Latter-day Saint Life

4 Easy Ways to Avoid Burnout: Why Self-Care Is Anything but Selfish


Have you ever been surprised and frustrated by people whose phones go dead right in the middle of the day?  It seems like such a basic thing to plug it in at night.  But sometimes finding your charger is just too much at 11 p.m., or maybe you have an older phone that won’t hold a charge.  Lucky for us lesser mortals, there’s power save, which rations power by cutting nonessential functions. 

Self-care works a lot the same way.  It’s best to recharge regularly, but when life gets difficult, we can conserve energy by cutting out the nonessentials.

1. Rethink Selfishness

It is common in our culture to equate selflessness with self-neglect—in fact, self-neglect is selfish at its root because it ignores the needs of our loved ones to see us happy and saddles them with guilt over what we’ve given up for them. When we neglect self-care, we’re likely to lose our health and joy, becoming angry, whiny, and endlessly self-centered.  

Self-care, by contrast, is based in a bedrock faith in Father in Heaven's love for us. Self-care flowing from that divine love fills us completely and overflows into the lives of those around us. When we truly take care of ourselves, we have energy, joy, and a desire to share the goodness of life with our loved ones. 

Here are a few ways we can better recharge and prioritize self-care without becoming selfish:

2. Plug In

When you plug in your phone every night, you are acknowledging that this device is not actually magic and that it requires some respect and care in order to function at its best.

Of course, we all know we're not immortal. We have physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional needs. Just like cell phones, we need to plug in regularly and recharge, but it’s easy to forget that we need more than prayer and scripture study in order to flourish. Spirituality is essential to a sense of well-being, but it's not going to constitute everything you need for a full charge.

Try to pinpoint what it is that might be draining your energy or “power.” Are you emotionally drained? Stressed? Feeling distant from God? Need some time to yourself? Overwhelmed with family, ward callings, work, etc? Once you figure out what is causing the problem, then you can brainstorm ways to give your body what it needs. Remember, sleep, relaxation, exercise, harmless fun, meditation, stepping away, giving yourself a break, and balance are all essential to a healthy life.

3. Take Some Me Time

What gives your life a sense of fun, accomplishment, relaxation, connectedness, color, expression, or adventure? What do you do that makes you more you? Do you nerd out with the comic-con crowd? Do you love rock climbing? Do you miss chamber choir with all your heart? (If you live close, call me and I'll hook you up.) Figure out what, besides God's love, you need to be happy, and find a way to make it happen for yourself.

I know it's hard. I'm in the middle of raising five kids, and there are weeks when I am "on" for 12 hours or more every single day. But find dreams that are workable within the boundaries of your life and enlist your loved ones in pursuing them.

► You'll also like: Is There a Mormon Burnout Epidemic?

4. Hit Power Save

Let's just say, hypothetically, that you do neglect yourself for a few months or years and you burn out. This may manifest in depression, anxiety, physical illness, relationship troubles, or just sheer exhaustion. You are having trouble plugging in regularly enough to get a full charge and find yourself tapped out in the middle of a long day. And when is the next charge? Well, since the bank account is empty, or your spouse is out of town, or you're down to the wire on a project deadline, or your child is in the hospital, heaven only knows. But you do know that you're charging less often than is optimal, and while you work on fixing that, you still have to survive.

► You'll also like: Toss the Guilt and Catch the Joy: The Importance of Taking Time for Yourself

Time to hit power save.  It's actually pretty simple and some of us have been doing it for years but feeling guilty about it. (Time to stop, by the way.) Basically it means cutting down on everything but the absolute basics.

What are the basics? I hope it goes without saying that we’ll start with prayer, scripture study, and family night.  Those three are your lifeline and if you're fighting to keep them going you're going to make it. But there are other essentials, such as, oh . . . eating. Sleeping is a good one. Some families absolutely insist on some time outside every day. For me, it's reading time. I feel like a good mom when it happens, so that makes it an essential I fight for even during power saving mode. Every family is different, so find out what gives your family joy and connection. Whatever those things are for you, defend them against the less important things. You’ll rest easier and enjoy the tough times more when you know the basics are covered.

Less important things? Let 'em go as often and as quickly as you can spot them until you're in a better place. It may include some of your kids' extracurricular activities. It may be an extra job or project you thought would charge you up, but is actually draining you. You may find yourself letting that signup sheet pass you by more often. And be honest with your bishop about what you can or can't handle. He stands as God's representative to care for the ward—and you are a member of his ward!

The brightness on your screen goes down in power save mode because it’s the biggest energy suck of all—kind of like keeping up appearances. The faster we can let go of that one, the better. The true light of Christ may not impress superficially, but it's constant and dependable.

► You'll also like: Avoiding Mormon Burnout: Why It's Okay to Say "No"

Saying no is not for sissies. Some people will shame you without even meaning to. You will feel guilty sometimes. At times like these, ask yourself if your loved ones deserve a healthy, happy youThey would probably choose you over many of the things you do to show your love. 

So plug in when you can, and hit power save when you can’t.  And remember, you were made to be happy.

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