From Burned Out to Balanced: How I Changed My Life With One Simple Choice

Our co-founder Yi-Hsian Godfrey shares her journey to a more balanced life....

How Go-Getting Can Lead to Burning Out

I had to learn a lesson about burning out the hard way. My experience is not a rare one; in fact, I’m sure many of you can easily relate. You see, I’m what you might call a “go-getter” or “Type-A.” I tend to throw myself into projects wholeheartedly, which more often than not drains most, if not all of my energy, leaving me completely burned out. Even when it felt like I had nothing left, I pushed myself. When I burned out in my 20’s, I went to business school.  

When I burned out in my 30’s, I started my own business. “Resting” wasn’t in my vocabulary, much less something I practiced. I constantly felt run-down, low on energy and generally overwhelmed.

It wasn’t until my late 30’s that I came across the term “self-care” and started to understand the importance of my own wellbeing and its trickle effect on my family.

What is Self-Care?

“Self-care” always sounded so hokey to me, a practice for those who couldn’t handle the pressure, a discipline for the meek and weak. Honestly, my version of self care was making healthy choices: doing yoga, green juicing and clean eating. And yes, those are good things. But that wasn’t enough, because I am more than just my physical health— and so are you. We all have physical, emotional and mental needs that, if neglected, can lead to burning out (which in turn can set us back in our goals and relationships and day-to-day activities).

So here it is, plain and simple:

Self-care is any deliberate activity that we do to take care of our physical, emotional or mental health.
 

Why is Self-Care Important?

There are so many reasons why self care is important, but the main one I want to focus on is this: self-care is essential for healthy relationships with others. It sounds counterintuitive, I know— in order to take better care of others, we have to take care of ourselves first? Isn’t that selfish? But consider this: when you’re flying on an airplane and the flight attendants do their safety schbiel, they always tell you that when the oxygen mask comes down, you put your own on first, and then assist your child. Why? Because you’re no help to them if you run out of oxygen first!

Or here’s an even simpler example: Let’s say you have a cup full of water. That cup represents all your energy. Throughout the days and weeks and months, you’re constantly pouring water into other people’s cups— cleaning the house, taking the kids to school, making dinner, etc. But you’re only human! At some point, that pitcher is going to be empty and you’ll have nothing left to give. Self care is refilling the water pitcher.

Sometimes Self Care Means Accepting Outside Help

Once I realized that I needed to embrace the practice of self care to stop the burn out cycle, everything changed for the better. The biggest self-care change that I made was asking for and receiving a variety of help. This alone has had the greatest impact in my mental and physical wellbeing. Having co-founded Apiari, I found that I was surrounded by trusted people and resources, and what a difference it has made! Delegating certain tasks freed up some of that energy to put towards areas that needed it most.

An Example of Self-Care

Take this last winter break, as an example.  My family and I didn’t have any big getaway planned— the kids were happy to chill out at home and have play dates.

The old me would have spent the whole break trying to juggle working from home while schlepping them to and from play dates, hosting playdates, prepping lunches and snacks, clocking their screen times, mediating fights and rallying them to clean up before cooking dinner, getting them showered and ready for bed.

But now, after embracing the concept of self-care, I did things a little differently. This year, I hired a sitter for five hours a day for three days during the week-long break. End of week diagnosis? Best winter break ever! I was able to focus on my kids in the morning and spend time with them before our sitter Esther showed up. She made them lunch every day, spent hours at the playground with them, ran errands with them, and even took them toy and food shopping. Most importantly, my kids had a great time with her as she was entirely focused on them and catered to their every need.  

 Kate and I trying out our “earthing” tree pose

Kate and I trying out our “earthing” tree pose

For me, I had five solid hours of uninterrupted work each day. I was super productive because I had the concentrated time to focus and work without having to worry about the well-being of my children— I knew they were taken care of! My overall stress levels that break week were lower than normal in-school weeks. I was happy and engaged even more fully with my kids after Esther left because I didn’t have to worry about all the things that I hadn’t gotten done that day. And my family noticed the change. They noticed that I wasn’t quick to anger or only half-listening to them.  And during the two days I took off from work that week to play, I played to the max with the kids. My relationship with them was stronger because of my self care, which in this case took the form of giving myself the time and space I needed to do my work.

Don’t Put It Off

Learn from my example! After years of trying to find a balance between ambition, home life and the inevitable burn out, I have finally discovered the secret to making it work: self care. Self-care is not for the weak and meek. It’s for the strong and the smart, for the person who realizes that the best version of themselves, the one that can do the most good, is when they have taken care of their physical, mental and emotional needs.

I challenge you to take that time for yourself and figure out what your self-care needs are. Whether it’s asking for help with cooking or cleaning, taking a walk or a nap or a bubble bath, whatever it is, don’t be afraid to put yourself first sometimes. Self-care is the first step towards a balanced, healthy well-being. It’s the secret to long-term mental, emotional and physical health and to stronger relationships.

You may think that you don’t have the time or the energy for self-care, but that’s exactly how you know that you need it the most! Make the time. Make self-care a priority. After all, you can’t pour from an empty cup.