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We’re familiar with the concept of self-care—often made clear by the airplane oxygen-mask metaphor, making sure we put our oxygen-mask on first so that we can stay alive to help others.

I am ALL FOR self-care. It’s critical.

What I am NOT “ALL FOR” is when self-care gets over-used and abused … like a crutch to keep pushing ourselves beyond healthy boundaries.

Downstream vs Upstream Solutions

An article from Harvard BusinessReview this week suggests an interesting concept of downstream vs upstream solutions for burnout.

Many companies have started getting on the self-care bandwagon by offering Mindfulness apps, gym memberships, and yoga classes as a way to support self-care. These are great, but they are downstream solutions, and, Catch 22, they end up putting the burden of self-care on the shoulders of the employees.

In reality, we need upstream solutions that get at the root of the issue, and the root of the issue comes down to the size of our workloads.

Research from Gallup has shown that the risk of burnout increases significantly when the workweek averages more than 50 hours, and burnout rises even more substantially at 60 hours.

So how do we manage our workload, especially if you aren’t your own boss and report to others?

The HBR article offers some solutions. I’ll share two of them, along with my brain-friendly interpretation of why these can work.


The first tip has to do with WHAT: Adjust your workload to a manageable level – easier said than done when you report to someone – so this is where coaching techniques can come in. Know what you want and need, and ask for it. This is a brain-friendly move to put us into a space of creator vs. reactor.

For example, do you want to skip a business meeting that isn’t absolutely necessary for you? Ask for it, or ask if it can be shortened by 10 minutes, or ask if it can be a phone call instead of a video call, which is often a bigger drain on the brain with reading visual cues.

Another example – if you’re tasked with a Herculean business goal, ask for what you need. Maybe it’s more headcount to deliver on the goals. Ask for it and make a case for the ask with business metrics.

Our brains are happier when we know what we want—it puts us into focus and reduces overwhelm.


The second tip has to do with WHY: Find a sense of purpose in what you’re doing – the brain HAS to find meaning in what it’s doing. When we find meaning and get interested and excited about what we’re doing, healthy neurochemicals are released that reduce the feeling of burnout. If we’re engaged in things that aren’t meaningful or don’t make sense, we’re either under-stimulated or resisting and then don’t have the best neurochemical cocktail in our systems.

So, DO keep up with your self-care, fellow humans, AND, get clear on WHAT you WANT and WHY you’re doing it.