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Proactive Self-Care: Learning To Care For Yourself Before the Burnout Hits

Updated: Sep 13, 2023

Happy mother with her family

By: Juliet Lam Kuehnle I know, I know, “self-care” has become such a buzzword. Despite its potential overuse, we simply cannot let it get watered down because self-care is an imperative part of our wellness. Self-care is anything we do intentionally to take care of ourselves, meeting whatever needs we have at any given time. It is necessary, personally unique, and not selfish. Self-care is also non-negotiable for parents who are inundated with the needs of others! Just like the airlines implore, we have to put on our own oxygen masks before we can help others with theirs. This applies to every facet of our human-ness. We must care for ourselves in order to show up well in this life. Self-care may be an act or practice that feels good to us, and it may be something that ensures we’re emotionally, physically, and mentally well. Self-care can be proactive, and it can be reactive. Both are necessary, though we truly need to prioritize the proactive acts that keep us regulated rather than simply waiting until we’re closer to angst, apathy, overwhelm, or burnout. By proactively engaging in self-care, we are more likely to stay grounded and psychologically flexible (able to better handle whatever comes our way). Parenting is so humbling and unpredictable, so of course, we want to do what we can to set ourselves up for “success” as much as possible!

We can learn to incorporate self-care as a daily practice, an ongoing process that is built into our lives.

There’s no one-size-fits-all with self-care. It’s very individualized and will even differ for us personally depending on our needs at any given time. A self-care activity also isn’t something that feels good in the moment, yet ultimately results in something negative (i.e., drinking too much or buying something you truly can’t afford). Ideal self-care is something that allows us to feel empowered and recharged, so as to prevent burnout and improve mood. It is so hard for some of us to practice self-care, especially as we gain more and more responsibilities (hello, parents!). This is largely due to the many myths and misconceptions society would have us believe. Oftentimes, we think self-care acts have to be some grand gesture, and we feel we don’t have the time or money for that. Many of us think it’s selfish to engage in self-care, or perhaps it feels self-indulgent. We have largely been conditioned to believe that a lot of these acts mean we are wasting time. We often feel guilty about spending time for ourselves rather than knowing we are worthy of rest or care. Some people who are used to being on the grind or constantly doing for others might even feel intimidated by stillness or self-care. Lastly, many of us simply just don’t prioritize ourselves. When we’re on autopilot, we are not attuned to our needs or aware of the benefits that will come from caring for ourselves. The earlier we can unlearn the myths mentioned above around self-care, the better. Humans are not wired to be solely focused on others (at the expense of our own needs), or on the go, or productive all the time. Yet, we wear busyness as a badge of honor in our society and are so focused on output and “getting it right.” Start now by committing to shifting your priorities and learning how to approach certain activities more intentionally so that they are choices aligned with your values and needs. We often think of self-care as spa days or golf outings. While these activities certainly count, I also encourage you to consider “smaller” acts of self-care and things that are free and that bring you pause, exhale, and relaxation. Sometimes, this is as “simple” as ensuring you’re hydrating and fueling your body well. Sometimes, it’s stepping outside and feeling your feet on the grass for a few breath cycles. Sometimes, it’s saying no to an invitation that would be draining. Sometimes, it’s carving out time to connect with your best friend for a phone call. These deliberate, ongoing choices will not only build your resilience and prevent burnout, but you’ll also be able to show up better for your kiddos, partner, friends, and others. Being attuned to your own needs is essential and ends up benefiting everyone around you!


Juliet Lam Kuehnle, LCMHCS, is a licensed therapist. She is also the author of the book Who You Callin’ Crazy: The Journey from Stigma to Therapy (May 2023). More at

Cover photo by Greta Hoffman.

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