Recently, as part of a group of colleagues spending the day in a professional development workshop, we were required to play a “game.” The facilitator gave each 3 beans. Essentially, the beans represented “medicine” and in the circle of attendees, we were required to stand in front of each person, starting on the right, and look them in the eye, and say, “I have medicine for you,” and give over a bean. Or, “I have no medicine for you,” and pass them by.
This turned out to be much more difficult than one might imagine. There were twelve of us in the group, and we had three…yes, three… beans. It took me a millisecond to decide, “I don’t like this game.” I looked at the beans in my hand, and the other eleven people in the circle, and didn’t want to play anymore. Inevitably, I was going to have to say, “I have no medicine for you,” at least 8 times. Ugh.
We played the game, and it was as emotionally devastating as I expected it to be. Of the 12 participants, only one person thought to keep ‘medicine’ – one of those beans – for herself, and admitted to feeling very selfish in doing so.
The point of the exercise was to illustrate to all of us that we have limited resources, and when we give those resources to others and fail to reserve any for ourselves, we experience the stress of depleted resilience, and eventually we burn out. Burn out brings its own set of problems, including physical illness, emotional distress, and mental health issues like depression and anxiety.
How to know when you’re giving away all your beans?
- Taking lunch at your desk…every day.
- Starting early, or working late more days than you don’t.
- Time is a tyrant – you have chronic feeling of ‘never enough time’.
- Sleep isn’t great – you can’t get to sleep, or you wake up at 0 Dark 30 and that’s it. No more sleeping.
- Worrying about Sunday, feeling sick on Saturday night.
- Regularly working on the weekend.
- You haven’t played in the past week.
We all need time off. There is no such thing as “work/life balance.” It’s ALL life, and the balance we want is work/leisure/play. Work is, well work. Whatever we do that pays the bills. Leisure is not work – it’s doing the laundry, grocery shopping, and anything else we have to do to be able to go to work clean, clothed, and in our right minds. Play is anything we do that rejuvenates our soul, lifts our spirits, and leaves us with a pleasant sense of wellbeing. If this sounds completely foreign to you, I’m not surprised. We don’t do enough playing, and a great deal of us do none.
Why is self-care so difficult? What is it about our society, our experiences, and our personal rules that make it so difficult to acknowledge that caring for ourselves is an absolute necessity, not an option?
Try this. Make a list…
- 5 things you would do if nobody could stop you (including yourself).
- 5 things you enjoyed as a child (5 -12 years old).
- 5 things you on your Bucket List (What?? You don’t have a Bucket List??)
What’s the theme? What are you missing in your life now that comes out in your subconscious? If your theme is ‘running away’ it’s probably a clue that you need to change something.
So back to the beans.
We truly do have a finite amount of resources, and if we expend all those beans on others, no matter how well intentioned we may be, we will burn out. This has implications for our physical and mental health, and some of these negative consequences can become permanent.
- Stop. Just stop and leave your desk for at least 30 minutes in the middle of the day. Have your lunch (yes, this means you need to eat) outside, at a window with a view, in a comfortable chair with a book…you get the idea. Leave. Your. Desk.
- Do a body movement activity at least three times a week. Walk, run, yoga, tai chi, Irish dance…whatever. •Take up a quiet mind practice. Meditate, journal, colour, Zentangle, paint…anything that helps develop some quiet in your day.
- Play. Remember those lists? Do that stuff. Do waaaaay more of that.
There is a huge difference between existing and living. If you look back at last week and ‘existing’ comes to mind, don’t wait. There’s a great free app for tracking resilience and measuring burnout – Provider Resilience (Apple or Android) Why not do something before you’ve given away all your beans?
Dr Susannah is a leading psychologist, registered professional counsellor and Master Practitioner in Clinical Counselling based in Canada. For more information, please follow @DrSusannah on Twitter and Instagram and stay tuned for her latest updates. Photo by Jasmine Waheed on Unsplash.