Like other young people in the field of service, I work long hours. I am fortunate to serve an education nonprofit that discusses self-care nearly every week during training sessions. Facilitators acknowledge how it is natural to take on the emotional burdens of the students we tutor, and how it is important for us to take care of and make time for ourselves.
All of this is valid, but it never actually feels like you have time for self-care. Often the jobs that require the most self-care are the ones that cannot afford to give you time for it.
After a year and a half of service, I took the sage advice of the wise Albus Dumbledore, headmaster of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series: “Help will be given to those who ask for it.”
Be proactive, not reactive
One of my biggest mistakes as I entered the workforce was overworking myself and assuming that it was visible from the outside. I thought that just because I was giving every ounce of myself emotionally (and physically, from standing on the trains and buses for over 3 hours a day), that I would receive extra time and benefits in return. At the same time, I never wanted to “complain” about not having enough time for myself. As a result, I didn’t ask for anything until it was too late and I was a frazzled mess.
I would realize I needed a day off only after experiencing a sleepless night riddled with anxiety dreams and a pounding headache. I would suddenly feel overwhelmed at work and unable to complete tasks because, for no reason in particular, I hadn’t asked anyone to help me. I wasn’t afraid they would say no; I just figured it was my job, and therefore my responsibility. But you are often the only person who realizes you are giving more than you can handle. It is your responsibility to let someone know.
What I did not see at the time seems so obvious now: ask for what you need, and be specific. This does not = complaining. Instead, make a specific request: a day off, a day to come in late or leave early, or a longer lunch break on a certain day. Your employer may not be able to give you exactly what you ask for every time, but at least you have made them aware of what you need and they will likely respond.
A technique you can start today
Another simple tactic for avoiding burnout is to schedule time for yourself during the day. Even if it is just for 10 or 15 minutes, taking a few moments to go for a walk outside or around your workplace will get your blood flowing and give your mind a break.
If you’re like me, there is nothing better than having a piece of chocolate or candy in the afternoon, getting some fresh air, and just stepping away from everything you have been looking at all day. If you’re able to, put your phone on silent or leave it at the office during this time. This way, you are not tempted to check your emails or texts, and your time serves its purpose: it is just for you.
What I’ve learned
The best advice I received this year is: “Don’t sacrifice your well-being for the job.” If you are willing to and want to work extra, do it — but then don’t expect a pat on the back.
If you are not willing to work extra but the work still needs to get done, delegate tasks by asking someone else to help who may have less on his or her plate. If the answer is no, then you need to figure out another plan.
Here’s what not to do: Work extra, ask no one for help, burn yourself out, and then complain and claim that somebody else should have saved you from all of this.
Warrior poet Audre Lorde says, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation.” There is nothing wrong with asking for help, more time, extra resources, or simply for a break. Asking someone else for what you need is the telltale sign of maturity.