest for productivity and creativity and specifically doing the type of work that will be essential to success in the future.

You can read a summary of the book here.I highly recommend this book. Even for parents, this book will highlight the importance of play, sleep and nature and the danger of screens.

Our family has slowly claimed back our Sundays to be a rest day – a day of pottering, simple lunches and sitting around a fire. It takes conscious decisions to stay away from shopping or entertaining. For me, it’s a day of spiritual reflection, journaling and connecting with myself.

I hope that you will create a routine of rest every week.



As I get older, I value the support of my friends and family more than ever. A phone call at exactly the right time, a cup of tea shared, or a hug from a friend can save the day.

Research lists loneliness as the top health risk  . Loneliness is a phenomenon of modern society. Social media, work pressures, security concerns and the loss of community have all contributed to increasing loneliness.

It takes courage and determination in our isolated society to seek friendships. We need to consciously build on existing friendships and cultivate new ones. It should be a top priority in our diaries. If our jobs or lives leave us permanently too exhausted to see friends, we need to wake up to the risks of such a life.

We should also ask for support. We should tell those closest to us what we need to feel supported. It’s not a sign of weakness to state your needs. Sometimes this means, being honest with others about the impact of their behaviour and choices on you. And sometimes simply saying ‘No’!

Gift yourself the gift of healthy friendship in the year ahead.

May you be blessed with Slow, Sleep, Sabbath and Support – these are worth giving to yourself and your family and worth striving for in the new year.


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