Folks who are burned-out, run-down, and overstressed will, at some point, say to me “I wish I didn’t care (this much)!” It makes sense-- they feel like they are suffering from too much care. Their capacity for care, which is very human, is in overdrive! They’re ruminating; they can’t sleep; they can’t concentrate; their emotional responses to care (worry, frustration) are overwhelming them. Can you relate? So, of course, if the problem is “caring too much,” then the obvious solution is to not care or care a lot less, right?
Except… because our care is important and authentic, apathy isn't really a realistic or sustainable option. I suggest that, instead of balancing care with apathy, we balance it by embracing tiredness.
This makes a lot of sense on a psychological level-- according to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we are only free and able to pursue our cares (which very often fit in the belonging, love, esteem, actualization levels of the hierarchy) when our bodily needs are addressed. Burn-out affects us on a physical level, which makes it a helpful sign that we need to return to attending to our physical needs. But how do we tone down our mental, emotional, and behavioral caring activities, specifically in the spirit of tiredness instead of apathy?
First, we identify and honor our passions: “I’m glad that I care about this so much; this is what I value, what I hold sacred, and I want to pursue it.” Next, we honor our tiredness: “Y’know, I’m also really tired!” Finally, we recognize that our passions and our tiredness are both essential to living our best life: “If I want to do my best in caring about this, I’m going to need to take breaks. The only way to make this path sustainable is by maintaining basic up-keep of my body/mind/spirit.”
We can take practical steps to make sure that our “caring self” feels comfortable in stepping back, by:
(1) Asking its permission: “I’m glad we’re doing this but I need a break; is that ok?”
(2) Taking note of your progress so far (with whatever you’re working on)
(3) Making a note of when/where/how you’ll pick it up again.
Hopefully, in this manner, the caring self can trust that you won’t abandon it, and this trust allows it to step back.
If you want to have the energy for “the work,” then guard your energy! I can only use my computer if I regularly charge it. Keep caring, and keep instituting (and appreciating, and savoring) those practices that honor the limitations of your energy.