The most important part of being in a relationship is to engage in self-care.
All too often, women and some men, but in my experience, mostly women, experience the fatigue of “having it all”. More and more women, by choice or necessity, work a full-time job in addition to family and home responsibilities leaving little, if any, time for them. Likewise, many of us in the helping professions struggle or have struggled with the balance of giving so much emotionally to not only clients, but family and friends, and find ourselves depleted. In both cases, it is very easy to face burnout.
When discussing work, we often hear the term job burnout, but how often have you considered burnout in other “jobs” such as being a parent, spouse, or caregiver to elderly parents. We talk about stress, feeling pressure and having too much on our plates, but feel powerless about what to do. Facing burnout, we find ourselves exhausted, experience muscle tension, headaches, a lack of energy or motivation, more negative, and eventually it can lead to a sense of hopelessness and depression.
Regardless of the role, there is only so much we can give, yet, so many of us continue to give to everyone but ourselves. To begin understanding the magnitude of this issue, look at your life as a pie chart. Assign percentage values to every aspect of your life during waking hours that demands your time, attention and energy. Draw this to get a good visual. What do you notice? Nearly every time I go through this activity, it becomes evident that my clients dedicate all of their time to everyone and everything, but them. They begin to identify how little they do for themselves on even an infrequent basis and it is an eye opening experience.
Taking time for ourselves to engage in nourishing activities is so important. I often use the example of an oxygen mask on an airplane. It quickly becomes indicative of the extent of the lack of self care when I ask clients about the instructions given when oxygen masks drop in case of an emergency. When the pattern of giving to the detriment of themselves is extreme, clients often state that they are to put on the other person’s mask before their own. Clearly, these are not the instruction given, but it is how some of us act in our own lives. In reality, we are told to put our own masks on first to enable us to help others. This becomes a powerful example of how infrequently we put our proverbial masks on by engaging in self-care and enabling us to have enough balance in our lives to enable us to have the emotional resources to help others.
I think this example is effective because it opens the discussion of how failing to engage in self-care can be harmful to us over time. A continued pattern of having too much responsibility, inadequate support and imbalance in our lives can easily lead to burnout, chronic stress, anxiety and depression. Chronic stress and anxiety can also lead to increased risk of illness, heart problems and even death. Helping people recognize the serious nature of this issue is a great first step in gaining balance.
So, what does it mean to “put on my oxygen mask”? Again using the pie chart analogy, use the visual to identify what it would mean to create balance in your life. What would you need to change? Identify your physical, emotional, mental, social, spiritual, and recreation needs. Particularly focusing on physical needs like sleep, exercise and healthy eating; emotional support, social activities and taking time for fun because they tend to be the first sacrificed. Break this down in to smaller pieces and make small, sometimes very small, goals to get even one step closer to achieving your “ideal pie chart” is a great way to start this process. The most important thing to recognize is that no one can do this for us, so we need to be our own advocate and in some ways, put ourselves first because only then will we truly be of service to others.
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