What Are the Best Strategies to Keep You From Burning Out?

If you’re one of the helpers out there who constantly cares for others before caring for yourself, you know you have to stop or you will burn out.  Despite the fact that we have all been trained in the importance of self-care, we get caught up in the craziness of our work and forget (literally forget) to take care of our selves.  I know you–you’re the kind of person who has forgotten to go to the bathroom or eat lunch because someone needed you.  You give and give until you realize that there is nothing left to give.

When you’re in the middle of the madness, you need to be at your best with reserves fueled by your own self-care.  Some of our students have gone through more trauma than anyone should ever experience and you can’t pretend that hearing about it doesn’t bother you.  When I first started in the helping profession as an advocate for survivors of domestic violence, I had nightmares for months before I realized that I’d have to manage my own mental health with fierce intensity or I wouldn’t last.  I’ve outlined a few of the strategies that I use regularly and I hope they will help you too.

On an airplane, you are always told to put on your own oxygen mask first. The same way in life, you need to take care of your health first. If you are not happy and healthy, you cannot make anyone else happy and healthy.        –Rajashree Choudhury

Journal Each Morning

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Spend thirty minutes in the morning writing in stream-of-consciousness to get all the ick out of your brain.  Write about anything you want, but whatever you do, don’t stop.  It’s okay if you don’t know how to spell a word or you’re not sure what to write next.  Just write.  For me, I’ll write “OK” again and again until more words flow onto the page.  This has been one of the most surprisingly rewarding experiences because I’ve been able to process events and experiences that I hadn’t even known were bothering me.

Practice Mindfulness

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Spend at least ten minutes getting your self into a quiet headspace before you tackle the day.  Mindfulness is about learning to observe your thoughts as they arise and not control them.  Try to focus on your breath and see what thoughts arise.  Some of my most profound insights have occurred during these quiet moments.

Move Your Body

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I know, this one seems obvious and it is, but when you’re in a funk, it’s so hard to get out of your own way.  Experts suggest 30 minutes each day, but I’d be proud of you for doing 10 minutes a day.  Can’t seem to get motivated?  I’ve been there.  Create a playlist that moves you and see if that doesn’t make you want to be more active.  Take a walk, do some yoga, play basketball–do whatever works for you.

Make a Gratitude List

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Creating a gratitude list will train your brain to look for the positives in your life and boost your happiness.  You can double-dip and write your gratitude list inside of your morning writing session, but it needs to happen every day.  I will challenge you to think of something small that you take for granted each day–running water, the use of any your senses, the softness of your sheets, or your ability to read and write.  If you’re reading this right now, odds are you’re doing a lot better than the majority of the people on this planet, so give thanks.

Guard Your Time

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Be thoughtful about how you spend your time.  It’s hard to know exactly how to spend your time because, in one corner, you’ve got powerhouse women like Sheryl Sandberg and Shonda Rhimes telling you to say “yes” and to “lean in” but what if we don’t need to say “yes” as often?  Derek Sivers does this amazing interview with Tim Ferriss in which he details his method for determining if he wants to do something.  He says that when presented with an opportunity he’ll check in with himself and ask, is this a “Hell yeah!” kind of opportunity?  If it isn’t, it’s a hard “no.”  That means that you don’t need to sign up for every committee or say yes to all the opportunities offered to you.  You should pass if it isn’t getting you any closer to your long term goal.

Make Progress

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This looks different for each person, but you need to learn something.  Pick up a book, listen to a podcast, learn another language, or join an online class or club.  Youtube can teach you just about anything you want to know without the cost of hiring someone to coach you.  Do you have a twinge of jealousy when you see someone bust out a beautiful melody on the piano or share photos from their weekend rafting trip?  If so, then you already know what you want to learn.  Go do it.

Remember that what you do matters.  Take care of yourself.