It’s raining outside and a person is getting wet. A stranger gives them an umbrella and they slowly start to dry. Once they are dry they no longer think they need the umbrella so they throw it away only to get wet again.
I love this story. To me self care is the umbrella in this story, even when we are doing well we need to keep taking care of ourselves otherwise we will get wet again.
I used to think that you could only feel on the edge of burnout if you worked long hours, hated your job and had a bad manager.
And you would be forgiven for thinking the same. It seems most talk around burnout is linked to the workplace.
However this is not the case.
You can have an amazing life, love your work, love your colleagues, love your friends and still break down. I recently discovered this myself after collapsing into a pile of tears in front of my friends.
So what had happened?
My year was off to such a good start that I forgot to prioritise time alone to allow me to recharge.
Work was going amazingly well, mentally I felt I was in such a positive place, I was spending time with friends and family. Life just seemed to be going very well and I felt really happy.
Then out of the blue driving home from a friend’s house a dark cloud appeared over me. I didn’t know where it had come from and I couldn’t seem to shake it.
Suddenly my whole mood shifted and I felt heavy, trapped and overwhelmed. My body was screaming at me that it needed some alone time.
I didn’t listen to my body though and kept pushing through and thus ended up in tears in front of my friends.
This was however just what I needed. It made me analyse what had happened and how I had gone from feeling on top of the world to feeling like I was about to burnout.
What did I learn from this experience?
I’m an extrovert, but I need time each week to be alone to recharge. However I felt in such a good place mentally and life seemed to be going so well that I simply didn’t think I needed to take that time out.
I didn’t think I needed to recharge so I didn’t prioritise my alone time.
I now see that part of what makes things run so smoothly for me is having time just for me with no pressure from anyone else. My special alone time. It’s not a tool to be used only when I feel overwhelmed, but a tool to use to keep me feeling great.
From that experience I am now very aware of what my patterns are that cause me to feel this way so I am making sure I take the time to look after myself.
These are my proactive steps to protect myself:
- Take one evening a week just for me.
That evening is just for me, there is no pressure from anyone else and I can do with it what I want (as long as it’s not work!).
- Taking a few hours each weekend to be alone.
Obviously this is done with the support of my husband and I also encourage him to do the same. Having children it’s easy to spend your weekends only with them, but these are also your two days off. It’s important to allow yourself to do something you want. Maybe that’s getting your nails done, or going to the gym or going to a cafe alone and reading a book. Whatever takes your fancy.
- Taking the last Friday of every month off work.
I’ve also now booked off the last Friday of every month. That is a full day for me to do whatever I want and I plan to spend it exploring a new part of the city and taking myself out for a nice lunch.
- One night away alone every few months:
I will take myself to a hotel with a spa and be alone. I’ll see how this goes and experiment with how often I feel I need to do this.
There will always be excuses to not put yourself first
As a working parent there is so much to juggle and so much pressure we put on ourselves. It can feel like you are never alone and never away from someone needing you.
I recognise how important it is for me to take myself out of that situation. To allow myself to feel free. That is how I recharge.
I know there will be temptations to cancel these activities.
I’ll tell myself there is too much work to do. I’ll question whether I really need that night away and I’ll feel guilty for leaving my kids and husband alone (even though I know they’ll be fine).
I’ll question whether it really is that important to spend that evening doing what I want when I could use that evening to do some extra work. I’ll be tempted to clean the house or do the laundry instead of taking time for myself.
I know when I’m feeling good it will be so easy for me to cancel what I have planned. In those moments I have to say no to myself and remind myself why I am doing this.
You don’t need to wait until you spot the signs of anxiety or burnout, you can be proactive. You can learn the habits and triggers that cause you to feel this way and create new habits that can protect you.
Take the time to work out what you can add to your life that will allow you to recharge.