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Exchanging burnout for mindfulness

If we want to increase the quantity or quality of our output in life, we must first examine the inputs. What are we putting in regards to our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health? Mindfulness means being aware of our external surroundings, as well as our internal needs.

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My favorite way to spend a Saturday morning is curled up with coffee and either music or Netflix. I take a break from doing work for others and replace it with doing work for myself. Some weeks, I spend more time in thought than in action. Some weeks, doing work for myself means finally picking up that book next to my bed again. Other weeks, it means writing or making time for that personal project I wanted to do for days but didn’t have time.


The important piece, though, is that my Saturdays are for me. It doesn’t mean I always spend them alone. Sometimes, a phone call with a family member or lazy morning watching TV with a roommate is a great way to kick off my “me day.” You can call it a Sabbath or a self-love day, whichever you prefer. But it has become an essential ritual in my life to take the best care of myself and be the best version of me possible.


I have noticed people around me often taking it too far one direction or the other when it comes to prioritizing themselves. Either they use this newly growing concept of self-care as an excuse to be selfish and only concerned with themselves. Or they are so scared of being selfish, they throw the entire idea of taking care of themselves out the window.


I used to live quite comfortably in the latter. The truth is, though, in trying so hard to avoid being selfish and to instead be the dependable person everyone else could rely, I lost track of myself. It’s easy to see the downfalls of being too selfish and how that can negatively impact relationships. But what we often don’t realize is not being selfish enough can have an equally devastating, even if much slower, and more subtle effect. Because each time we do not care for ourselves, each time we say yes to others and no to ourselves, we burn our candle a little bit more. When we deem that time for just us as selfish, we harm far more than ourselves because eventually the candle burns out, and there’s nothing left for anyone.


If we look Biblically, we see how important this time of “self-care” is, though in a faith realm it’s a little more like “God-care” because we know He is the one using the space we give ourselves for rest to truly restore us. All we do is trust Him enough to set everything else aside for a while and show up for ourselves. He does the rest (pun intended).


I could lead entire studies on Sabbath and why we need it. In fact, I have. But even if you don’t come from a Christian perspective, the world of psychology and mental healthcare agrees with the positive benefits of stepping away for a period of time. The old saying, “Space makes the heart grow fonder,” can be turned into a healthy mantra. When you apply it to work or whatever else in your life tends to take up the most space in your life, sometimes a small, intentional amount of distance, such as a weekly rhythm of stepping back can make a great impact. Even with something good, like your dream job or your family, if all your time and energy is spent there, none is left to refuel your own tank. And then what are your team at work, or your friends and family left with? Because it certainly isn’t a well-rested, fully functional version of you.


It took me many years and failures to learn this lesson. In fact, I’m still constantly learning it. Many people who know me can probably give you an example, or many, of a time when I ran myself too thin and burned the candle on both ends for too long. Where work trumped rest, others trumped me, and being productive trumped being healthy. I’m not suggesting we forsake others, and instead turn fully to ourselves. But there’s a fine balance.


One of the tools that has helped me greatly in this effort toward better mental health is mindfulness. In its simplest form, mindful living is based in the realization that our bodies and minds thrive within routines tailor-made for us. Mindfulness includes being more aware of our bodies and minds, understanding how they function at their highest potential.


If we want to increase the quantity or quality of our output, we must first examine the inputs. What are we putting in with regards to our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health? What environments do we do our best work in? What about our best rest? Mindfulness means being aware of our external surroundings, as well as our internal reactions.


My favorite trick I’ve learned for combatting my anxiety when I feel it creeping up is called 5-4-3-2-1. It’s a mindful technique that focuses your mind on the present, physical world around you to give your body’s fight or flight response a chance to relax. You name 5 things you see, 4 you can feel, 3 you can hear, 2 you can smell, and then finish up with 1 positive affirmation. Forcing your mind out of whatever is causing it stress or anxiety allows you to ground yourself back in reality and return to a neutral state.


But even for people without anxiety, the concept of mindfulness, which is centered on recognizing external and internal stimuli, can be an important step in feeling more in control and more relaxed. It reminds you to live in the present, while opening you up to what your body and mind may be telling you.


If you’re not sure how to break cycles of burnout. Or you feel like relaxation and self-care are a foreign concept. Mindful living can tune you into your needs for restoration. Whether you’re extroverted, receiving your energy from others, or introverted, receiving your energy from alone time. Whether you’re more active or more creative or more intellectual. No matter who you are, what your interests, or how you find peace, mindfulness can help you embrace those needs in a healthy way.


And when you do that, it won’t be a selfish act, but rather an act of love for both yourself and those who will reap the positive side effects of you being at your best.


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Christina is participating in a 5k on May 29 in support of the mental health nonprofit To Write Love On Her Arms. To donate to her fundraiser, please visit the link here.

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