Self-Care > Burn Out = Happiness

We all have some great inspirational, hardworking and passionate individuals in our lives and we wonder, “How do they do it all?” ‘All’ being putting in countless hours of work, volunteering, mentoring, being leaders in our community and being an active part in their personal groups as well. In the social profit sector, and in particular smaller organizations, we often end up wearing more than one hat. This leads to lieu hours, burnout and self-care, terms I have never heard before I started working in this sector. We tell ourselves that it is just the nature of the under-funded social profit sector.

I am writing this somewhat as a reminder for myself because I am a self-admitted busy bee, who takes on more than she can chew. I used to think if I can do it, why not do it? It is easy to keep taking on more as there is so much joy in doing the important work and seeing the impact it has. However a lot of consequences came as a result of this frame of mind, and I realized the pressure I put on myself was taking a toll on my health. Being diagnosed with anxiety and mild depression was the turning point.

I needed to make changes in my life.

I quit my job, left my many hats and moved to a mid-sized mountainous South Korean city in 2011 to teach English abroad. There, I learned what it meant to slow down. Without realizing it, I went back to basics, and I mean the prior to technology type of basics.

One of my blessings was that I did not have a working cell phone or internet for the first month. Through this, I was forced to give up my precious social media and the television shows I obsessively watched. I eventually realized I did not need a smartphone and went with a simple talk and text phone with no camera. Oh the horrors! In the time I was there, I ended up reading over 200 books from a local ex-pats library and buying a Nikon digital camera.

After two weeks I started learning a new language, mainly because I wanted to stop eating the only thing I could say in Korean, bibimbap (a Korean rice dish mixed with fresh vegetables). This allowed me to engage with my community and build relationships with the bankers, mail person, cooks, and business owners I frequently saw. The victory was achieved when I was finally able to understand my incredibly kind instructor during my hot yoga class and thank her for her constant inclusion of me during the past six months.

I started signing up for weekly trips, to natural and historical destinations, to meet new friends and explore the beautiful country I was living in. Being outdoors and close to water quickly became my happy place where I could relax and de-stress.

The medication I left armed with was quickly weaned off within the first few months and replaced with the many alternative ways of healing. This method may not work for everyone, but was fortunately my personal experience. I remember doing silly crafts, laughing til I cried, singing out of tune, and dancing like I really did not care, things I have not done since I was young. I even ran a non-profit organization advocating for, mentoring and fundraising for several local causes.

This was my journey into self-care. Fast forward five years and I’m back in Toronto, in the social profit sector doing what I love most, but finding it harder and harder to read those books, take those nature walks, engage with friends and eat good wholesome food. Instead baths, golf, and running have become my replacements for nature, water, and yoga in Canada. It may be easier for others, but self-care is a constant battle for me. It is necessary while juggling this fellowship, our paid and unpaid jobs, families, and responsibilities.

Although for everyone there are different methods and paths to discovering them, one thing is the same; we need to take care of ourselves because we are no use to anyone or thing burnt out and no longer able to do our work?

Here are seven ways of preventing burnout according to Paula Davis-Laack on Psychology Today1.

  1. Increase your self-efficacy (Believe in your own ability)
  2. Identify what you need from your work (Know what you want)
  3. Have creative outlets (From flinging paint on a canvas to singing a small tune)
  4. Take care of yourself (Time for a Kit Kat break)
  5. Get support where you can find it (Build your true squad)
  6. Get real and go there (Dig deep and discover the whys)
  7. Increase your diet of positive emotions (Positive to Negative Emotions Ratio 3:1)

And try one of these before you even need it next time.