I am an advocate for self-care. I don’t mean only bubble baths and special snacks. I’m talking about true self-care. Putting yourself first is something most people don’t do. We have families, jobs, church, volunteer obligations, goals… the list goes on and on. But what happens if you are constantly going and do not take time to care for yourself?
Total and utter burn out, and not just the “I need a nap” or “I am going to watch a movie and not move for two hours” type of burn out. We’re looking at the physical and mental inability to accomplish anything beyond the most important tasks. Most of us have been there at one point or another, and it can take weeks to years to recover from it.
The only way I know to avoid a complete shut-down is to make your self-care the top priority, even above church, family, and work.
When I tell my friends this, I get some resistance, usually in the form of “God will pick me up.” Listen, I get it. Faith is a powerful thing. But God, the Universe, Spirit, whatever you believe in will only help you if you’re helping yourself.
What constitutes true self-care?
Let’s start by making a list. What fills you up? What makes you feel recharged and able to take on challenges? For me, it’s yoga, walking, reading, writing, crocheting, spinning yarn, and coffee dates with friends.
The formula for true self-care is simple. Do one thing every day from that list. It doesn’t have to be an all-day event. I know you’re busy. I’m busy. If I gave you a glimpse of my to-do list and calendar, you would wonder why I advocate making time to read or crochet every day. My secret? I set a timer.
Today is a perfect example. Yoga class started at 8:30 AM, so I went to that. When I got home, I had a mess to clean up from the cat who got into the pantry and broke a glass bottle of salad dressing. Then I set a timer and worked outside for one hour, came in, and set another timer and read for thirty minutes. Once my timer goes off, I’m done and I move to the next thing.
Even fifteen minutes a day will be enough to keep you from losing your shit when the boss asks you to stay late or your kid remembers a book report due tomorrow and needs help. That “one more thing and I’ll break” feeling will not be there. Think of how wonderful it will be to go through your day knowing you have self-care scheduled.
The next step: schedule it. I know if it’s not on my list or calendar, it won’t get done. After a while, it will become a habit. But for now, get it on the list as a daily task.
Finally, learn to say no. We’re a society that prides itself on being busy. The more work we do, the more accomplished we feel. But do we actually feel more accomplished? Or are we tired and worn out?
One of my wise friends said to me she practices the prayerful no. She tells the person asking that she’s booked and thanks them for offering her a chance to help. Even if she’s booked with herself for self-care, she’s still busy during that time. The other person doesn’t need to know that from 4 to 5 PM is your scheduled time to sit in the hammock and nap. And guess what? The world doesn’t fall apart. The thing still gets done by someone else. We are not as indispensable as we like to think.
Another way to learn to say no to things that might be too much is to look at it and ask yourself if it is something that will fill you or drain you. The answer should be obvious. Using the fill/drain method as a guide will assist you in saying yes to things that truly matter and letting the rest go.
The only way to avoid burn out is to care for yourself before it gets to that point. I promise you that your kids won’t burn the house down in the fifteen minutes you’re reading a book, and the neighbor’s grass will still get mowed if you say no.