Why Self-Care Won’t Fix Burnout

As a Pinterest Expert, I spend a fair amount of time hanging out on Pinterest looking at all the awesome content. Recently two trending topics caught my attention. I realised two key things about these topics, and honestly, it broke my heart a bit. The first thing I noticed is just how much content there is around burnout. The gut-wrenching truth is that there is so much there because so many people are struggling with burnout right now. All of this content highlights the prevalence of burnout in our communities – especially within small businesses. And the second thing I noticed is how many people are pushing self-care as the solution to burnout, like a reward after a hard day. The thing is – we need to stop using self-care as a bandage for burnout. Our fellow women in business are tired. Bone deep tired. And this narrative isn’t helping. 

Self-care is not a reward! 

I’m constantly fighting with the notion that self-care is a reward. How often do we find ourselves thinking ‘just one more task and then I’ll take a nap”. Or worse “I’ll finish this email and then I’ll go pee”. Guilty? Self-care isn’t something to earn after you tick enough things off a list.

Real self-care is looking after your needs. At the very least real self-care means getting enough rest, eating good food, and having a safe place to live. And it also means taking time away from your desk to have lunch okay? But, our needs are so much more than that. The Pheonix Cups offer a great framework for looking at our needs. But essentially; as humans, we are biologically programmed to seek connection, companionship, validation, impact, joy, freedom, and more. Real self-care needs to become part of everyday practice. The narrative for so many women has been to find a way to just soldier on. Does anyone else remember a certain cold and flu ad that even touted this as their sales pitch? 

Self-care is not a bandage to slap onto burnout and keep soldiering on. You can’t just add a bubble bath and fix burnout! Now I’m not saying that self-care won’t help! In fact – true self-care is essential. BUT – what I am saying is that burnout is real and it will consume you if left untreated. You can’t facemask, massage, and fluffy socks your way out of burnout. Popping on a bandage is not enough – we need change! 

Strategies for Women in Business to fight burnout

Be intentional

Nothing changes if we continue along the same as always. Burnout has a nasty way of slowly creeping up until we can no longer function. Choose now to start being intentional about where you spend your limited energy and find a few moments in your day where you can be present. Breathe in, notice what is around you, notice how your body is feeling, and check in with your needs. Some great times to do this might be while waiting for the kettle to boil or making your bed in the morning. It really helps me when I take these moments.

Recently I was reminded how important it is to appreciate the moments we have with the people we love. We never know when the last goodbye will be or when we might get a call that makes us wish we had used our time differently. As a business owner, it can be hard to ‘log off’ as there is always something outstanding. But always being ‘on’ is deepening burnout and taking away from the moments we have with loved ones. Those emails can wait for Monday – take time off to rest, recharge, and reconnect. Don’t find yourself wishing that you had just stopped to appreciate those moments. 

Be realistic with business

Take a very realistic look at your capacity. Are you so burnt out that it is time to just stop? Things can’t keep going as normal – there needs to be space created to rest and heal. For you, that might look like full, deep rest for a period. Or it might be realistic with your capacity to pear down to something that does fit you. It is time to say no to the projects or people that are draining you and focus your energy on the projects that do fit your capacity and your joy. For many of us ‘no’ feels difficult. But I promise you that it is ok. The second part here is to check in with your rate. Are you being compensated fairly for your skills, time, and experience? Can you do less, rest more, and still bring in income? Build your business around your capacity and honour your valuable energy. 

Create spaces that help you feel calm

Set your workspace up to be as comfortable, supportive, and inspiring as possible. And aim to create spaces that you love to be in where you can be safe to recharge. When you are struggling with burnout it is not the time to battle the whole house, start big decluttering, or redecorate. Instead, allow yourself some spaces where you can be comfortable and feel at ease. Maybe this means setting up space at your favourite chair or in your bedroom where you can turn off some of the ‘noise’ of life.

Listen to your flow 

As women, we are not built to operate on a 9-5, Monday-Friday schedule. We just aren’t! Men have a 24-hour hormonal cycle – they are built to get up and do the same as yesterday. But as women, we operate on a 28(ish) day cycle where we have productive phases and then phases that we just want to curl up into a ball and eat cheese toasties. This is actually pretty normal! One of the most powerful things you can do as a woman fighting burnout is to pay attention to your own flow and stop pushing through the times you are meant to be resting. 

Think of the seasons – we know that there is a Spring, Summer, Autumn, and then Winter. There are seasons of growth, harvest, and hibernation. The expectation has been given to us that we should just keep going as though we are in Spring and Summer all of the time – and then just do some extra self-care if we get tired. Can you imagine if we tried to stop Autumn and Winter? Each season has a purpose and sets things in motion for the next season. 

Start to listen to your own seasons and phases. Perhaps during the Spring and Summer phases your burnout lifts and allows you to tick a few things off. You might like to batch cook, move your body or follow up on a call you haven’t had the energy to do. Then when Winter comes allow your time to rest. Burnout is generally a slow process of pushing to keep going and going and going. Start to claim a little of this ground back by listening to your flow. You can learn more here

Seek help

Finally, acknowledge that burnout is more than just being tired and needing a nap. Symptoms of burnout include fatigue that rest doesn’t improve, procrastination, memory issues, lack of enjoyment, being sick more often, problems sleeping, increased anxiety or depression, loss of appetite, and lack of patience or increased frustration levels. Seek out mental and physical health options to help you combat your burnout. You can’t use self-care as a bandage for burnout hoping that it will just go away. But, by consciously slowing down, identifying your priorities, setting your intentions, making some changes, and seeking help there is light at the end of the tunnel.