Is Self-Care the Solution to Burnout?

Find out what really helps.
By Mitchell Qualls
April 27, 2022

Do you ever find yourself in a season of high stress? The kids have sports and after-school programs. You and your spouse have increased work demands. The extended family wants time with you, and friends want to hang out. You are overwhelmed with busyness. 

Increased stress levels, when not managed, can lead to burnout. 

Burnout happens when you are physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted from prolonged stress. 

There are three dimensions to burnout: exhaustion, feelings of cynicism, and detachment. We’re all in danger of suffering from burnout if we don’t take steps to manage stress.

A typical response when suffering from burnout is to practice self-care. Self-care is anything you do regularly to maintain physical, mental, and emotional well-being. 

But while self-care is essential, is it the solution?

Psychologist Justin D. Henderson, Ph.D., suggests that self-care is not the solution to burnout. “Self-care should certainly be an individual’s priority but not to solely address burnout,” says Henderson. 

Self-care is valuable for enhancing mental, spiritual, physical, and emotional health. We should partake in self-care proactively, not solely as a reaction to high stress. Self-care should move us toward our goals. When we utilize self-care to relieve stress, it’s only being used defensively.

Self-care should be more than a solution when stressed out. Practicing self-care regularly helps us build a solid foundation for our life and well-being. 

So, if self-care isn’t the solution to burnout, what is?

Here are a few steps you can take to help resolve burnout.

1. Get to the source.

Let’s start with a self-evaluation. What is causing the stress in your life? 

These are a few options to begin with:

  • Issues at work
  • An overloaded schedule
  • Caretaking (for a child or someone who’s ill)
  • Relationship problems

2. Identify changes you can make immediately.

What can you do now to lighten the load? A small step is still a step in the right direction.

Looking at the examples above, here are some small steps.

  • Have a conversation with your employer about your workload or schedule. 
  • Hold a family meeting to discuss what everyone has going on. Awareness is the first step in reigning in overloaded schedules.
  • Ask a loved one or friend to watch your child for a little bit so you can step away.
  • Ask yourself if you’ve set and communicated clear expectations.

3. Confide in someone.

Feeling burned out is a significant burden to carry alone. Choose someone you trust and take them out for coffee. Ask them if you can share what’s going on.

4. Set boundaries.

Your time is your most valuable resource. Protect it. Set limits on how much of your time you give away. This means you must say no to some things in your life.

5. Be compassionate with yourself.

Burnout can bring on feelings of failure. Treat yourself the way you would treat a loved one experiencing burnout. Show love, compassion, and support. Allow yourself to feel the emotions that come, but don’t dwell on them. You are capable of choosing a different reaction. And if you don’t feel like you can, see number seven below.

6. Take care of yourself.

This is where self-care does come in. But it needs to be done as a foundation for a healthier you. 

7. Talk to a professional.

Sometimes you need to speak to a counselor or a coach to help you work through issues. That’s ok. Get the help you need to restore your hope and health.

We’re all susceptible to burnout because stress is an aspect of daily life. Unfortunately, it’s not going anywhere. But we can take these steps to help us manage it and thrive.

Sources:

Maslach, C., & Leiter, M. P. (2016). Understanding the burnout experience: recent research and its implications for psychiatry. World psychiatry: Official Journal of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA), 15(2), 103–111.

Understanding the Stress Response

Self-Care is Not the Solution to Burnout

Why Self-Care Is Not Enough to Beat Burnout

Burnout Recovery: 11 Strategies to Help You Reset

Other blogs by First Things First:

Can Self-Care Become Selfish?

Signs of Parental Burnout

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