Over the years of providing therapy services as well as supervising and training other therapists, I have seen and experienced first hand how people whose lives are dedicated to helping and caring for others are at high risk of burn-out. Even the most dedicated mothers and the most capable therapists are subject to getting out of balance and suffering with symptoms of emotional and physical fatigue, depression and other health issues when self-care is neglected.
Burnout happens when you have been under excessive and prolonged stress. It happens when you feel overwhelmed and unable to keep up with all the demands of your life. After a while, you begin to lose the interest or motivation to do even the smallest things that need to be done.
Burnout drains your energy and sometimes results in feeling helpless, hopeless, cynical, and even resentful of the people and things in life we love the most. If left unchecked it can result in a downward spiral that is very hard to get out of.
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When your schedule is full of appointments and commitments to provide care for other people it can be hard to find ways to care for yourself. It is essential, however, to create a self-care commitment because in order to attend to the needs of others, you must first be sure your own needs are met.
Here are 10 tips for avoiding burnout and creating a self-care plan:
1. Be proactive. Prevention is the best medicine, as with most things. Don’t assume you are immune to burnout. No one is immune. Scan your life and your schedule and take inventory of how much time you are spending on work, attending to the needs of others and how much time you are taking care of yourself. Make a decision to create balance and to create your self-care plan as a top priority. Be on the lookout for where you are out of balance in your life.
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2. Schedule self-care. Look closely at your calendar and plug in your self-care time just as you would other obligations…and stick to it. Self-care can range widely – from regular doctor’s appointments to regular exercise. It can be pleasurable events, hobbies, time alone, meditation, massage or taking time to sit down and eat a meal rather than on the run.
3. The little things count. If you don’t have blocks of time, you can still fit in moments of relaxation. Even if you take just 2 minutes to close your eyes and take a few deep breaths, this can make a profound difference in the way you feel. For me, between my client appointments, I sit and meditate even if just a few minutes, I use my essential oils or apply soothing body butter on my hands. These little things help me to stay in balance.
4. Make your health top priority. Ensure you are getting ample, quality sleep, choosing nutritious foods and moving your body daily even if it’s just a ten minute brisk walk. When you attend to your physical health, your mental and emotional health tend to be in balance. (Grab my free guide to getting quality sleep here)
5. Tune in. On a regular basis it’s a good idea to actively check in with the messages your body is giving you. Is your back stiff? Time to stretch. Are you feeling run down? Increase your dark leafy greens and slow down – rest. Is your skin dry? Drink more water and make sure you’re getting some healthy fats in your diet. Are you feeling scattered and distracted? Try meditation. Your body’s sensations have valuable information. Listen to these messages and attend to what your body and mind need.
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6. Learn to say no. I confess, this has been a hard one for me and consequently has hampered my own self-care. I will tell you from personal experience how important it is to realize you do not have to agree to do everything everyone asks or invites you to do. And there are many creative and polite ways to say “no.” Here are some examples:
- Thank you so much for asking me. I truly appreciate it but I am not going to be able to make it this time.
- I don’t have any availability in my schedule right now.
- I’m not going to be able to help you with that but perhaps you might ask Mary.
- I can’t make it. Maybe next time.
7. Consider the company you keep. Take a look at the people around you. Do they encourage you? Do they support you? Are they caring? Do they attend to their own self care? Or do they place unreasonable demands on you? Drain you? Criticize you? You are an adult and this is your life. The people you spend time with do have an effect on you so choose wisely. If someone in your immediate family or your spouse is not supportive and loving toward you, consider seeking counseling to learn how to handle it in a healthy way. (For healthy relationship communication, check out my free guide here)
8. Step away from the screens. Turn off the tv. Put the phone, ipad and lap-top away. Take a break. Go outside and look up at the sky. Listen to the birds. Go for a walk. Read a book. Do some yoga. I am convinced too much time in front of all these screens is sucking the life out of us not to mention wasting precious time we could be connecting with nature, relaxing and rejuvenating.
9. Create NEW habits. If you can accept and embrace the fact that self-care is absolutely non-negotiable, it will naturally become a part of your daily life and you will more easily have balance. Habits are formed by repetition. Groove new healthy habits by choosing one action you can take each week to care for yourself and stick with it.
10. Reach out for help. If you feel overwhelmed, like you are experiencing burnout, personal counseling or coaching can make a world of difference. Sometime when we have lost our balance and can’t find out way back, seeking support from a professional is the best avenue.