Burnout has become a buzzword and one thing that’s true is that people burn out for different reasons. As a burnout expert, I’ve identified 7 main reasons why you might be experiencing this phenomenon. Together, these underpinnings come together to spell the word “BURNOUT”:
This week, we tackle the fourth piece of the puzzle: self-neglect.
You neglect yourself. You put your needs on the back burner, thinking that when you have time, you’ll do those things you know you really need to be doing. But when is that time going to come? Are you waiting for some magical time in the future?
After working with high achievers for decades, I know the answer to that question. You’re just busy and you lose that sense of time. But this is by no accident. It’s time to take a serious look under the hood of what gets in the way and what you can do to stop the overwhelm.
What you need, above all, is to understand why you put yourself last and what can help rewrite the equation so that you prevent burnout (or recover from it once and for all).
Let’s bust through the myths and the limiting beliefs that keep you stuck in the hamster wheel even when you’re exhausted and feeling guilty just for contemplating the idea of taking care of your needs.
Not sure if this is for you? Here are some signs that you need to take better care of yourself:
- You feel guilty for spending any time on yourself
- You don’t have time for self-care
- You put your needs on the back-burner
- You don’t have fun anymore
- You don’t treat yourself often enough
If any or all of these resonated with you, there are likely mindsets you need to re-examine.
Myths About Self-Care
When we aren’t prioritizing ourselves, it’s usually out of a belief or set of beliefs. Here are some of the most common reasons why people neglect themselves and what you can do about each to shift your thinking.
Myth #1: You don’t have time for self-care
Taking time for yourself may seem like a luxury that only people with more resources (AKA time) than you can afford. But it’s actually an essential part of living a happy life. Without self-care, we are unable to truly connect with others or find fulfillment in our work. This is because our minds and bodies need rest in order to function at their best every day. Plus, when we’re tired and stressed out all the time, it’s harder to be patient with others — so they’ll probably be less patient with us too!
And likely, you already know this, but you’re still putting yourself on the back burner. Perhaps it’s because you have so much going on that you tell yourself, “I just can’t take on one more thing.” For you, self-care feels overwhelming. You’re a busy person. You want to do less, not more.
I get it. That said, self-care doesn’t have to be hard or time consuming; it can be as simple as taking a bath or just sitting down to eat comfortably while at the table with your family members. What are you already doing that allows you to relax? Maybe it’s about being more present when you’re doing those activities or making slight adjustments that can reap the benefits of your efforts, like swapping your daily shower for a weekly bath, that can make a big difference.
That’s a simple solution, but ultimately what holds you back is mindset. Here’s what I mean. Let’s say you have a friend who is struggling with depression and needs someone to talk to. Being the good friend that you are, you make time for a chat.
When you prioritize others over yourself, even when you’re busy, it boils down to your self-image. Ultimately, you might believe your needs aren’t as important as those of others.
People-pleasers often believe their emotional needs will never be met, so they focus on nurturing others in the hopes of reciprocation. The trouble is, this strategy is disempowering. You have no control over what other people do.
If you believe your needs aren’t as important and become known as someone who is a “giver,” you may end up attracting people who are “takers.” Over time, this will only lead you to feel physically and emotionally depleted and resentful. When you find yourself in this pattern, it can lead you to distrusting others because you start to expect the worst in people.
Professor Adam Grant shares about this phenomenon of giving and taking in his book, suggesting a middle of the road position — matchers. In it, he states, “Research demonstrates that givers sink to the bottom of the success ladder. Across a wide range of important occupations, givers are at a disadvantage; they make others better off but sacrifice their own success in the process.”
One final consequence of being emotionally deprived due to self-neglect is that you become an island, which is very lonely, or you become dependent and even demanding of others to meet your emotional needs.
Here’s what you need to know. Your patterns of thinking and behaving are largely subconscious and are a result of programming from a young age. When you become aware of what’s driving you, you can work to challenge your worldview, clear the mind clutter, reboot your relationships and, most importantly, the way you approach the relationship with yourself.
Myth #2: People will think you’re selfish
One of the most common myths floating around is that self-care is selfish. And yes, focusing on yourself is by definition “selfish,” but contrary to popular belief, “selfish” isn’t a bad word. It’s actually important for your well-being and mental health. When you neglect yourself, you feel burned out and stressed out which will affect how well you do in other areas of your life like work and relationships. Taking time for yourself gives you the energy needed to keep going throughout the day and make good choices when dealing with stressful situations.
Here are the top five reasons why you need to be a little selfish:
- You’re sick and tired of being sick and tired
- You deserve it
- It will make you happier!
