Overcoming Burnout: 4 Rs of Self Care

Self Love

Overcoming Burnout with the 4 Rs of Self Care


Self Love
Photo by Tim Mossholder from Pexels

I’m going to be blunt.  We are burning out.  We are in a society that expects so much of its citizens 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Whether it’s work, school, social media, or the expectations of the neighbor next door, we are in a world that is constant in its demands and fast paced in its speed.  When we hear someone say “self-care” we may think of the little luxuries— going for a run, taking a bath, or even a vacation.  For many of us, it is another thing on the to-do list that we just don’t have time for.  For some, self care is selfishness. When we do something for ourselves, we may even feel guilty.

In conversations of self-care with clients, I constantly come back to this analogy.  When you are on an airplane and the flight crew is giving the safety demonstration, they ALWAYS tell you to put your own oxygen mask on first.  Why?  Because if you don’t take care of yourself first, you will pass out before you can help anyone else. 


When we are running on empty, the impact is not limited to ourselves.  Burnout is now an internationally recognized syndrome , according to the World Health Organization. While the WHO’s new “syndrome” is about work-related burnout, others have articulated what burnout can look like more fully:

Burnout is a state of chronic stress that leads to:

        • physical and emotional exhaustion

        • cynicism and detachment

        • feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment

It is something that impacts every aspect of our lives:  our work,  our studies, our fundamental relationships.  When we aren’t our best selves, everything around us suffers.


What is real self care?

Real self-care is about building up your resources so that you have what you need to meet the challenges that come your way.  A complete self-care mindset involves both long-term and short-term thinking and investment. When I lead workshops or talk with clients (or even friends), we address self-care in 4 key ways.

1) Routine

This is the basics and the foundation.  What can you do to take care of your whole self every day? This is what people tend to refer to as “Wellness” and includes the following:

  • Nutrition

  • Sleep Habits

  • Regular Physical Activity

  • Creative outlet!

If you are chronically malnourished, sleep deprived, or neglecting your body it impacts a whole range of health issues, including mental health!  All of this may seem obvious, but with all of life’s demands it can be so hard to be consistent with our physical needs. However, if you make keeping your body and mind routinely fed and cared for a priority, everything else becomes a bit more manageable.

Sleep, nutrition, and activity may seem like “common sense” (even if they can be a challenge!), but a creative outlet may be something new.  We are creative beings (I’ll address this more in a future post), and it is important to indulge this as part of our life routine.  Your creativity could be expressed through gardening, knitting, writing poetry, woodwork, music, painting, coloring, cooking, etc. Basically, your outlet can be anything that brings you joy and satisfaction.  It may be something you once enjoyed but have forgotten about, or it may be something you’ve always been interested but never felt like you could.  Do it anyway!  This is also a great strategy if you are trying to reduce dependence on screen time 😉  (More of that in a future post, too).

I highly recommend looking into the “Wellness Wheel” concept to see where you might be out of balance. Remember though, no one has everything together!  It’s ok for us to be stronger in some areas, and need a little more work in others.  The key is when you are very off balance in one or more areas, make a commitment to make a manageable change in one area at a time.  The goal is to routinely prioritize your physical and mental well being.  It is easier to keep a good thing going, then to be in a pattern of depriving and then over correcting.

2) Ritual

Ritual is what marks transitions.  It is an anchor to give us strength when we know a challenge is coming.  Ritual takes many forms, depending on your culture, religion, age, personality, location and so much more.  But at their core, rituals are an action that helps us gain control over what may seem out of control.  And, believe it or not, there is evidence that even the ritual of wearing your lucky socks may actually improve your game!

In the context of self-care, Ritual is a resource that you can tap into when you feel the challenge on the horizon.  That may be before an important meeting, transitioning from work to home, at the witching hour where the kids melt down like clockwork, or settling into a hotel.  There are some situations that occur frequently enough that we recognize how our emotions and actions are impacted by them.  We may even dread them.

So take a moment and consider, what times of day or days of the week do I struggle the most?  What is something I might be able to do to build up my resources right before that challenge arrives at my doorstep?

Some examples might include:

  • Taking a “mindful moment” with a hot or cold beverage (our bodies are more aware of difference of temperature)

  • Reciting a calming or empowering Mantra, prayer, or scripture

  • Listen to a specific meaningful song (Guilty pleasures acceptable!)

