Care about others? Care for yourself first.

by Anna Woodd

Empathetic and caring people often find themselves dealing with really difficult topics and conversations. Working with young people, while amazing, can be emotionally draining. Especially if you’ve got other things going on – maybe you’re having a tough time at home, or someone you’re close to is leaning on you for support.

As someone used to caring for other people, hitting your limit is normal. And sometimes, it can feel like the needs of others become too much. We all go through times where life tries to take more than we can give. Those times can feel really overwhelming and leave us wondering how we're meant to keep giving our time and energy when we have very little left.

Feeling burnt out can leave you feeling irritable, tired and overwhelmed. Which doesn't help you, or anybody else. It isn't anybody's fault you're feeling this way. It's up to you to set a boundary and to take the time out for yourself.

That doesn't mean you don't want to help. You just need to do some self-care. Fill up your cup. Refuel, rest and revitalise.

This becomes particularly important, as someone who works with young people. You’ve likely heard the saying ”you can't pour from an empty cup”. But it’s true! If you're not taking care of yourself, it can be extremely difficult, sometimes even unsafe, to care for others.

If things are getting to that point for you, it's important that you take some time out of your week for some serious self-care. That's dedicated time out of your week, just for you. Commit to this.

Self-care doesn't have to cost heaps of money! You don't need an expensive massage or a destination holiday to care for yourself. Those things might feel great, but don't fall for the idea that self-care has to cost money.

3 principles for when you’re needing self-care

1. Set some time aside

One of the most important aspects of self-care is time. The time you set aside needs to be intentional and clearly defined.

For instance, think: "From 6pm until 7pm, I am going to read my book and nothing else."

Doing this sets a clear boundary around what time is your self-care time, and what is not. You will find it easier to keep to whatever boundary you set. For example, not checking your phone, or thinking about work. In some ways, this time out is more important than your chosen self-care activity.

2. Self-care is whatever you need it to be

It’s easy to believe things like mindfulness are the only way to practice self-care.

While mindfulness is important, so are a whole lot of other things. Take a moment to reflect on what’s happening in your life, and what your needs might be.

As life happens, your needs change. This means the self-care you do to keep that cup full might change too.

What self-care really means is knowing and meeting your needs.

Are you feeling overwhelmed by the needs of others right now? Time just to yourself, or without your phone, may help relieve that strain.

Feeling like you’ve got too many thoughts whirling round your head? Try something creative and mindful, like journaling, or painting, to get it all out.

How are you feeling, physically? Sleep, exercise, or some healthy meal prep might be your new best friend.

3. Let go of what other people think

The way you care for yourself is up to you. It may feel selfish, like you're letting down the people who need you. 

It’s not selfish to care for yourself, and they probably aren't seeing it that way either. Chances are, the young people you're spending all your time helping — they really care about you. They may not even realise you've been running on empty.

Your young people are constantly looking to you as an example. If they see that you’re taking care of yourself when you need to, you’re showing them how to support healthy mental wellbeing.

It's much more sustainable for you to continue helping people if you look after yourself. Burnout doesn't help anybody. That's why it's important for you to set those boundaries unapologetically.

Next time you’re starting to feel that strain of holding the emotional needs of others, think about what you can do for yourself to lighten that load. That doesn’t mean helping less – it just means caring for yourself and your needs too.

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