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The response to my blog last week about personally experiencing surge capacity depletion was quite overwhelming – to say the least. My gut feeling told me I wasn’t alone in what I was feeling and apparently it was right. It’s comforting and reassuring when you know so many other people in all parts of the world are on the same journey with you.

After reading last week’s blog, a friend and past client in Belfast, Northern Ireland, wrote:

“Many thanks for this – it just summed up how me and many colleagues are feeling. Thank you so much! It arrived at just the right time. I have shared it with my team and please know they appreciate it also.”

Thank you for trusting me by sharing your own personal stories of surge capacity depletion. I am truly humbled.

Lately, I’ve been doing an extra amount of reading about self-care and preventing burn out and I’ve come across a number of tips and insights. I’ve slowly and diligently implemented them into my daily life and routine and have already seen a positive difference in my energy and overall health.

Given how many of you expressed a depletion of energy and feelings of burnout this past week, I thought I would pass along to you some of the information I have found beneficial to me…

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 you love the most. If left unchecked, it can result in a downward spiral that is very hard to get out of.

Practicing self-care is one of the best things you can do to prevent burnout or to get yourself on an upward spiral towards a healthier and more balanced life. “Self-care” encompasses just about anything you do to be good to yourself. It’s about knowing when your resources are running low and taking a step back to replenish and recharge.

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. One of the biggest barriers to practicing self-care is the feeling that you are being selfish when you do. Taking care of yourself and your health is not selfish. We need to participate in behaviors that contribute to our own survival and health so we can be healthy and available for others. Similar to being on an airplane, where you have to put your oxygen mask on yourself before you can help other people, you need to tend to caring for yourself before you can help other people. Taking time out of your day for you, for “me time” and to relax or de-stress is important. And, if you experience guilt by practicing self-care or feel like you are being selfish when you do, then think of it in terms of a “healthy selfishness.”

Self-care is a necessity – not a luxury.

One of the best things you can do on your self-care journey is to check in with yourself on a regular basis. Ask yourself, “What do I need right now to be the best me?”

Having a toolbox full of self-care tools you can pull from is important. Make sure you have at least three stress management tools you can do that you don’t need anyone else or anything else for. It could be as simple as cuddling a pet, reaching out to a friend, meditating, listening to music, practicing mindfulness, journaling or turning to a spiritual community.

Here are some other ways research has found you can prevent burnout through self-care:

1. Exercise

It’s no secret that exercise can relieve stress. According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise can lower the symptoms associated with mild anxiety, improve your sleep and ease your stress levels. If you’re not an avid exerciser, simply going on a walk can help you stay focused and solve problems more efficiently.

2. Get More Sleep

This might sound obvious, but it wouldn’t be if everyone got enough sleep. Deep sleep is restorative. Researchers believe that during sleep, cerebrospinal fluid flushes out toxic wastes, thus “cleaning” the brain. The National Foundation for Sleep recommends that adults clock between seven and nine hours of sleep a night. It’s also important to limit the amount of screen time before turning in. Scientists recommend that you stop using your devices at least 30 minutes before bed. Setting an alarm to remind you to start winding down can be an effective way to get more sleep.

3. Unplug

The very technology that is connecting us right now may also be doing us harm. It’s unrealistic to completely get rid of our “screened” technology, but there are health benefits to reducing your screen time – like improved mood, more time to try new activities and improved physical health. Schedule time each day to put down your phone or computer and shut off the television. Try reading a book, meditating or using your phone to actually call someone. If you can safely meet someone in person, even better.

4. Give Back

Stop expecting satisfaction from your job. Take it from me, burnout affects even the most passionate workers, as much as it does those who are in a job simply for the paycheck. If you’re no longer satisfied by your work, try volunteering or giving back. COVID-19 may have complicated matters, but there are ways to volunteer online or safely in-person. Starting a new hobby or investing time in your family and friend are also good ways to fill the void left by your job.

5. Honor Your Small Needs

You–and your body, mind and spirit–have needs that occur throughout the day. Self-care is about honoring all the small daily moments that need your awareness. By taking care of the small things, you prevent them from compounding into big things. Here are a number of small daily moments and needs you can address to sustain your physical, emotional and mental health:

Don’t skip meals because you’re busy. Make time to eat a meal and make it a healthy one. It will help you and your brain work better.

Stretch throughout the day. Our bodies become tense and immobile by holding the same position all day. Take five minutes to stretch.

Breathe. If you really pay attention, you would be surprised by how little you likely breathe or how incomplete your breaths are. Take a moment to take some deep breaths.

Laugh! Is there a person who makes you laugh every time you talk with them? Is there a comic strip that makes you laugh most every time you read it? Is there a movie or TV show that you find yourself laughing at no matter how many times you watch it? Do the things that you know will almost guarantee a deep belly laugh for you!

In the midst of a global pandemic, the need to care for your own health — all aspects of it — is of the utmost importance. Let’s face it…Navigating this new normal isn’t easy. But, the one thing you do have control over and can navigate right now is YOU. So, take a step back and honor what YOU need. Make YOU a priority. Make and take time for the things that keep YOU healthy, inspired and joyful. YOU will be a better worker, a better parent, a better partner and a better friend because of it, but more importantly, YOU will be a happier and healthier person.

And, remember there is absolutely nothing selfish about taking care of YOU!

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