Self-care when you're caring for othersFeatured

Co-written by Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy

This World Mental Health Day, we want to focus on a specific kind of burnout: the exhaustion you experience when your job is to help everyone around you feel better.

Caring for others can be draining, especially when you're trying to cope with extreme stress yourself. It's no surprise that healthcare workers, leaders of religious institutions, government employees, and therapists have all reported especially high levels of burnout over the past six months.

Across organizations, we've also heard from leaders that they're particularly concerned about the wellbeing of their Human Resources (HR), Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I), and Communications teams.

In the past year, these teams have navigated unique stressors. They led the transition to remote work, facilitated conversations about and catalyzed action to combat racial inequality, and established new processes for remote hiring, onboarding, and employee development. And now they're ensuring that the return to offices is fair, safe, and smooth. That's a lot.

We loved Adam's Grant's recent post: "When this pandemic is finally over, everyone on earth should get a month of vacation." Everyone! All of us! But especially those who have taken care of us.

Here are three tips for how to practice self-care, especially when your job is to care for others:

Set boundaries

Many people have shared with us that they find it useful to create rules for themselves. Liz has a rule that Sunday is a "do nothing" day. If she's invited somewhere, she politely declines and references her rule.

Complete the stress cycle

As the Nagoski sisters write in their book Burnout, the modern world often doesn't allow us the time we need to recover from one stressor before moving on to the next (see: back-to-back meetings). Here are seven small ways to better complete the stress response cycle.

Take your vacation days

During an appointment with her primary care doctor, Mollie learned that her doctor was leaving the medical practice to take some time off. Modeling taking much-needed breaks can help others feel comfortable doing the same. And, if you can, try not to check your email while you're away!

We want to model talking openly about taking time off, since we recognize that many of us are mentally and/or physically exhausted. We each took time off this summer: Liz took a six-week unpaid leave as we finished our next book Big Feelings, and Mollie took 8 weeks of short-term disability (SDI) to heal from overuse injuries to her hands. Many people don't realize that taking unpaid leave or SDI (paid leave in some states) is an option.

For more info, check out this post from @legallyholistic (our employment/labor lawyer friend Julia provides guidance for people navigating health issues at work), or talk to your doctor/mental health provider to learn more.

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How have you set your own boundaries, Liz?
For those who went through big changes during the pandemic I would highly recommend Ambiguous Loss by Pauline Boss, Loss and grief is something that can affect us in more ways than we can imagine, when we move, when we lose a job, when we lose our abilities.