For a long time, I thought that regular self-care practices were the key to avoiding burnout. That was until last year when I found myself spread too thin and severely burned out.
Meditating, exercising, journaling…those things are supposed to keep you stress-free, right? You might think they’re the answer to all of your problems like I did.
Well, what happens if self-care fails you? Last year, I learned something that made me realize my definition of self-care was all wrong.
Even though I was practicing self-care on a regular basis, I burned myself to the ground because I wasn’t being honest with myself. What I thought was self-care wasn’t working for me, so here’s how I discovered what I needed to do.
How I Burned Out
For the past two years, I’ve been running The Blissful Mind, working part-time as an independent contractor, and coaching a high school dance team. I thought I was able to balance it all, but it eventually became too much.
To put my schedule into context, I was working about 25 hours a week at my contract job. I was also at dance practices 2-3 days a week for about 3 hours each. There were occasional Saturday practices and long evenings for sporting event performances. The big kicker was that I had an hour and a half commute each way. Any leftover moment was dedicated to my blog and business.
Trying to juggle three separate jobs was exhausting. I didn’t have time in my schedule for anything but work, and my brain rarely had a chance to relax.
When you’re burned out, you start to feel disconnected from who you are.
Around the summer of 2019, I began to feel like I wasn’t myself anymore, as if I didn’t know who I was outside of my work responsibilities.
I didn’t realize how much burnout takes away from your connection to yourself. It makes you feel like you’re not capable of success. It makes you question everything that you’re doing. You feel guilty that you’re not able to handle it when there are others dealing with much worse. It messes with you mentally, physically, and emotionally.
As someone who has created an entire brand around a “blissful mind”, I didn’t feel like I had one. I stopped sharing as much content because I didn’t feel like I was upholding my values.
I would feel a sense of guilt because there are plenty of people out there who are juggling more than I was. There were other dance coaches who were mothers and had full-time jobs. If they could do it, why was I having such a hard time making it all work? I realize now that they were struggling as well.
When Self-Care Isn’t Enough
I’ve always known that self-care is more than bubble baths (we should all know that by now), but I didn’t realize that my definition of self-care was limited until it stopped working for me.
Even though I made time for exercise, baths, journaling, and all of the self-care things, I still felt burned out. I thought spending time on a daily basis to take care of myself was the key to keeping me from burning out, but it clearly wasn’t. That’s not to say that these things didn’t help me, but there was more to the situation than those things could have helped with.
Despite taking care of myself, I needed to take something off of my plate.
It wasn’t until I stopped coaching at the end of 2019 that I finally started to feel like myself again. It was the one thing that I needed to let go of, but I hadn’t felt like it was an option until it happened due to circumstances out of my control. As much as I hated to leave the team behind, it was something that needed to happen.
Taking something off of my plate was the self-care that I was missing. Going into 2020, I already feel lighter. I know that I have less to worry about, and I finally feel like myself again.
How I Redefined Self-Care
Now that I’m no longer in a situation where I can barely keep track of everything, I’ve learned what self-care truly means (at least to me).
True self-care is deciding if you are going to accept whatever is causing you discomfort or if you are going to change it. I tried to accept it for a long time to convince myself that things were okay, but there was no way I could keep up life in a hustle state like that. In my case, I had to let go of something to truly feel like myself again.
I also think that it’s so important to have a support system who can take some of the weight off of your shoulders.
Self-care ironically involves more than yourself.
I read an article recently about community self-care and how it might be even more important than personal self-care. Community self-care is about having people in your life who are there for you when you need it most.
Looking back at it now, there’s no way that I could have done all of the things I was doing without getting burned out. You cannot do it all, especially not alone. You need a support system in life if you are going to make it through anything.
Prioritize your support system and get comfortable asking for help. I failed at these two things in 2019, but now I know that you can’t do it all alone. I know that I need to protect my time and not take on so much for the sake of my own mental health.
My main point here is that self-care is deeper than a lot of us even realize. It’s more than daily wellness habits (even though those are important).
True self-care involves sacrifice, discomfort, abandonment, honesty, community, and commitment to making choices in your best interest.
I feel it’s my duty to include other reasons why traditional self-care doesn’t work. These stem from hierarchies, politics, racism, societal oppression, and much more. So many of us are suffering due to circumstances bigger than ourselves, which means we have to be allies for each other. Here are some articles worth reading:
- Young female doctors are at high risk for burnout and “self-care” is not the answer
- Self-care isn’t enough. We need community care to thrive.
- Black Mothers are drowning and self care is not the answer
Is there anything you need to let go of?
From now on, I’m putting my energy into the things that give you life, not things that make me question every decision I make. If it doesn’t fit in with my life vision, it’s not worth giving my energy to.
If you’re burned out and you’ve tried the self-care methods, you need to a) stop fighting whatever’s burning you out or b) let it go for your own sanity. I hope this post has helped you to redefine self-care or given you some encouragement if you’re in a similar position that I was in.