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After working as a counsellor and retreat leader for over 25 years, I have come to the conclusion that caring for yourself is probably the most important thing someone can do to maintain their physical, mental and spiritual health, but it is also probably the most neglected.

As Christians we know that we are called to “love our neighbor”, but we often forget the second half of the verse. It says “love your neighbour, asyourself”. It does not say “love your neighbour insteadof yourself.Jesus is commanding us to love others based on the assumption that we know how to and do love ourselves. Without doing one, we are not able to do the other without eventually burning out.

According to Colin Buckland in Freedom to Lead, burnout can be defined as: “The exhausting of the inner resources that enables a carer to go on caring; the using-up of the essential ‘inner you’. The spending of self on others in such a way that the ‘inner bank balance’ has gone into red.” 

So how do we avoid doing this?

Value and acceptance

You are called to be you, not someone else. Don’t compare yourself to others. Don’t think that you have to do things as someone else does or try to contort yourself into carrying out your role in a way that is not right for your personality, your gifts or your skills. Accept yourself as you are, just as God accepts you. You are accepted by God (even made by him) for who you are, not for what you do. We are loved before we perform, accepted before we work and wanted before we can do anything to please him.

Managing stress and pressure

We need some pressure to provide us with motivation. We are designed to cope with high levels of stress, pressure and intense workload for a limited time. In these times our brains and bodies gear up for increased action by releasing various hormones so we can achieve more. However, after periods like this we are designed to have periods of relief and recovery when our bodies and brains can return to a steady state.  Internal and external expectations can mean that we live at this high level of stress on an on-gong basis without realising it and eventually we will mentally and physically run out of juice. So:

  • Try to understand what stress you are under and learn to plan times of recovery.
  • Listen to your body - sensations and physical symptoms are the body’s alarm bells, don’t ignore them.
  • Take seriously getting enough sleep, exercise, relaxation, fun and a good diet.
  • Learn some techniques, such as breathing exercises, to lower the level of anxiety in stress moments.
  • Reflect on what particularly causes you stress - certain people, situations or issues. Can you change it? Even if you cannot control what is happening, think about how you can control your reaction to it and manage yourself in it.
  • Get medical help if you need it.

The problem with high stress periods is that they can feel good – energising, exciting – and the recovery period can feel low, but this is the natural rebalancing process. Avoid becoming addicted to pressure and adrenaline.

Realistic expectations

Often the expectations placed on us are unrealistic, but often our own unrealistic expectations are more powerful.  Sometimes we need to say no without feeling guilty.  Jesus did. He left the crowds, he resisted overload and being what others wanted him to be.

  • Evaluate your internal and external expectations. Are they realistic? Where are they coming from? How can you work on resetting them?
  • Assess what pressure is reallyunavoidable and what do you create or put yourself under?
  • Ensure that your needs – spiritual, emotional, social, mental and physical are met in the ways that suit you.  
  • Have a support network, both in your role – being part of a team, having someone to go to for advice – and personally friends, family, people who will just be there to provide fun, relaxation and care.
  • Have good boundaries and stick to them.
  • Know your limitations and your strengths.
  • There will always be certain situations, people, issues that we find more difficult to deal with than others. It may be because we feel them triggering our own issues, beliefs, experiences – this is natural, listen to them and have someone to talk them through with.

Accept love and care

  • Ensure that your needs – spiritual, emotional, social, mental and physical are met in the ways that suit you.  
  • Have a support network, both in your role – being part of a team, having someone to go to for advice – and personally friends, family, people who will just be there to provide fun, relaxation and care.
  • Have good boundaries and stick to them.
  • Know your limitations and your strengths.
  • There will always be certain situations, people, issues that we find more difficult to deal with than others. It may be because we feel them triggering our own issues, beliefs, experiences – this is natural, listen to them and have someone to talk them through with.