Most of us are busy people. We juggle full time and demanding jobs, taking care of our homes and families, trying to spend time partners and loved ones, all while trying to get at least 8 hours a sleep a night and squeeze in some exercise somewhere in the bustle. It’s exhausting just thinking about it. On top of our busy schedules, we are also constantly bombarded with messages from the media and our culture that tells us that we’re not doing enough. Our culture places a strong value on hard work, ambition, and never giving up. While these are all great qualities to place value on, a difficult piece of that is knowing when you need to slow down or take a break. Our culture, unfortunately, does not place as much value or concern on balance and our mental and physical wellbeing.

I often hear clients in individual and couples therapy discussing how they feel like a failure because they’re not doing enough or because there’s always more they could be doing. One of the first questions that I ask clients when we begin our work together is how they like to practice self-care, or what they like to do to de-stress and take care of themselves. Often times, unsurprisingly, people aren’t sure how to respond or say they don’t do anything. I regularly hear people discuss the guilt they feel when they say no to someone or when they prioritize getting enough sleep, exercising, or anything else that we would categorize as self-care. We are implicitly taught (and sometimes explicitly taught) that we shouldn’t need to take care of ourselves, we should always be helping others or pushing ourselves to our fullest capacity. When we neglect to take care of ourselves, our bodies take on an enormous amount of stress, which can turn it into anxiety, depression, illness, injury, and so forth.

If you are prone to pushing yourself too far and becoming burnt out, here are some ways to break that habit:

  1. Get enough sleep. Sleep is so, so, so important. Humans need sleep the same way we need to eat, drink water, and breathe. If we do not sleep, we can die. Research tells us that we need to be getting between 7.5 – 9 hours a sleep a night. This is a necessity. Sleep can impact our mood, our energy, our libido, our ability to retain information, and has an endless list of benefits. We function better at work, school, and in our relationships if we get enough sleep.
  2. Exercise. Exercise is one of the best things we can do for our bodies to destress and relax (as well as sex). If exercise isn’t your thing, start off by just trying to walk an extra 15 minutes a day. When we exercise, our bodies release natural chemicals that help us to calm ourselves down and feel better. Exercising also helps to complete our stress response cycle, which therefore tells us that it’s OK to relax after a “threatening” or stressful situation.
  3. Spend time with loved ones. Spending time with your partner, family, or friends is a great way to relax and destress. When we feel connected to other people, it makes us feel supported and loved, which does all sorts of great things for our mind and bodies. Make spending time with the important people in your life a priority and protect that time together. Our relationships can give us fulfillment, meaning, and allow us to feel loved and feel special, which is an invaluable part of the human experience.
  4. Know your limits and boundaries. Unfortunately, most of us have to learn what our limits and boundaries are the hard way: by over-extending ourselves and pushing ourselves too hard. There is always more work that can be done, more studying to do, more time spent on cleaning, and so forth. At a certain point, we all have to learn when to stop and take a break. We function better in life when we know our limits and boundaries and live according to them. This may require changing your routine or starting to say no to things you’d normally do to appease others.

If you are having trouble finding balance in your life or are worried that you are burnt out, it may be helpful to set up an appointment with a therapist. Contact Symmetry Counseling to learn more about how therapy could be beneficial for you.