The self-care myth: Why do I still feel burnt out?
Too often we’re led to believe that a bubble bath, a face mask or an hour away from our kids will solve all our problems. So why do I still feel burnt out the moment I return?
Sure my batteries might feel recharged momentarily, or if I’m lucky they might stay that way for a few days. But then all too quickly I jump back on the hamster wheel and the familiar feelings of overwhelm and exhaustion come flooding back.
Sometimes just the pressure to do self-care can feel overwhelming. And then when it doesn’t change how we feel, we feel even worse.
I was speaking with my psychologist last year when I was pretty much at all-out burnout (like so many of us were in 2020). I told her that everyone kept telling me I needed a hobby and I felt pressure to take something up – thinking it would be the miracle cure I needed. I was expecting her to agree and tell me to sign up to my local pottery class. But instead, she told me that was ridiculous.
By all means, sign up for the pottery class if you have a burning desire to do pottery, she said. But instead, she asked me to write two lists.
What makes you walk away feeling full and energised and what leaves you feeling deflated. Include everything from specific people, places, tasks, work, even certain activities with the kids.
So for me when I analysed my list it was things like a connection (quality time with friends and family), work and exercise that filled my cup. And things that left me deflated included things like constantly cleaning the house and sitting on the floor playing cars all the time with my sons. I felt like a terrible mother admitting out loud that I didn’t enjoy doing that but she helped me understand that’s ok.
It helped explain why I would go away and do something for me, then I would come home and my little car-obsessed boys would just want to sit and play cars with me. I couldn’t pinpoint why I loved spending time with them but I wasn’t enjoying it.
It’s because I was expecting that small-time away to fix all my problems. It wasn’t about them, or the cars. It was about me.
It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy playing cars with them necessarily, but it’s that I wasn’t doing enough things that I do enjoy.
So once I identified that, she suggested coming up with a list of things to do with the kids that I enjoy doing too. So for me, I love getting out and the house together and going to the park or beach, or reading, colouring or doing puzzles. I even love a good lego sesh. So she suggested making more time for doing those activities together.
Sure some days I still sit and play cars with them, that’s their favourite thing to do so I don’t want to disconnect from that completely. But when I’m feeling flat, I make a conscious decision to listen to how I’m feeling. Or try to anyway.
That’s just one example but she made me come up with a big list of things that I can incorporate into my every day. But I loved that it really made me rethink this whole self-care myth we’ve been led to believe.
It’s not about bandaid solutions but more about taking the time to know what makes you tick – and honouring your boundaries. Not something that comes easily to mums.
“So, what if, instead of thinking about solving your whole life, you just think about adding additional good things. One at a time. Just let your pile of good things grow.”
As mums the reality, at least while our kids are young is that we’re going to feel elements of burnout and exhaustion. These beautiful little humans need a lot of our time, energy and focus. It is what it is. But this is just a season and we have to find ways to bring ourselves along for the ride.
“We often forget that in order to support others emotional, physical and mental needs we need to take care of our own first,” says Kiindred’s resident psychologist, Jaimie Bloch.
“If you’re constantly trying to support people but you’re not ok, you will run yourself into the ground emotionally and physically. When we are not ok, or when we are burnt out our tolerance is reduced, patience diminished and we are more likely to be reactive, anxious and overall less able to be present, grounded and connected to others.”
Sure we need to schedule those spa days and girls nights out and I’ve never met a face mask I didn’t like but it’s about going one step further and building out your “happy” list that you can incorporate into your everyday life. Finding little realistic ways to incorporate those things into your every day (or at least every week life).
It’s not about thinking that one act of self-care will replenish your empty cup in an instant, but rather adding spoonfuls at a time. So that when the inevitable negative things do come up and start to chip away at you, you are constantly replenishing it with the good stuff.
“Putting on a face mask once every few weeks or taking an hour to yourself every once in a while is nice, it is not good enough to help replenish and refuel our tanks,” adds Jaimie.
“What we need is to develop our own care routines that are daily.”
Your non-negotiable daily self-care routine
Here a few musts to include in your daily self-care routine. These are Jaimie’s non-negotiables when it comes to looking after yourself every day.
1. Personal self-care (hygiene, body pampering, feeling good physically).
This means getting up in the morning, showering, getting dressed for going outside in clothes that make you feel good.
2. Eating well (feeling good internally)
It’s so important to have regular eating and not constant snacking. It’s also important to nourish your body with vegetables and supportive food for your digestive system rather than going for the easy quick options when you feel rushed or stressed. This may mean meal prepping, or asking others for support and help.
This can be done indoors by following an amazing gym YouTube tutorial or going for a walk/run outside. Moving the body for a minimum of 20min each day is extremely important for hormonal release of pleasant chemicals, increasing oxygen to our brain and helping our brain grow.
4. Outside time (sunshine and nature)
Finding a place of serenity to turn off for a few mins is very important. We all know the benefits of being in nature, but more specifically finding a spot of serenity that helps soothe our internal mind is even more beneficial.
5. Meditation or gratitude
This will help us maintain positive internal thoughts and connect to meaningful life values and pathways we are moving towards.
Laughter can sometimes be the best medicine. Not only does it release pleasant hormones but it also helps us change perspective in our mind about the current world climate.
7. Curating your social media feed
It’s important when you are feeling mum or care-giver fatigued to look for the positives, finding the inspiring stories or listening and following people with messages of love.
8. Talking and communicating with a wide support network of people
This can include colleagues, loved ones, friends, and online forums.
9. Online courses or professionals
If needed, signing up to an online course or reaching out to a professional to develop your own support skills on dealing with worry and anxiety and thought spirals or other issues you have noticed popping up.
10. Regular and healthy sleeping routine
This includes regular and consistent bedtime and wake-up times. It’s easy to go to bed late as you crave some time to yourself after the kids go to bed. But with little ones waking you up early (or during the night) this can create more flatness and disrupt your work or home schedule.