I’m currently in Byron Bay, having just finished running a five day retreat. It’s been four years since we’ve been here and I had forgotten how truly restorative it is.
It’s often not until we go on holiday or experience forced rest as a result of illness that we realise how much we’ve been rushing and pushing ourselves to get through the next milestone or objective. While you may not be able to get away on holiday or retreat right now, there are small steps you can take to become better at practising self-care, which is imperative if you want to avoid burnout.
Here are some tips to help you make taking care of yourself a priority.
1. See it as self-care, not selfish
There may have been times in your life when you were told that prioritising your needs was selfish but I imagine if you’re reading this, the more likely scenario is that you almost always put others’ needs ahead of your own. And in doing so, you rarely make time for self-care.
It’s helpful to remember that when you take better care of yourself, it’s also a gift to other people. A short morning meditation might help you to feel more calm and relaxed; a brief period of rest each week might make you less tired and irritable; a few sessions of exercise will make you physically and mentally more energised.
Allowing yourself to get to the point of being run down or burnt out means you’ll have nothing to give to anyone.
2. Know your energy rhythms
Get to know your daily, weekly, monthly and annual rhythms of energy and plan ahead for these.
If you’re naturally more energised in the morning, this might be the best time for physical activity. If your brain tends to fade at around 3pm, this could be a great time to meditate. If you’re weary by Thursday evenings, cook an extra meal on a Tuesday. If the full moon seems to affect your sleep, meditate or journal before bed. If winter is a difficult time, plan a sunny holiday. If festive holidays stir up issues with extended family, plan ahead to ensure you meet your own needs, as well as giving a little of yourself.
Include reminder notes in your diary ahead of your most challenging times and get into the habit of prioritising time to replenish.
3. Call on the village
As my dear friend Lisa used to say, ‘it takes a village to raise a family’. It takes a village for any of us to feel a sense of support, connection and belonging.
Many of us struggle to ask others for help and even when it is on offer, we often find it hard to accept. Be brave enough to reach out to your village and ask for help if you’re struggling and allow others to contribute when it’s offered. Remind yourself of how good it feels when you’re able to help someone else and let others do the same for you.
If you’re yet to find your ‘village’, make it a priority to create connection with your local community.
4. Give up the notion of all or nothing
When you’re unable to take a two-week trip to Thailand or even an extended weekend down the coast, a regular weekend at home can be transformed into a mini-break.
Nominate a date a few weeks in advance and let the people around you know you won’t be available. Keep the time as commitment-free as possible. Spread your usual weekend errands throughout the prior week and where possible, share them around with family members. Better still, let some things go and get by with the basics.
Order your supermarket shopping online, ask a friend to ferry the kids to sport and order in a few healthy pre-cooked meals. Once Friday night arrives, put your phone on silent and put your feet up. Turn the telly off. Rest, meditate, do yoga. Take a picnic to the park, walk along the beach, lie on the earth and gaze at the clouds and the stars.
5. When even a weekend is too much
If it feels like a quiet weekend is out of the question right now, create mini-breaks during the week.
Head to bed at 8.00pm with a book or journal and leave your devices out of the bedroom. Give yourself extra time by waking thirty minutes early. It may feel slightly difficult at first but once you’re up and you’ve had a cup of tea, you’ll be grateful for the time on your own. Write in your journal, watch the sunrise, do a few yoga stretches or meditate.
And remind yourself, it’s not a question of whether you can afford the time for self-care but rather, whether you can’t. Be generous with yourself before you burn out and everyone around you will benefit.