When I ask my patients how they are, all too often I hear them reply about how everyone else is instead; I get a list of family, friends, colleagues and how much they are struggling just now. Frequently, I have to ask several times before I find out how my patient actually is. And when they answer, they often follow it with ‘but that’s nothing compared to others’.
The truth is, it’s fine to acknowledge that there are people in the world who are in worse situations but that doesn’t mean your own stresses, concerns and worries aren’t real or valid. Thinking that someone else is worse off doesn’t mean we should continually push ourselves to the absolute limit of our emotional, mental or physical capacity before we remember that we might need some attention too. There’s no prize for exhausting ourselves. In fact, the more we continue to give without pausing to consider our own needs, the more that will be expected of us; a “she is amazing; always on top of everything and in control. I don’t know how she does it…’ kind of thing, when the truth is wildly different.
We are no good to anyone if we have nothing left to give and if we feel weighed down by so many burdens, whatever they may be. It can leave us feeling lonely, anxious, scared, frustrated and a whole host of other emotions. So why do we find it so difficult to say that we need help when we so freely offer it to others?
They have too much going on themselves. I can’t burden them with my problems.
That’s a sentence I’m willing to bet you have all thought at one time or another. But the fact is, we have no idea what anyone else’s capacity is because we aren’t them! They may well have their own stresses but that doesn’t mean they don’t have time for you. And whether/how someone helps you is for them to choose, not for each of us. Telling someone you don’t feel good can result in a whole host of ways that they show support. Some might be able to say to you “I’m free right now, let’s have a chat”. Other’s might tell you they have some afternoons free and they can help out by bringing you food, cooking you a meal or sitting with you over a cup of tea. Other’s still might be busy but they will send you little messages or do something different like make you a playlist to show they are thinking of you.
I recently read something about zen master Roshi Jiyu-Kennett that her teaching philosophy for her students was not to make their burdens lighter, but to make them so heavy they chose to put them down. And how does it feel when you let go of something? When you tell someone that you don’t feel you are coping or you need some assistance? You can practically feel the weight lifting off you, even though that person may have done nothing more complex than listen to you.
When someone asks you for help, I bet you snap into action; asking what they need, already thinking of ways you could help. Even at the point of feeling stretched to capacity, we will frequently still find time for someone else. But it’s not sustainable in the long term. Burnout is real and to deny it is not going to do anyone any favours.
If I could wave a magic wand and make everything simpler, easier, smoother, I would. But until someone has worked out how to do that, let’s start with keeping your own self-care as simple and manageable as possible. Tell someone how you feel. Go to bed 15 minutes earlier. Try a 2 minute breathing technique to help you get through the next hour when you feel like it’s all too overwhelming. Just pick one small thing that resonates with you and insert it into your day on a regular basis.
Always remember, your needs are just as important as the needs of those around you.