- It’s good for your health
- You can do it
Which of the above resonated with you? If you’re anything like my clients, you likely don’t fully believe you deserve it even when the rest feels true. Where did that belief come from?
Also, there’s a difference between thinking that indulging in self-care is selfish and worrying that others will think you are being selfish.
What can you do to change this around?
If you think taking care of yourself is selfish or that you do not deserve to rest, enjoy yourself, or take care of your health, then you’ll want to work on your self-worth. Perhaps you believe you’re not good enough and focus on productivity to feel valuable. This is a mental trap.
When you worry more about the perception others have of you, remember that they, too, are humans with human needs. They too need to spend time taking care of themselves. You have that in common. Besides, what’s more important — what other people think or how you feel?
Myth #3: I don’t know where to start
Even if you are on board with the idea of self-care, you may not know how to get started. There is a lot of information out there about best practices. You’ve heard people talk about exercise, healthy eating, and meditation but it all feels overwhelming.
It’s best to start small and build habits over time. As you contemplate your options, consider how you will address both your physical and emotional needs.
Taking care of your health is important not only for longevity, but also for burnout prevention. This is where you focus on activities that increase your energy like sleep, exercise, and nutrition.
Your mind is just as important to nurture. This can take the form of stress management, social support, and doing fun activities like dancing or painting.
You’re already sleeping, but maybe being mindful about getting adequate sleep can be a first step in the right direction. How many hours does your body need to thrive? Yes, you have a lot you want to get done and it can be enticing to stay up late for those activities, but be honest with yourself. When you don’t get enough sleep or have a poor quality of sleep, you suffer because you later don’t have the stamina to get more done.
Have a wind down routine at night so you get to bed on time. As it gets later and later in the day, continue dimming the lights so you’re most alert during daytime hours when you need to focus and sleepy at bedtime.
Using this framework, consider what other activities you already have in place that you could tweak. After you’ve mastered those, you can start introducing other health habits.
What to do
In this busy world, why is it that some people seem to be able to get everything done, while others are always running behind?
It’s because they take care of themselves. They prioritize their needs and treat themselves like a priority.
Here are some ways you can start practicing self-care today:
- Make time for fun activities that make you feel good about yourself (like watching your favorite TV show or hanging out with friends).
- Do something nice for yourself, like taking a bath or going shopping for new clothes (or even just treating yourself to a smoothie after work).
- Make sure to get enough sleep so that your body has time to recover from everything else it does for you every day (and so that you don’t feel like crap when all your other commitments hit at once).
4. Schedule daily time just for you — even if it’s just 15 minutes in the morning or evening. Use this time to do things that make you feel good, like meditating, reading a book, or getting some exercise. You’ll be surprised at how much better you feel after just a few minutes of doing something nice for yourself!
- Learn how to say “no.” Saying no can be really hard sometimes, especially when we feel guilty about letting someone down or not being there for them when they need us most (even though we can’t always be there). The best way to learn how to say no is by practicing saying it more often over time until it becomes easier and more natural to say “no” when necessary!
- Do something to relax your mind and body. What can you use to engage all your senses? Essential oils, candles, music, massage, and chamomile tea are elements that modify your environment and enhance your experience.
- Get outside for at least a few minutes each day — even if it’s just on your porch or balcony. Being outside can help reduce stress levels and improve moods, especially early in the day before the sun is at its fullest. This morning exposure to light sets your circadian rhythm. As an added bonus, head out when the sun is setting to start winding down in preparation for sleep.
- Self-care doesn’t have to require additional time. You can multitask your way to self-care. For instance, listen to music (or an audio book) while doing chores around the house, cleaning or getting ready for bed/morning routine. This can help make mundane tasks more enjoyable; plus, it gets them done faster!
- Meditate daily — even if it’s just for five minutes before bedtime or first thing in the morning (you can even set an alarm on your phone). There are too many benefits to meditation to mention here. Pick a style of meditation based on your desired outcome. If you’re a total newbie, check out one of the meditation apps and follow along to a guided visualization.
- Sometimes, it’s not about what you do, but how you think about what you’re doing. When you reframe your activities as good for you, they can positively impact your physical and mental wellbeing.
If you’re neglecting yourself, there’s likely some subconscious programming running in the background. You hold unexamined beliefs about the importance of needs in relationship to others, about how you should spend your time, and worry that other people will think negatively of you if you indulge in self-care. Nothing could be further from the truth.
You have physical and emotional needs and you have to be responsible for getting them met. Otherwise, the pain of not having those needs met will lead you to avoid relationships, seek out relationships with “takers,” or become overly dependent on others to take care of you.
We all have 24 hours in a day. What you prioritize reflects your beliefs. If you think there isn’t enough time for self-care, it’s time to work on your self-image and self-worth.
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