Putting on Your Own Lifejacket Before Burning Out
Guest post by Jenni Harding, Founder/Managing Director at Greatest Good and Harbridge Optimal Performance
If you’re a social entrepreneur, it’s easy to be focused on helping others. You want to help, serve and make positive social or environmental impacts, forgetting about putting on your own life jacket first. However, neglecting your own mental health and wellbeing can lead to burnout over time as you put everyone/everything ahead of your own needs.
When I run presentations and workshops on positive psychology, neuroscience and emotional intelligence topics, I always ask the same three questions, which are helpful for everyone to consider on a daily basis:
Do you have a positive physical health regime?
These can be daily or weekly activities that get you active, and maintain or improve your physical health. Generally, around 80% of attendees have a physical health routine.
Do you have a positive financial health regime?
This can be saving for a home, holiday or other important items, paying off a debt for these items, putting more money into super or making some other type of investment. The responses on this depend on the audience and range from around 50% to 90% of the audience who take active steps to improve their financial wellbeing.
Do you have a positive mental health regime?
This can include physical exercise as above, but also include a range of activities that just “light you up”. The options are endless and can include reading, playing games, catching up with family/friends, meditation, playing a musical instrument, gardening, the list goes on…. Really, it is anything that you enjoy doing that puts you in a state of flow – where you are living in the present moment, but still conscious of time and what’s going on around you. It’s not checking out and binge-watching tv (as enjoyable as this can be at times). Unfortunately, usually, only around 20% of attendees have a mental health routine.
So why is it important to have a proactive mental health regime and ideally a range of activities that you love doing? The answer is simple. The effects of our mental health influence every part of our lives. It determines our moods, our physical health (ever bailed on exercise as you are mentally exhausted?) and our social connections. All of these things help us to cope better with what life throws at us, be it a single adverse experience or a series of unexpected hurdles. Collectively, they contribute to our personal sense of wellbeing and the state of our mental health.
Taking proactive steps to manage our mental health and wellbeing builds up a toolbox of activities to strengthen our mind in the same way that we use a range of different exercises and activities to build a healthy body. Actively improving and nurturing our mental health helps us to live healthy, productive and fulfilled lives in a way that is meaningful to us.
However, if we neglect this part of our lives and continue to put everyone else first while trying to make the world a better place, it leads us to feel both mentally and physically drained. This can create a downward spiral of poor sleep, poor eating, poor judgement and decision making, and more. Longer term, it can lead to us feeling burned out and not capable of helping anyone.
Burnout is an occupational phenomenon where employees experience a mix of physical and psychological symptoms that result in decreased productivity and decreased job satisfaction. This means that even if you are actually able to help others and achieve some form of social impact, it’s unlikely you will find the work as meaningful and fulfilling.
There’s a reason that we need to put on our own life vest before helping others. If you are drowning, you aren’t in a position to save others. By taking proactive steps to build up a toolbox of activities you enjoy and find fulfilling, you are creating the resilience to handle any form of setback. In the same way that having good physical health allows us to bounce back quicker from an injury, having a toolbox of activities to call on helps us regain strong mental health after a mental health set back.
Taking a proactive approach to building your mental wellbeing toolkit can seem overwhelming when you are already overwhelmed. Be kind to yourself. Treat yourself the way you’d treat your best friend (it’s called self-compassion). When you’re ready, check out this list of short videos and try the one that speaks to you the most. I also have a list of 15 questions we ask clients to consider on passion, purpose and meaning, so reach out if you’d like a copy or want to discuss ways to improve your mental health and wellbeing.