You Can’t Pour from an Empty Cup

Dec 12, 2022

The Importance of Self-Care

I have an older smart phone that has worked for me over these past years and is a familiar and indispensable part of my tool kit. Like many others, I use it all the time and feel lost when I don’t have it. Lately, I’ve noticed it’s not performing as well as it has in the past. It’s a little slower to load information. It’s not always compatible with the latest apps. And it doesn’t hold a charge as long as it used to.

Then I realized that I’m feeling more and more like my old smart phone. Not operating as sharp as I used to and feeling overloaded with the constant flow of (mostly negative) information. And my own “battery”? It’s taking longer to charge and doesn’t hold that charge for as long. Sound familiar?

Pandemic Fatigue Is Very Real

Burnout was one of the growing concerns we were tracking in 2019, prior to COVID. Talking to many professionals and entrepreneurs, the focus on success and productivity was becoming a goal without a purpose. We were swept up in the “more and more” wave as the economy kept ballooning, chasing the next opportunity, the next deal, the next raise or promotion.

Then the reality of a global pandemic hit us like a ton of bricks! Followed by the great economic pause. The sudden change left us all reeling from the whiplash. People taking to the streets protesting and counter-protesting. The compounding effects of multiple crises hitting us like a series of thundering waves and reducing our ability to cope with each new blow to our old normal. We had to endure and process the gamut of negative, yet predictable, emotions caused by grief and the trauma from the loss of our old life – denial, anger, bargaining, depression – before finally getting to acceptance.

We found the good, the bad, and the ugly in our new reality and made the most of the situation. But we human beings have a hard time dealing with the prolonged disruption of our routines. So, we try to create new ones. We tried to get back to our productive work lives, replacing in-person meetings with a string of one and two-syllable virtual meeting rooms – Zoom, Teams, Hangouts, Webex, and others. The lines between our personal time and work time blurred and we found ourselves working around the dinning room table, parents and kids, pounding on keyboards like a nest of eastern European hackers!

Reclaiming Your Self

When there are no natural limits to frame each activity and queue the next one, we need to set our own boundaries. In this transitional period between the old and the “next normal”, we can no longer just strive for work-life balance. Now we need to embrace work-life integration, and find new ways to flow between the demands of family and career with the knowledge that we are all facing the same challenges.

Here are some simple ideas to consider and apply now:

  • Set (reasonable) boundaries. This will help create structure in an otherwise unpredictable period of your life and allow you to regain some control over your time, priorities, and attitude. Block off time for different activities and share responsibility for tasks with others. Have a cut-off time for your workday and make sure to plan some time just for you.
  • Learn to say “No”. Although you may want to please others and keep working hard, it’s important to recognize the signs of over-extending yourself. Learning how to graciously decline or delay a request will help you manage your energy levels any time your “battery” feels close to empty.
  • Create new (and healthier) habits. It is easier to replace a bad habit than to simply try to stop doing what you know is not helpful, or even worse, allows you to escape reality in unhealthy ways (junk food, alcohol, drugs, etc.). Instead, create a healthy eating and exercise plan; set aside time to read or meditate; call a friend to catch up and even share a laugh. If you need specialized assistance, don’t hesitate to seek help.
  • Follow best practices and common sense. There is a difference between “Danger” and “Fear”. The first is real, while the second is an emotional response. Protect against danger, without allowing fear to cloud your judgement or stop you from taking action.
  • Consider all parts of your health. When it comes to self-care, consider your physical, mental, emotional, and even spiritual well-being. If something is out of balance it will impact your overall wellness and health.

Give Yourself Permission to Fill Up

I can exchange my old phone for a new one, but I can’t exchange me for a newer model. This is what I have to work with, so I need to take better care of “me”. That’s not always easy for many of us that get our sense of worth from helping others and getting things done. We are caretakers by nature, but neglect the first person we need to take care of, ourselves.

If I noticed my daughter struggling the same way, what would I tell her? I would tell her to take some time for herself. To rest and recharge. To go for a walk or exercise. To talk to a friend or connect with someone she hasn’t seen in a while. To reflect on the positive or start a gratitude journal. To meditate or pray and listen to that quiet voice inside her.

Why is it so hard to stop this crazy “hamster wheel” and take my own advice? I would never say to her, “No, you can’t rest until you’ve finished every email and assignment”. I would be caring and kind to her. So, now I choose to take back my power and recharge my battery. I will do what I can to keep my energy levels full and ready for whatever comes next.