Self-Care vs Survival Care – Why Your Burnout isn’t Getting Better

You say you practice self-care…

And perhaps you do! Perhaps you are part of the small minority of people who genuinely takes time for themselves even when there is no time left to be found!

And if so, kudos!!!

These days it feels like it takes courage to prioritize our needs.

We’re told over and over that putting our needs “ahead” of those who need us is selfish, brazen, shocking!

And so it takes gumption to fight against that social current that tells you the only way to seem like you are “leading correctly” is to be fatigued and burnt out all the time. Frazzled to the max!

Let me let you in on a secret: Self-care isn’t selfish. 

And actually….it doesn’t require you to put your needs ahead of other people’s.

Wait wait wait. If you have been a long time reader of this newsletter you know that I would never say something along the lines of “put yourself second! People please! Cater to others!! Come on, don’t think about yourself first!”

So why would I say that self-care doesn’t require you to take a front seat? Shouldn’t we be taking front seats?

Short answer: yes, of course we need to “put our oxygen masks on first”. We can’t help others unless we help ourselves. 

You’ve heard it all before. 

But doesn’t that sound like your end goal is to still help others? That self-care is only something you do so that you can get back to the business of people pleasing and catering? As if the only reason you refuel your car is so you can lend it out to friends and never drive it yourself?

Well that doesn’t sound very replenishing at all. 

The other thing we need to consider is that as leaders, sometimes we genuinely do need to step aside because we are literally in charge of the safety, survival, and welfare of our employees. So…is talking about taking a front seat useful in times where we simply do come second?

What are the alternatives?

Here’s what I propose: 

Self-care isn’t always about coming first. It is about putting your needs alongside other people’s needs. 

About literally restructuring your life so that your needs and their needs coexist and complement each other in sustainable ways. 

It’s not about choosing when you come first (because as leaders we may feel like we can never make that choice. Especially if you have an employee who is particularly struggling or you work in a high needs environment caring for clients with high needs). As such, you become more and more and more depleted over time. Because the space for “now me” never comes. 

Sure, we need to create that space for ourselves. But have any of you actually figured out how to create more hours in the day? 

So what do we do when we have no spare moments, and society says it would be selfish to take those moments anyway?

We practice what I call “survival-care”.

We grab a bubble bath. We drink a lovely cup of tea. We snuggle up with a book for 30 minutes before bed. Or we read a blog, head on over to YouTube, walk to our colleagues office for a chat.

These things are incredibly important!! They may be our only moments to breathe and bring our heart rate down and reconnect with our joys. We need these for survival. 

BUT….if that is all we do to nourish ourselves and get through the day, then we are stuck in survival. 

Self-care is about going beyond survival. It is about healing burnout and fatigue and exhaustion. 

And as we all know, healing can be a bit painful. Self-care is no different. 

Self-care is often about doing things that don’t feel pleasant at all. Certainly not as warm and inviting as a long needed bath and tea. Self-care involves things like delegating tasks, saying no to invites, setting boundaries, asking for help, stopping micro-managing your team, letting your employee do something even when you know they are going to screw it up and you could do it better (but they need to learn and try and work through dilemmas). All these things no only give you a break, but they actually help your team develop increased skills as well. It becomes a collective of people looking out for each other and contributing. We no longer need to “steal away” time. We each work alongside each other. And thus we all heal and grow. 

Self-care is about restructuring your life so that you actually come through burnout instead of ride the waves of it and occasionally come up for air.