DEAR, ME | LESSONS IN SELF-CARE

BY MARIA THATTIL

Burnout: A state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands.

Self-care. Initially, face masks and gram-worthy, aesthetically pleasing fuzzy quotes come to mind, but in practice - it is so much more. The depth of self-care is vast, and it is the answer to burnout syndrome.

Taking an active role to protect your own wellbeing and happiness, self-care is an ongoing commitment. I find myself reflecting on it after a very busy two months where I allowed myself to wear my “Achiever” hat 24/7 and didn’t take it off to care about me.

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May has been the busiest month I’ve had in a very long time. I know from my Instagram, my highlight reel looks like I’m running to exciting events, spending time shooting fashion, reviewing makeup or whipping up beauty videos - all whilst keeping up a full-time job. But beyond that, it’s chaotic. I love everything I do, but in recent months, it’s gotten very busy. Organisation is my best friend, and I do endeavour to stay ahead of my game - however, I let myself schedule all of my time, leaving no contingency for rest, recovery, me-time or ‘miscellaneous.’

For over a month now, I have been working hard in my day job, darting off to mid-week events or coming home at night to continue working on content. On weekends, shoots or events are scheduled. In the process, managing too much on the go has meant I’ve been skipping meals due to "being busy”, compromising sleep to edit content, and having minimal time for my relationship, family and friends.

With typical Type A personality tendencies, I’ve been telling myself that the ‘workaholic’ in me is simply grinding in pursuit of ambitious goals and that requires the rigid organisation and stringent time management I’ve enforced on myself. I’ve been telling myself it’s okay that I am powering through the day with minimal breaks because proactive me wants to be one step ahead of the curve, so it’s okay to run on a few coffees and skip breakfast … and lunch sometimes.

I’ve been pacifying my lack of sleep by narrating that ‘I’m young once - I’ll sleep later, and work now’. I’ve been pressuring myself by saying that to be ahead, I need to maximise my 24 hours - so time spent doing nothing is wasteful. In keeping up a constant state of 'work-work-work with no time for rest - frankly, I am burnt out.

I started to notice that I was reaching a point of hitting the wall when I found myself subconsciously eluding to feeling chaotic and busy in most conversations. I’d catch myself saying it and would think, ‘maybe I need to slow down?’, but wouldn’t entertain the thought as I’d already be mentally on the train to another to-do list item. The subconscious indicators of exhaustion were there, but then it escalated. In recent weeks, I’ve dropped weight, have been tired constantly, been making simple errors in daily life, noticed increased irritability and emotionality, and started to question myself and my own capability.

I became overwhelmed and this week, it all came to a head. I suddenly realised I’ve been on an express train to burnout land. It should never have come to this, but what a blessing in disguise and important lesson.

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Upon reflection, I realised that in my ambitious pursuit to ‘do it all’, I incorrectly associated ‘self-care’ with laziness. Mistakenly, I believed that time for rest and leisure was time wasted. I should never have let myself get to a point of depletion, but in getting there, I realised the need to renew.

Fortunate enough to have people in my life who uplift me, this week it was my partner and beautiful people from my work (the kind of strong women who support women) who uplifted me and gave me the opportunity to acknowledge my exhaustion, and then helped me to realise the importance of taking care of myself first before tending to other priorities in my life. Because life will always be busy, and external “priorities” will always demand something from you.

But you cannot pour from an empty cup.

When the well is dry, we know the worth of water.
— Benjamin Franklin

For me, the realisation required a commitment to myself to be kinder to me and to worry about me first, and foremost.

This means sifting through event invitations carefully to discern the ‘must-go-to’s’ versus the ‘nice-to-go-to's’. It means not always saying YES.

It means taking time away from my desk in the day to get some fresh air and swap the carbs and sugar for something nourishing.

It means telling myself that it’s okay if ‘ALL’ the content isn’t finalised immediately and I shut my devices off get into bed by 9:30pm.

It means telling myself that going to the gym and sleeping are as important as contracted work with deadlines.

It means leaving time in the week free for me to do as I please, and if that means I want to have a Charmed marathon in matching pyjamas and a face mask, I do it guilt-free.

It means incorporating ten minutes of meditation into every day so that I can master breathing techniques that will help me sleep, curb anxiety, control my emotions and become mentally stronger.

It means taking the time to go on date-nights.

It means becoming comfortable with putting my hand up to say ‘I’m not okay and I need support.’

Self-care is an ongoing commitment that allows you to replenish yourself first, so that you can serve others better. It shouldn’t take an illness, accident or burnout for you to realise that you don’t need to feel guilty about being present and rejuvenating yourself. As always, I write to you with honesty and perspective in the hope that I can impart something that impacts you positively. And the message I give you is one that I am trying to ingrain in myself: You deserve the love that you give others so freely.

We are all human, and sometimes, it’s okay to be ‘good’ instead of ‘perfect’. Set boundaries, do your best, and above all, be compassionate to yourself. Your biggest responsibility is and will always be to take care of your mind, body and spirit, and in doing so, you’ll be able to sustain being the best version of you.

So I’ll leave you with this - what commitments can you make to yourself to start caring for yourself better?

M x

Maria Thattil