  • Lighting a candle

  • Accessing a scent, such as lavender, in a spray, essential oil or lotion

  • Make a physical alteration (change clothes, alter hairstyle, change from contacts to glasses)

  • Visualization Exercise (i.e. transitioning from home to work, imagining the thoughts related to work stopping at the door to the building as you leave work and imagine how far away work is physically from home)

The bottom line is that you see the challenge coming, you take a moment to anchor yourself, and then you are more prepared to face the challenge head on instead of being overwhelmed by it.

3) Rescue

Photo by Tobias Bjørkli from Pexels

So what do you do when you are really about to loose it? Yes, this will happen.  Sometimes you will be doing everything right– getting enough rest, tapping into rituals, eating right– and you just get suddenly blindsided.  It may be that your boss gave you an unreasonable assignment with an even less reasonable deadline.  Maybe that school assignment you worked hours on crashes without a backup.  Maybe the 3 year old found a dry erase marker and created a Picasso Masterpiece on your couch!  (All of those are personal experiences, by the way…)

The truth is, you are human!  You will lose control, make mistakes, and lose your temper.  That’s part of life.  So PLAN for it!  We make safety plans for fires, tornadoes, earthquakes, and floods.  We need a safety plan for when we hit an emotional storm, too.

In creating your Rescue Plan, identify each of the following.

  • A Safe person (maybe 2 or 3 just in case)  that you can text or call to help keep you grounded when you are being flooded by emotions.  If you struggle with self-harm or suicidal thoughts, this could even be a hotline number.

  • A Magic Object: This is a physical item that can help you focus on something outside the storm of emotions.  It could be a piece of jewelry that you have, a clipboard you carry that you’ve taped calming pictures to, a coffee cup that you grip firmly with both hands. It should be something that you can access easily, without much thought.  Let your focus turn laser sharp on that object and actually name it’s properties one by one. What is its temperature? texture? color? weight? etc. until you feel  calmer.

  • A Mantra: a SHORT phrase that can be repeated over and over again with your breath, either in your head or out loud. This could be a song lyric, religious text, a sound, or even the ABCs backwards.

  • An Actual Physical Safe Space:  Is there a part of the house, office, or school that you can go take a moment to cool down?  While many places are intentionally creating “calming spaces,”  for you this might be a closet, a bathroom stall, or a walk around the block or building.  Just like the magic object go through your 5 senses and identify properties of the space one by one (What is the light like? Colors? Smells?)

  • An Imagined Safe Space: Sometimes we can’t get away from the stressor, but we can go inward. Take a moment now and imagine the safest most calm place you can bring to your mind.  Explore it, memorize it, and identify an aspect for each of the 5 senses.  Know that this place is a place you can go to anytime, no matter where you are or what you’re doing.


For the many people who struggle with mental health, please know this is a crash course in mindful grounding. Even in my own psychotherapy practice, I go much deeper and provide a much more tailor-made rescue plan with my clients. This article is not meant to be in any way a replacement for psychotherapy.  This is especially true for the “rescue” aspect of self-care.  If you are in a place where you are routinely losing control, or when you do it feels like you may cause damage to yourself or somebody else then you need to reach out for additional help and support.  Click here for resources in the state of Ohio and nationally.

That said, if you have not yet created a Rescue Plan for your most human moments, this might be a good time to start.  Humans do not make their best decisions when they are upset.


4) Recovery

You are human.  You will make mistakes and say or do things that are less than ideal.  If it’s one thing I’ve learned in my years as a mental health professional (and as a human!), it’s that there is always a way to move forward.  I say this as a person who has specialized in addiction counseling, has worked with abuse in families, and community violence.  If you haven’t been told this, you need to hear it now!  While there are consequences to our actions, it does NOT mean that it is the end of your story.  

Recovery is how we heal ourselves and any hurts we may have caused.  It is about forgiveness, in whatever form that can be made.  It is also about finding support outside of ourselves.  I have no simple steps for this aspect of self care, as it is part of a deeply personal journey.  It could be something simple.  With the families I work with, this is sometimes a ritual of tapping noses after an argument in order to hit the “reset button.”  It could mean a true and formal apology.  It might require seeking professional treatment or a 12-step meeting in your area.

Self-Care is not a luxury that we can afford to live without. Routine, Ritual, Rescue, and Repair are a way to give yourself the resources you need to be your best self wherever you need to show up.  As the great Lucille Ball, puts it–

“Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.” 




To receive your FREE “4 Rs of Self-Care Plan” worksheet or for more information on Real Self-Care, for counseling, or to book a workshop contact Dreme McLennan at Healing Arts Counseling Center.



© H. Dreme McLennan and Healing Arts Counseling Center, LLC, 2019.

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