Life can be taxing. Running yourself ragged can lead to chronic stress and exhaustion. Taking the time to care for yourself is vital for keeping you functioning at your best.

If you have ever boarded a plane, you know the drill: take your seat, fasten your seatbelt, and settle in while you listen to the onboard announcements. “Should the cabin lose pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the overhead area. Place the mask over your own mouth and nose before assisting others.” While seemingly ordinary, this statement expresses a powerful warning we cannot afford to ignore: if we neglect our own needs, we cannot effectively care for others and perform our best. Whether we are an exhausted stay at home parent, a tireless working professional, or a patient wearily trying to manage a chronic condition like diabetes or heart disease on a daily basis, it is easy to feel like our candle is burning on both ends.

The hidden dangers of burnout

So many of us live our lives on autopilot amidst the hustle and bustle of the day. We complete routine tasks without even thinking, all while aiming to please others and stuck in a hamster wheel of busyness and distractedness. We live this way because it is comfortable, predictable, and a way to cope.  But stress can eventually creep up on us in a major way. Stress that is not addressed can lead to burnout, a serious mental and physical state where we feel detached, emotionally exhausted, depressed, or disparaging about our sense of personal achievements. Burnout can impact our emotional and physical health, strain our relationships, and jeopardize our jobs.

The staggering truth about burnout on the job

Burnout can occur as a result of overwhelming demands in our personal lives at home, but it is perhaps most seen in the workplace, and the prevalence of burnout among professional workers in the United States is pretty eye-opening. A Gallup poll surveying 7,500 full-time employees revealed that 28% of workers experience constant or frequent burnout at the office, and 45% report feeling burned out sometimes. This stark truth suggests that over 70% of our workers feel burned out at any given time.

Self-care: taking back charge of your well-being

Americans are notorious for downplaying the importance of relaxation.  As a nation, we boast about our tenacious work ethic as evidenced by the number of hours we work and how productive we are. Other countries instead prize leisure time, perhaps recognizing that relaxation is part and parcel of achieving overall well-being. At its core, relaxing simply means taking time out from your normal, busy life to recuperate from the stress involved in dealing with the demands placed on you. Whether it is as minor as taking five minutes to breathe or as extravagant as planning an all-inclusive vacation, one thing is clear: taking care of ourselves goes way beyond just eating healthy foods and exercising. Self-care requires deliberately doing those things that will refill our reserves and ensure our needs are met so that we can be the best versions of ourselves.

4 science-backed ways to take care of yourself

Plan your self-care activities and put them in your calendar like any other important appointment. Remember that as a priority in your life, self-care is not a one-time event. It should happen often and regularly.

Þ   Optimize your physical health. Feeling unwell in our bodies can quickly deplete our mental resources. Eat nutritious foods, get 7 to 9 hours of sleep, and get lots of  exercise to keep healthy and going strong. In fact, cycling 3 times a week for 30 minutes over 7 weeks is shown to have a similar physiological effect as antidepressant medication, so move your body regularly to maintain emotional wellness.

Þ   Embrace enjoyable ways to treat yourself. Indulge in activities that recharge your mind, body, and soul. Whether it is a weekly exercise class, a pampering spa getaway a relaxing bubble bath, a date with yourself at the coffee shop, or a rejuvenating walk around the block, take a breather from real life on a regular basis. Devoting at least 10 minutes a day to taking care of yourself is a great start.

Þ   Nurture a mindful mindset. The science is clear: practicing mindfulness can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. Mindfulness is a non-judgmental awareness of the “here and now” as it unfolds moment by moment. In one study, subjects who completed a 2-hour weekly, 8-week structured mindfulness program reported a much higher sense of emotional well-being. The program included sitting meditation, body scans, yoga, and deep breathing sessions.

Þ   Learn to say no. Do you say yes to every request asked of you, even when it is not convenient? Do you impulsively agree in order to avoid hurting others’ feelings? People-pleasing is a toxic habit many fall into. Trying to be all things to all people at the expense of your own well-being is a surefire way to become resentful and burned out. Saying “I’m sorry, but I can’t help today” means putting yourself first by setting firm boundaries on your time and effort.