If you’ve been on the internet in the last couple of years, you’re probably familiar with the term “self-care”. It’s a buzzword, especially in wellness and mental health spaces, but self-care is still an important practice. Many folks associate self-care with bath bombs, fancy skincare products, and the idea of “treating yo self”, so it’s important to clarify what self-care really is. Self-care is pretty much what it sounds like: taking care of the relationship you have with yourself. Tending to your relationship with yourself can not only help you to feel better overall, but it reinforces the idea that you are important and you are worth caring for. Self-care can be both a response to tough emotions and situations and it can also be a preventative practice to ensure that you don’t experience burnout.
We’ve all experienced burnout at some point – feeling like we’ve over committed to too many things and have no time to recharge. Burnout leaves us feeling deeply exhausted, socially, mentally, emotionally, and physically. Even though burnout isn’t an official diagnosis, it isn’t just exhaustion, either. Burnout can have serious health effects such as:
- Problems with sleep
- Lack of energy
- Feeling achy (headache, stomachache, muscle aches, etc.)
- Emotional roller coaster (irritability, emptiness, hopelessness, dread, fear, impatience, frustration, etc.)
When we have too much going on, burnout isn’t far around the corner. When you feel burned out, you aren’t able to function at the level you’re used to. You might feel like small tasks are impossible and large tasks are completely off the table. High levels of stress can lead to periods of burnout, but burnout and stress are not exactly the same. Stress is situational – Burnout and stress are related. Stress often comes up as a response to certain situations (like if you have a big project at work). Lots of stress, combined with a lack of self-care, can lead to burnout eventually. Burnout is a longer-term condition that arises as a result of too much untreated stress. Your energy is depleted, you’re exhausted, and you need to recuperate.
As you can imagine, dealing with burnout, while not impossible by any means, isn’t ideal. It requires lots of rest and self-care and paying serious attention to your boundaries so you don’t quickly get burned out again.
Here are some ways to practice self-care to prevent burnout:
Enforce your boundaries
Boundaries are your best friend when it comes to preventing burnout. When you get an idea of what your triggers are for burning out, you can come up with boundaries for yourself so you don’t burn out again. It’s okay to say no to things, and it’s alright to separate work from personal life and vice versa. Some people might have a hard time adjusting to your new boundaries, or they might try to see if you’ll bend on them, so it’s important to be firm with your boundaries and follow through on what you say, even if it’s hard. Saying no or speaking up for yourself can be really intimidating, but it gets easier with practice.
Take a break
You will not be able to get through burnout by pushing through. Burnout is a warning sign from our bodies that we need to take serious care of ourselves, starting now. Think about what the source of your stress is. Is it work? Money? Family stuff? Global pandemic? How can you take a break from what is stressing you out? Take some time off work, turn off the news, and have some alone time to recuperate from all the stress you’ve been under.
Find concrete ways to manage stress
Stress happens to all of us. However, many of us never learned effective ways to actually process our feelings of stress. There are lots of techniques and approaches to relieving stress, like grounding techniques, breathing exercises, meditation, movement, therapy, and journaling. Pick one or two things to try and see how they feel. That way, the next time you’re in the middle of a stress spiral, you have tools available to help calm yourself down before the stress builds up to burnout.
As humans, we need rest; there’s no way around it. Burnout sneaks up even faster when you’re not well-rested, since a lack of sleep means your brain and body haven’t gotten a chance to recharge. Sleep is such an important part of self-care, but in our go-go-go society, rest is sometimes frowned upon. Remember, though, rest is essential, both for enjoying life and for productivity. People are more productive when they’re well rested, so if you need to tell yourself that to prioritize sleep, so be it!
Start a hobby
Being creative wakes up a whole other part of your brain. Look for a hobby that lets you be creative and makes you feel good. You can try crafting, playing a sport, joining a group with similar interests – anything that makes you feel rejuvenated and at peace while you do it. If you’re having trouble coming up with hobbies to try, try a search engine or pinterest for some fun ideas!
Do you have a burnout prevention plan? We all experience burnout at some point, but there are ways to practice self-care that make burnout less likely. It’s probably not possible to never experience burnout again, but with a self-care plan in place, you can prevent burnout from returning all the time. If you need support in coming up with a plan for burnout, our clinicians can help you come up with something that works for you.
-Brice N. Sanner, LMFT