Self-Care: Your Restoration and Your Foundation

30.06.2021 |

Episode #7 of the course Life in the time of burnout by Dr. Kimberlee Bethany Bonura


Self-care has become a trendy buzz word that people use to justify spending time and money on luxury, like this NY Times article that suggests drinking wine is a form of self-care. [1]

We’re not going to be talking about wine, or vacations, or even massages or skincare products. Instead, I’m going to put on my mom-hat and sound like a parent you might remember from childhood: you need to sleep. You need to play outside (i.e., get some fresh air, some sunshine, and some exercise). You need to eat your vegetables. Sufficient sleep, regular exercise, and a healthy diet are so fundamentally necessary for the health of your body and mind, that I want to talk about these three basics as the foundation for your well-being. If you’ve been burned out, starting with a solid foundation will help you heal and restore. And sticking to the basics will help you prevent burnout in the future.


You Have to Sleep

Getting enough sleep is vital to your health now and in the future. People consistently getting less than 7 hours of sleep are almost 3 times more likely to get a cold than people getting at least 8 hours of sleep. [2] It’d be easy to say, “just a cold,” until you remember that the cold is a coronavirus, and that a coronavirus shut down the world for more than a year. A lack of sleep in mid-life is related to dementia in older years [3] which means that even if you would rather power through and do more and sleep less now, your future self would very much appreciate you getting a good night’s sleep.

Most adults need at least 7 hours of sleep per night. The best way to know if you are getting enough sleep is to go to bed at a consistent time and way each night (a bed routine and bedtime, just like when you were a kid) and to wake up naturally, without an alarm clock. Sleep in a cool, dark room, and avoid food or strenuous exercise a few hours before bedtime (although some gentle stretching or meditation can help quiet the mind and get you to sleep).


You Have to Make Good Food Choices

A different diet seems to trend in the media every day, from paleo to keto, from vegetarian to raw foods. It can be hard to know the best way to eat. I’m not a nutritionist, and I’m not going to tell you what to eat, because your health, any chronic conditions you may have, and your personal and religious beliefs are all part of the food decisions you make. But, I’ll offer two ideas worth considering.

First, food writer Michael Pollan’s simple advice sums up the best of what we know about the research around diet: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants. [4] Avoid processed things and ingredients you can’t pronounce. Stop eating when you’re satisfied, and if you need entertainment, turn to crafts, activities, and social connections.

Second, it’s worth reviewing the more recent research in nutritional psychiatry, the science of how what we eat affects how we feel. A review from Harvard Medical School suggests cutting out all processed foods and sugar for three weeks, to see how you feel, and reports that people who eat Mediterranean and traditional Japanese diets (which focus on produce, unprocessed grains, and seafood, with only small amounts of dairy and meat) tend to have significantly lower levels of anxiety and depression, compared to more Western/American meat-and-dairy centered diets. [5]


You Have to Exercise

Research continues to prove: regular, moderate exercise is good for your health. It reduces your risk for a variety of chronic diseases, like diabetes and cardiovascular disease. It also improves your immune response, making you less likely to get sick when exposed to viruses (important as we continue to see COVID-19 variants). [6] The CDC, and most fitness researchers, recommend a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week, which means 30 minutes at least 5 days a week. [7] The Key, though, when we’re talking about burnout recovery and long-term health is to keep exercise consistent and moderate. High-intensity endurance exercise can actually reduce your immune response, because your body needs physical recovery after intense effort. [8] So if you’re recovering from, or preventing, burnout in the midst of crises, keep your focus on gentle to moderate exercise, and save the ultramarathon training for another time.

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about some mental exercises – like perspective-taking – that are necessary for burnout recovery and prevention. For today, take a walk, have a salad, and go to bed early!


Recommended reading

Are You Getting Enough Sleep?

Sleep and Your Health: Everything You Need to Know



[1] Natural Wine Is My Self-Care

[2] Sleep Habits and Susceptibility to the Common Cold

[3] Lack of Sleep in Middle Age May Increase Dementia Risk

[4] 7 Rules for Eating

[5] Nutritional Psychiatry: Your Brain on Food

[6] Coronavirus Disease-2019: A Tocsin to Our Aging, Unfit, Corpulent, and Immunodeficient Society

[7] How Much Physical Activity Do Adults Need?

[8] Exercise Can Boost Your Immune System—Here’s How Much You Need, According to Research


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