By Sarah Pettingill
A short while back I was faced with a difficult decision – to either toss aside my job or my mental health. It was a decision I had faced before. But being as stubborn as I am, I told myself that a little time off would do the trick and I could still string both along just fine.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always struggled with balancing life and prioritizing myself when I needed to. When my first child came along, I naturally did what most new moms do – no shower for three days, eating a bite here and there, sleep, what was that? And forget self-care, no one has time for that! My 5-minute shower twice a week was my ‘me time’. Then came my second child, a force of nature – wild, spirited and energetic.
When it was time to head back to work after having my daughter, I was exhausted. I worked in community health care with little room for advancement. Caring for people at work, then heading home and caring for people there too. I knew the burnout was coming, I could feel it. The constant exhaustion, the decrease in patience, the lack of motivation, the signs were all there.
I finally decided I needed a break from work, my family needed me. I spoke to my doctor about what I had been experiencing and something she said resonated with me: “You can take this break now, but the job will still be a trigger when you return.” At the time, I thought ‘I can’t just quit my job without a plan or at the very least, a backup’. As soon as I returned to work, I felt the burnout returning, so the very next day I submitted my resignation letter.
In leaving that job, I was able to pursue my passion and become a makeup artist. This new career path also helped me to balance my home life. Now I was able to spend more time with my son before he started school in the fall, I treasured more time with my family and friends. I finally found a balance that I couldn’t even imagine before this.
In going through all this, I have learned many things which I want to share with you in hopes that you can reduce the reoccurrence of burnout and stress:
- Recognize the signs. Constant exhaustion, insomnia, anxiety and depression are all common symptoms of burnout. In more extreme cases, anger, lack of empathy and physical pain can also be present. Be aware when these symptoms happen, so you can take address that causes of stress and burnout before they become overwhelming.
- Unplug. This can be as simple as choosing to only answer work-related emails during office hours or using your free time for family and ignoring social media completely.
- Unfollow the negative and the ‘too perfect’. This is a big one. If you really can’t unplug, make your social media space a positive and enriching place to spend your time. Follow people who provide you with joy and good energy. Remember comparing our crazy messy lives with celebrity highlight reels can have a negative effect on our mental health and make us feel even worse about ourselves.
- Find whatever brings you happiness. Maybe it’s crafting, reading, yoga, rock climbing or journaling. Whatever it may be, pick it up, make time for it and channel your energy into what brings you joy.
- Find your tribe. Do you remember when you were a kid, and your parents could send you outside and told (um, warned) us not to come home until dinner? That’s because we had a village. Our neighbours, friends, grandparents, the strangers in the house four doors down, everyone looked out for us. Now finding a babysitter is like pulling teeth. Find the people who have your best interest at heart and nurture those relationships. Incorporate those relationships into regular daily activities. Have a friend or family member over for dinner, plan an afternoon at the park or schedule a Sunday brunch. Spending time with people you can relate to is a great way to remember we are not in this alone.
- Don’t be afraid to say no. This one took me a long time to learn and I feel like I am preaching it to people daily. It’s tough at the beginning, getting used to turning things down, but after a while, it gets much easier to be more selective in the things you make a priority. You need to recognize your limitations and what you can take on.
- Most importantly, you are not alone. I have made it a point on social media to drop reminders that if ever someone felt like they were drowning or unable to cope to contact me personally. This is also where your tribe comes in!
You simply can’t pour from an empty cup. Take the time to care for yourself, so in return you can care for others.