Having worked in Human Resources for quite some time at many different companies, the most common issue I come across in the corporate world is people getting burnt out; in more severe cases even leading to a mental breakdown, resulting in weeks (or in worse cases, months off) from work, as prescribed by the doctor. A particular memory still vividly lives in my mind, even though it happened a long time ago: I volunteered to be the First Aider and Fire Warden in the small office I worked at – I never expected that my first ‘call of duty’ would actually be having to rescue someone who got trapped behind the closed door in the ladies toilet because she had collapsed of exhaustion in the cubicle and hurt her head badly. It was months until she was able to return to work again following her mental breakdown – her re-appearence was followed by polite silence. More recently, I got contacted by a concerned senior manager whose colleague had to be carried out of the office building on a stretcher by the ambulance, because she had fainted at work – also due to mental exhaustion. She is now under the regular supervision of the Occupational Health doctor to help her ensure she never gets so close to ‘falling off the cliff’ again.

It just seems to me that a lot of us struggle to figure out how to nurture our families and friendships, our careers, the causes we are passionate about, and ourselves – all at the same time. And let’s face it, our 21st century Western culture is not exactly conducive to self-care which is often regarded as ‘being selfish and self-centered’, ‘lazy’ or outright ‘lacking the drive’ or ‘not trying hard enough’. We have also been programmed genetically and socially to take care of others and to put others first – if you are a parent to young children, a carer of a family member in need; or you happen to call yourself a Christian like myself, you may find that taking care of yourself /putting yourself first is a hard (maybe even bordering on sinful) concept to grasp.

I often hear people acknowledging that taking time out and doing fun stuff is important to them, however, when it actually comes to doing just that, they simply ‘don’t have time for that’. Some of the explanations I have heard from people for not prioritising self-care are-:

You know, there was this project at work where the client gave very tight deadlines and I simply could not take my holidays. (Never mind that you had a whole 12 months to spread over your 25 days holiday…)

It was the only best time to re-paint the living room. (Never mind that it has already been painted 125 times and no one will notice that little smudge behind the sofa…) 

Asking someone else to help me care for my sick and elderly parents sometimes would have made me feel guilty and my parents feel neglected. (Never mind that you have a full time job in addition to being their full time carer and you have not slept more than 3 hours in one go over the past 6 months…)

After all, no wonder why so many people end up burning out and breaking down physically and/or mentally. However, I am not passing any judgement here – I am prepared to admit that I am as guilty of this, as anyone else! Those of you who have been reading my blog know that I have fallen into the self-inflicted trap of pushing myself too hard in training way too many times; and taking on too much at work.

Ask yourself honestly: when was the last time you did something just for yourself?

I am a huge advocate of self-care and putting yourself first – at the right times. I have recently come across an article on the Simple Mindfulness blog about the importance of keeping our cups full (aka taking care of ourselves) which really hit home:-

”On an airplane, we’re instructed to put on our own oxygen masks first, before helping a child do the same.  If you think that’s a crazy idea, realize that you’re not much help to anyone if you’ve passed out due to lack of oxygen because you tried to help everyone else first. Apply this to your everyday life.”

Simply put: If you don’t do things to keep your cup full, you have nothing (or very little) left to give or share with others. If I wanted to push things even further, I would even venture to say that  NOT taking time for yourself IS selfish! Gail Lynne Goodwin who is the founder of the website, one of the Top 25 Most Inspirational People on Twitter in 2009 and regular writer for the Huffington Post said that

“By not taking time for yourself, you are denying your own importance and teaching (…) a lack of self-worth. If you want to raise empowered children, show them through the example of caring for yourself first. If we are empty, we have less to give others. In order to fill the cup of another, we must first fill our own.”

So the question left to ask is how can we re-fill our cup? I mean, with some really good stuff and not just a temporary fix such as not leaving the sofa all weekend in your pajamas, binging on Netflix? (Not that I have any issues with that 🙂 I’m just looking for some deeper stuff here!)

Here are my top 5 tips for how you can fill up your cup and keep it full no matter what life throws at you or what you choose to throw yourself into:-


1.Create simple, daily cup-filling moments

The emphasis here is on feasibility and simplicity – so creating habits which you can easily stick to, and which do not require you to go out of your way. Here are some of my typical ‘cup fillers’:-

  • Exercise in the morning (whatever you fancy) – get the heart pumping, let the blood flowing, seize the day with a strong start!
  • Instead of checking your work emails during your commute to work on the train or bus, read a magazine or listen to an interesting podcast instead.
  • Get up before anyone else wakes up in the house – use this extra time to write a journal whilst you are indulging drinking your favourite morning brew. A good way to mentally prepare for the day; or if you want to do this in the evening once everyone else has gone to bed, it is a good way to ‘debrief’ on the day behind you.
  • If you can, work from home – use the extra time you save on the morning commute to the office by going out for a walk somewhere really nice (e.g. a local park/forest/nature reserve), instead of having some extra snoozing time in bed. This does not only clear my head but also gets my blood pumping.

2. Meditate/Pray Regularly

I have found that the best time to do this is early morning. When we wake up, our minds are like a blank slate. We have the opportunity to choose which thoughts we want to put in them before business and noise takes over. Of course, I appreciate that not all of us are ‘larks’ – if you happen to be a ‘night owl’, you may that closing the day by having some quiet ‘me time’ is the best way to wind down.

Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul, two very busy people who accomplished great things, took a couple of hours each morning just for themselves, engaging in prayer and meditation.

According to this interesting article on the Health Magazine’s website, it has been proven scientifically that when you are feeling inspired and connected to something greater than you like God, your wellbeing and health improves, and as a result, the quality of your whole life improves as well. Jesus extended the invitation to all of us to come to Him when we are in need of refilling our cup (Matthew 11: 28-30) “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

3. Challenge your standards of perfection

Do you often find yourself lacking time and can’t see the bottom of your to do list? You may have been bitten by the perfectionism-bug. And I can tell you from first hand experience that it will keep sucking your blood away to the dry bone. If you feel that you simply do not have time to fill your cup, sometimes the only way is to get comfortable letting your standards of perfection slide a bit. At the end of the day, the world will not end if you have not deep cleaned the oven recently; equally, it does not become a better world if you are too burnt out to give the best of yourself!

4. Do not feel guilty or stingy to ask for help/outsource

Look at your to do list and identify items which you can delegate to someone else. Getting a cleaner or a babysitter (which may as well be a doting grandparent) on a couple of occasions is unlikely to break the bank – sometimes this may be the ONLY way you can squeeze out some quality time for yourself and do something really special to rejuvenate yourself.

5. Manage your energy, not your time!

I have written an article about this in my blog post called Energy!. If you do not have time to read the whole post, the key concept in Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz’s book called On Form is that performance, health and happiness are grounded in the smart and skillful management of our energy, not time. To be able to function fully and be effective we must be physically energized, emotionally connected, mentally focused, and spiritually aligned with a purpose beyond our immediate self-interest. From the law of physics we know that energy diminishes with overuse – too much energy expenditure and insufficient recovery leads to burnout and breakdown. The authors point out that, “It is not the intensity of energy expenditure that produces burnout, impaired performance and physical breakdown, but rather the duration of expenditure without recovery.” This means that we need to balance our energy expenditure with time to ‘refill our cup’.

What are you waiting for? Please go out and fill your own cup –  and the world around you will rejoice you did!

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