As a mental health professional, I often see that most people have to get to the place of burnout before they are willing to even consider taking care of themselves. What is even worse is we often judge ourselves for needing self-care at all! Do you judge your car for needing gas? I have been known to challenge my clients to refill their gas tank when it is three-quarters empty rather than waiting for the orange light to go on.
Signs of Burnout to Look Out For:
- Trouble getting to sleep, trouble staying asleep, or even wanting to sleep too much.
- A shorter fuse with the people around you, or little things that get on your nerves more than usual.
- The lack of motivation to do things you used to like to do.
- Overeating or not eating enough.
- Difficulty focusing or feeling overwhelmed.
- Finding yourself feeling tired most of the time.
How did we get here?
Let’s begin with the technology issue. There is much evidence to show that mental stress is far more exhausting than physical stress. Many people in today’s world wake up and grab their phone. Immediately the brain starts processing… ‘I have to call so-and-so, and I have to do such-and-such’. The scientific community has adopted the term “brain fog” to identify the exhaustion that the brain experiences from needing to be in a constant state of readiness. With this level of vigilance demanded from the brain, it is very important to create the time to replenish. Sadly, when we go to sleep with our brains spinning, it makes it very difficult to fall asleep and then we stress out about not falling asleep! The truth is, that good night sleep is just not enough anymore. We need to take thoughtful breaks throughout the day and learn how to be present exactly where we are at the moment, rather than being in tens of places at once.
While social media is meant to keep us connected, it also keeps us isolated, which can turn into burnout. A great reliever of stress is being part of a community. We are social animals and we very much need interaction with each other. Time with friends generates connectivity, laughter, and a feeling of belonging. Being with friends is fun! It generates important neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. Even if being with a friend involves listening to their problems and trying to help, it creates a feeling both emotionally and chemically that builds our self-esteem and feeling of connection. Social media gives us the “illusion of connection” without the benefits of face-to-face interactions that can heal.
Here are some important tips to get you back on track:
1. Come To Your Senses
Our five senses have been developed so that we can experience the world around us. It’s sensational! Engaging two or three of your senses at the time is a fantastic way to self soothe and distract the brain. The part of your brain that thinks and worries robs you of the moment you are in. When feeling anxious, engage 3 of your 5 senses.
- When you are brushing your teeth, be aware of the mint or cinnamon toothpaste taste in your mouth.
- Listen to the sound of water in the sink, we take the wonder of indoor plumbing for granted. Just listening to the sound of the water coming out of the faucet or the way it swirls down the sink can ground you at the moment.
- Feel the wind or sun on your face, listen to music that you enjoy, touch something soft or smooth (like a gemstone or rose petal), taste something yummy, or just notice how good an iced tea feels going down your throat.
The point is to just be present and connected to the world around you, rather than the next text that pings on your phone.
2. Look Up
When you’re walking to your car or office, don’t look down at your phone. Instead, look at the beautiful sky and take a breath of fresh air. Notice the trees and the birds that are flying by. Just a few moments of being connected to the planet does a lot to replenish our brains. Mindfulness means taking time to appreciate the beautiful world that surrounds us.
3. Say No!
Practice saying “no” to time demands that are requested of you, and say “yes” to time for yourself. We cannot possibly do everything. While you may feel weird saying no, follow it up by saying “Thank you for understanding I need some downtime.” And then really do that! Take time to read a book that’s been on your nightstand for a month, or take a hike, or maybe just be a couch potato and do nothing. All of these actions fill your tank.