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Why self-care is vital to our mental wellbeing

10 Oct 2017 | Karen Liebenguth

Break Key

We're all familiar with the drill: life is okay until that 'something' happens... work becomes overwhelming, a family member falls ill, we fall out with someone or we just have lots on and life suddenly feels too much.

We then have a realisation and tell ourselves, we can't do it all; something will have to go. But what?

Usually the first thing we drop is something inessential, something that won't entail letting others down: doing exercise, going to the cinema, taking a lunch break, seeing a friend, listening to music, cooking something new, reading a book. Consequently, the very things we enjoy, that nourish us, that make us feel alive, drop off our agenda.

By the end of the week we are a little more tired and jaded, and our mood dips too. Why? Well, we've chosen not to do the things that fulfil us and make us feel resourced. We're left juggling life's essentials as we perceive them - chores, work, family commitments.

What's more, this pattern is self-perpetuating. As time goes on, something else we enjoy, some more 'time for you' goes the next week. In a bid to not to let others down (for fear of feeling guilty and that's unpleasant) we become more depleted, stressed and something else has to go…

Sound familiar?

The Exhaustion Funnel

Marie Asberg, professor at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, is an expert in burnout and she calls this process of not caring for ourselves The Exhaustion Funnel.

The Exhaustion Funnel

The top of the Exhaustion Funnel represents a full and balanced life, with work, family, friends, hobbies, exercise and interests. The bottom of the Exhaustion Funnel represents a life that has been stripped down to merely doing those things we have to do to keep going about our day to day - work, family commitments, food, cleaning, shopping etc.

It can be very easy to slip down the exhaustion funnel if we don't look after ourselves.


To truly care for ourselves we need to become more self-aware.

Self-care requires self-awareness; knowing what we need in every moment of the day, week, month and acting upon it as best we can.

Self-care also requires us to accept and understand that looking after ourselves well and saying 'no' to others does not necessarily mean that we let others down.

On the contrary, self-care means we are taking responsibility for ourselves and this in turn keeps our batteries charged and when our batteries are charged we have more to give to others.

Is there a way out of the exhaustion funnel?

I recently found myself at the bottom of the 'exhaustion funnel' and in complete 'doing mode'.

I was at my desk, starring at my to-do list, feeling numb and empty inside. It was three o'clock in the afternoon and I could not imagine doing anything. I took a moment and asked myself: "What do I most need right now?" The answer was, "I need to stop and go for a swim." And I did. I packed my bag and left the house. It was the best thing I could do for myself.

The underlying belief that allows us to care for ourselves is having the safe knowledge that it's okay to care for oneself, indeed it its essential for good mental and physical health, and a realisation that when we do care for ourselves, we have a greater capacity to be there for others.

Here are some tips that can help us take care of ourselves:

  • Take regular lunch breaks whether you work from home or in the workplace.
  • Accept that to-do lists are by nature endless; there will always be more work than time. 
  • Create technology free times/days in the week or month. I often have screen-free Sundays. A lovely day to take time out.
  • Take time for things you enjoy: swimming, yoga, music, being in nature, cycling, painting, baking bread, cooking, gardening…
  • Drink lots of water and eat well.
  • Cycle or walk more - physical exercise brings balance to the mind and body. It can help prepare for the day ahead or wind down from the day that's been.
  • Have a friend or colleague you trust and can talk to and share your feelings with.
  • Spend 10-20 minutes every day keeping a journal - what went well in your day, what you would have liked to change. Read my recent blog about Daily Journaling and how it brings about self-support, self-awareness and self-care. 

50 Ways To Take A Break

Spend more time doing less

No life comes without stress, challenges, conflicts, pressures and setbacks or moments of complete exhaustion but consider this paradox: the best way to get more done may be to spend more time doing less.


Karen Liebenguth is a qualified life coach. She offers 1:1 coaching while walking outdoors in green space, where she believes insight, change and creativity can happen most naturally. Karen is also an accredited mindfulness teacher and MBTI facilitator. She offers 1:1 mindfulness training and tailored mindfulness programs for the workplace. For more information on Karen's work visit her website: http://www.greenspacecoaching.com

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