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Stretched Too Thin

It's great to be able to help when you can, but sometimes we're just stretched too thin. Giving of yourself is a commendable action, but we ought to remind ourselves that we only have so much to give -- and that's okay!

Most of us have had those days when it feels like we're being pulled in all directions, when everyone around us is having a crisis at the same time, when you quickly realize that there is no conceivable way that you'll ever get everything on your to-do list finished.

In those moments it's easy to feel overwhelmed, and when we feel overwhelmed, we have a choice to make. We can continue to say yes and "be there" for every little need that everyone else has while  sacrificing even the most basic of needs that your own body is crying out for, we could ignore those around us, throw them some snide remark like "just deal with it", and become desensitized and cynical to the  world around us, or we could try to find some balance.

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Picture of a call center employee yawning
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Finding balance is about recognizing and making yourself available to the needs of others, without sacrificing your own needs, emotional health, or well-being. If someone asks for your help, give yourself permission to refer them to somebody else or offer that help at a later time if you're feeling overwhelmed right now. You're not  saying no, you're saying "not right this second". Of course, there are times when saying no is a totally appropriate response.

Fight that tendency to feel guilty for saying no and allow those around you to learn to better appreciate you. Sometimes saying no is what others need to hear to be reminded that you won't be taken advantage of and can't attend to their every whim. It's not being rude when it's done with care.

There's a difference between telling someone that you don't have an interest in helping them and encouraging them to either find a new way to solve their own problem or to at least this time ask for help from somebody other than you. You'll have to use discretion to figure out when it's appropriate to suggest asking for help elsewhere, but it keeps from setting the precedent that you'll always be there ready to drop everything at a moment's notice.

Professional therapists, customer service representatives, emergency room doctors and nurses, business managers, parents, teachers, and so many others find themselves constantly putting out fires, trying to solve the problems of others. There comes a point where if you're so focused on solving the problems of others that you can become burned out and you start to become emotionally numb, meaning that you start to act and feel like you care less.

If you're feeling burned out and you force yourself to continue to solve problems and be there only for others, your ideas, your suggestions, your empathy, and basically your entire benefit to those you're trying to help will suffer. On the other hand if you're relaxed, calm, and in a good place emotionally you will be quicker to come up with solutions, more creative, more patient and understanding; you'll be a better friend, parent, partner, manager, caretaker, etc.

Part of taking care of others means taking care of yourself. Don't forget this simple, but very important point. So if your mind, body, and soul are telling you that you need a break or a moment away- be sure to listen. You don't have to go climb a remote mountain and isolate yourself from all human contact for a month. Just do something for yourself. You know yourself best and what should work best for you.

If you're at a complete loss however, a particuarly helpful technique is to physically and emotionally separate yourself from the stressors in your life, even if only for 20 minutes (though longer is better). Take a drive through a  remote countryside. Take a walk in the park. Sit under a tree and read a book. Take a long bath, play some soft music, and light a few aromatic candles.

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