Running on empty: when it’s time for self-care

Running on empty: when it’s time for self-care

Self-care may have become something of a wellness trend, but it is a legitimate way of maintaining or restoring balance in order to function at your best. Everyone goes through periods when life commitments demand extra from us: exams, working overtime, childcare holding multiple jobs, family crises, etc. While it’s normal for our daily output to wax and wane, when the demands become too intense over too long a period of time, we begin to shut down physically and emotionally. You need to know your limitations, know what you need to recharge your batteries, and be prepared to make these things a priority. Signs you may be starting to run low include: being sleep deprived and feeling easily overwhelmed or frustrated.

More than just a hashtag

According to Lyndsay Holmes, Wellness Editor for the Huffington Post, the endgame of self-care is to boost your mental health, period. Social media influencers have created a misconception that self-care is about adopting a “treat yourself” mindset that focuses on products and experiences like bubble baths and face masks. (And yes, self-care is often marketed toward women.) In fact, self-care is far more basic and far less glamourous; self-care takes work. And it needs to be incorporated into our routines on a regular basis.


For starters, eat well and eat regularly. Even if your schedule doesn’t allow you to have meals throughout the day, things like protein bars or shakes and fruit and raw veggies are portable, satisfying, and won’t give you a sugar rush that will have you crashing hours later.

Sleep more

Improve your sleep habits. This includes powering down two hours before going to bed and maintaining a consistent bedtime. With few exceptions, 7 ½ to 8 hours of shut-eye is considered optimal. Top performers sometimes need even more. Sleep is also when the body and brain repair themselves.

Get moving

Exercise is a well-known stress buster and sleep-aid, but not everyone has time to take up a sport or attend regular fitness classes. But almost everyone walks at some point in the day. Walk to work if you can. Get off the bus or metro a stop or two early and walk the rest of the way. Park five blocks away from your office. Make a point of leaving your desk at lunch time and take a stroll. Being outside in the fresh air can clear your mind, reset your mood, and stimulate your creativity.

Express yourself

Start a journal. It doesn’t have to be an essay. A few sentences or a paragraph here and there are just fine. The objective is to have someplace to put your thoughts, especially when things aren’t going the way you need them to. You hate the project you’ve been assigned? You don’t know how you’re going to manage a team peppered with challenging employees? Try something called a free-write: set aside five minutes (or however long you like) and write down all your thoughts without stopping. Don’t lift the pen from the paper. Forget about spelling, grammar, sentence structure, etc., and just write. There is no wrong way here. The purpose is to allow you to express whatever is on your mind without scrutiny or judgement and, in doing so, allow you to process what you’re experiencing. Re-read what you wrote; you may arrive at some solutions.


Say “no” to the slew of non-essential demands that deplete your energy. One simple way to refocus is to apply the “Wheel of Life”, a concept originally created by Paul J. Meyer, founder of Success Motivation® Institute, Inc. The wheel consists of eight buckets: family, work, money, personal growth, health and wellness, spirituality, community, and living environment. You decide which three are most important to you and if what you are being asked to do doesn’t fall into one of those buckets, it’s not worth pursuing.

Self-care should be an ongoing practice, but it still requires some periodic recalibration. When even the most basic components of self-care (e.g., regular sleep, eating regular meals) seem difficult and overwhelming, it’s time to reassess your situation and make some important changes to help regulate your mental and emotional health. And you can begin your reflection while seated in a nice, hot bubble bath.



McGill Centre for the Convergence of Health and Economics (MCCHE)

Desautels Faculty of Management

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