Monday, February 6, 2023

Use The Oxygen Mask Principle to Avoid Burnout

Hundreds of research studies have shown that helping others is good for your physical and emotional health. Those who help and serve others have less stress, anxiety and depression. If you have ever received a warm glow of joy and satisfaction after helping someone then you understand why helping others is good for you.

This has been true in my experience. I receive a lot of joy and fulfillment from helping others. However, as a young adult, I had to learn to set limits with people and volunteer organizations that constantly pleaded for more and more of my time and money. I enjoyed helping people and I had a strong need to be liked and admired by others. On many occasions I said “yes” to too many requests for help. I ended up feeling tired, stressed out and taken advantage of.

I had to learn that it is not selfish to say “no” to others. If I did not balance my service to others with times of relaxation and fun (and times of physical and spiritual renewal) I would have burned out. Fortunately I learned that if I did not take care of myself, I would not be able to help anyone.

As a young adult, I incorrectly thought God wanted me to “give until it hurts” and to “burn out” (constantly deplete myself) in service to others. As I grew a little older and wiser, I realized that God wants us to regularly take time for fun, relaxation, rest and renewal. 

Taking time to rest was a lesson that Jesus’ disciples also needed to learn.  On one occasion, after Jesus and his disciples spent extended time helping and teaching others, He called them together. They were excited about all of the good things that had happened. They probably thought Jesus was going to tell them to keep teaching and sharing the good news with the crowds. However, Jesus said to the disciples, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” (Mark 6:31)

Put your Own Oxygen Mask on First

Imagine you are going on a trip on an airplane. Before the plane takes off, the stewardess tells you to fasten your safety belts, the location of the emergency exits and:

“In the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will deploy. Place the mask over your mouth and nose and breathe normally. If you are traveling with an infant or a small child, be sure to put on your own oxygen mask first before assisting others.”

It is natural to want to take care of others first (especially our children), but as the oxygen mask scenario reminds us, we must first make sure that our own mask is on so that we can effectively help others. What does this mean in our daily life? It means before we can pour our hearts and our energy out for our children, for our friends, and for our families, we need to nurture our physical, emotional and spiritual health. How can we effectively help others when we are exhausted, and emotionally drained?

Practice the Power of Saying “No!”

Fortunately, breaking out of this exhausting cycle is easier than you think.  First, always remember that you are a person of value and worth, apart from what you do. Also, bear in mind that for every request that you say “yes” to, you are saying “no” to something else. Remember that it is okay for you to say “no” so that you will have sufficient time each week to relax, exercise, have fun, spend time on a hobby or just have some time to yourself.

Remember that you are not required to give a reason for saying “no” to people’s requests. However, at times you may want to soften your “no” with a very brief, yet somewhat vague explanation. For example, you might say, “I have to say ‘no’ because my other commitments won’t allow me help at this time.” 

It can also be helpful to soften your “no” with a compliment. “I’m sorry, but I don’t have time to serve on your committee this year. I do admire what you’re doing and I wish you well.” Another example is “For family reasons, I’m not able to take on any more commitments at this time. Your organization is doing a great job and I thank you for thinking of me.”

Utilize the Power Pause

Get in the habit of pausing or taking a breath before responding to someone’s request. You may want to answer requests with, “I need to think about it first, I’ll get back to you.” Another helpful response is “Let me check my schedule and call you back in ten minutes.” Use any phrase that you feel comfortable with that gives you time to consider your alternatives. When you begin to say “no” you will be surprised that most people do not get angry with you. In most cases, they simply move on to find someone else to help them. Of course, some people will get annoyed or disappointed, but if they are a true friend, they will respect your rights. By being true to yourself and saying “no,” you will learn if that person really is your friend.  Once you start saying “no” to unreasonable requests, you will be well on your way to living a more balanced and enjoyable life.

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