Caretakers and taking care

Most of the people I work with are caretakers. They are nannies, public defenders, therapists, chefs, nurses, teachers, doctors and parents. They wake up thinking of who they are taking care of that day: does the kid have lunch packed, is my patient taking their meds, is my client taking the plea, did I sign that permission slip?  It’s wonderful and necessary to fill that caretaker role but the key to avoiding burnout is to take care of ourselves first.

One of my favorite affirmations about parenthood is “taking care of yourself is taking care of your baby.” When my daughter was born, I would run to the gym while she was sleeping, stay as long as I could until my husband texted that she was awake and sprint home. I don’t know what I thought would happen if she woke up and I wasn’t there, but it was a destructive pattern for all of us. Luckily I came to my senses rather quickly and by the time she was 6 months old and ready for the YMCA babysitting, I left her for an hour or more while I taught class. I have long known the connection between my physical activity and my mental health; I never really felt much guilt about getting exercise in, but other aspects of self care were really tough to wrap my head around.

But here’s the thing: health is not only about one or two things. It’s not only eating well and exercising. It’s your relationships, your stress management, your sleep, your career. It’s your spirituality, however that shows up for you. It’s your community connections, your feelings of impact in your world, your safety. After having my baby, I was eating well, working out a few times a week, walking miles every day and making great friends in my new community of new moms. But I was also grieving my mother’s recent death, launching a business on my own, navigating my new marriage with a new baby and not sleeping more than 5 hours at a stretch. I was overwhelmed.  Life seemed sideways.

Many of my clients feel this way, not only the parents among them.  They are under water. They are spinning their wheels. They are frustrated with where they are and they can’t see a way out of it.

The way out is always one step at a time.

One morning at breakfast, prepare something nourishing. If you normally skip breakfast, or eat a bagel on the run, a coffee smoothie with some protein powder and spinach could rock your world. Before answering that email from your boss, take 3 deep breaths. Keep the sitter for an extra half hour and go for a walk before coming home to the chaos. Say yes to yourself and no to someone else when you always do the opposite. Create professional boundaries. Ask for help.

When you start practicing putting yourself first, you will be astounded how much more you can do for others. It’s a win win.

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