Me Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself

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This should come as no surprise: Social connection, from birth to old age, is one of our greatest human needs. Social connection leads to lower rates of anxiety and depression, strengthens our immune system , and can even lengthen our life. Researchers agree that social connection has less to do with the number of friends you have than with how connected you feel on the inside, subjectively.

The tricky part is that stress is linked to self-focus ; our stressed minds turn towards me, myself and I—making us even more miserable and disconnected from others. Meditation, yoga, breathing exercises and walks in nature , as well as curbing caffeine, can all help us calm down and feel ready to reach out to others. A study we conducted at Stanford showed that loving-kindness meditation can be a quick way to nurture a sense of connection. Better yet, try meditating with a partner. But research in social workers shows that having more empathy can also prevent burnout.

One potential explanation for this finding is that, by developing feelings like compassion and empathy, we are protected from feeling distressed or overwhelmed in the face of suffering. When you truly connect with another person who is suffering, you can actually feel empowered and energized because you are inspired to uplift that person.

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In these moments, we are usually capable of so much more than we imagined—we seem to find hidden reserves of energy. Afterward, we end up feeling much better than we did before. Again, loving-kindness meditation is one way to start to cultivate empathy. When you speak with someone who is suffering, practicing active listening can help you provide comfort and support to them without having to solve their problems. If we can figure out how to continue giving to others without suffering from burnout, we can expect to reap many benefits. For example, volunteering can have a positive impact on health, with benefits for obesity, blood glucose, blood pressure, and longevity.

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Older volunteers can derive a great feeling of purpose and self-esteem from volunteering; research shows that it makes them feel happier , more connected to others and more confident of their self-worth. The benefits of volunteering for well-being seem to be universal, holding across cultures as well as generations. As a researcher of happiness and someone who has written a book on the topic, I can attest to the many, many studies that have been written on the subject. If you are shy or introverted or even have social anxiety, giving to others can actually still increase your happiness.

Keeping your spirits up with exercise, sleeping in and making room for fun activities like movies or shopping are important. These pleasures give us short bursts of happiness that can help fuel us and keep us playful in life. To complement these more physical pleasures, however, giving and connecting with others in positive ways will bring us long-lasting feelings of joy that come from a life of purpose and meaning. The balance between the two is a ripe recipe for a happy, long and fulfilling life.

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  7. Schedule your self-care time, and guard that time with everything you have. It can be hard for us all to find extra time. And moments with friends can help you feel more connected and relaxed. Whether you decide you want to go for a long walk, take a hot bath, or enjoy a good movie with friends, taking self-care time is imperative.

    This post was co-written by self-care advocate, Brad Krause.

    Exhausted, uninspired, or unwell? Read these self-care tips to take care of you.

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    How to Take Care of Others Without Burning Out

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