You can't pour from an empty cup: Create your ‘SMART’ self-care plan

You can't pour from an empty cup.

DISCLAIMER: the content contained in this post is from my own experiences, knowledge/research, and for informational purposes only; external research is recommended. Should you have any questions or concerns, please seek the advice of a professional.

Have you ever come home from work not wanting to talk to anybody, and spend the night locked up in your room by yourself using Netflix as an escape?
Or perhaps feeling perpetually tired and fatigued, even when you get enough decent sleep?
How about feeling cynical, irritable, and snappy towards people and other situations?
You can feel your job performance slowly starting to slip, your concentration waning, and lacking in motivation?

If you answered ‘THIS IS SO ME’ to any (or all) of these statements, you may be experiencing burnout. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to see this in the workplace, especially in demanding fields, such as healthcare. It may be an inevitable outcome of the job, but there are definitely ways to help prevent and/or lessen the negative impact it has on your overall mental well-being.

Keep on reading & keep scrolling to get your hands on a FREE self-care plan template to get you started.

As an intern working on a palliative care unit where people are dying every day - some of whom were my own clients - and having to spend a lot of mental energy constantly trying to multitask during sessions (i.e. listen to clients while also assessing), last year I found myself constantly being mentally fatigued and isolating myself from people and social events. I thought I was doing well with my own self-care practices (i.e. watching Netflix) but I now know that it wasn’t enough. A holistic approach to self-care is not only highly recommended, but crucial to one’s working life, and should be implemented and practiced daily. We live in a very busy, external goal-oriented world, and we often forget to take time to ourselves to unwind and relax, and to engage in self-reflection; in a person-centred field, we often think about the well-being of our clients, but neglect our own. Compassion fatigue and burnout really is not a myth. “You can’t pour from an empty cup,” - you can’t give to others what you are lacking or don’t have yourself.

There are many, many, many sources out there that talk about self-care, and ideas of activities you can do to spoil yourself a little during the evenings and on weekends. I've noticed that many of them involve material goods: indulge in a bubble bath, watch TV, read a book, light a candle, drink some tea, etc. These are some great, quick ways to destress and relax for sure (I mean, watching TV is my go-to any day) but I believe self-care goes beyond the material goods. I'm definitely no expert on this topic, but I found that the aforementioned self-care activities correlate to at least one of the 8 dimensions of health and wellness. A healthy balance in all eight is the ideal way to go.

RELATED READING: Code Lavender: When Caring Gets Tough

The 8 dimensions of health & wellness

8 Dimensions of Health & Wellness.png

Self-care: an alternate perspective

Sometimes, self-care isn’t all fluffy and pretty - sometimes, it means taking the time and strength to do even the most mundane things, such as showering, brushing your teeth, eating well, and even getting a good night’s sleep (I’m talking 7h+ of QUALITY). The Mighty contributor Mawiyah Patten shared her perspective in this article she wrote about what self-care means for her: take care of your body, quit, ask for help, take care of your relationships, and take care of your basic needs, It’s the un-glamorous, un-aesthetic, not-Instagram-worthy sides of self-care that nobody really talks about. Some other great resources are these popular TED Talks that speak of the importance of self-care.

Creating a self-care plaN

Things are easier to do when you transform them from thoughts to something that is physical and tangible. I’ve provided you with some basic steps and a template to get you started on thinking about - or even better, implementing - your own self-care plan. TIP: block off time in your schedule, specifically dedicated to self-care/”me” time; write down what you are going to do each time and which area you are going to focus on.

1. set an overarching goal

Having a fully thought-out and fleshed-out goal (with an embedded action plan that takes the form of STEP 2 of this self-care plan) will give you something concrete to work with, so you’re not left with ambiguity or uncertainty when it comes to what you really want to achieve.

2. fill in the corresponding boxes (8 dimensions of self-care)

Using ‘SMART’ goals/actions will be helpful for this step:


This is the crux of the self-care plan: the action plan. Think of some activities you find joy in; ask yourself what makes you feel at peace. Additionally, you may want to think about what activities you SHOULDN’T include: things that drain you rather than revitalize you.

Some examples could be:

  • PHYSICAL: Sleep for at least 7 hours every night

  • SOCIAL: Call/video-call a close friend every other week

  • SPIRITUAL: Spend 20min meditating once a week

  • ENVIRONMENTAL: Declutter/organize my workspace at the end of the day, every other day

  • FINANCIAL: Keep track of my expenses and income by starting a personal budget spreadsheet

  • OCCUPATIONAL: Meet with my mentor once a month to discuss my career

  • INTELLECTUAL: Read one chapter of a non-fiction book every Sunday and Wednesday evening

  • MENTAL/EMOTIONAL: Write down 3 things I am grateful for in each day

Find what works for you and what will work you up to the goal that you set for yourself; the options are endless!

3. make a list of people who you can go to for support

I know for myself, I find it difficult to carry through with the goals/actions I set for myself if I don’t have somebody to support me along the way, keeping me accountable. The list will also serve as a reminder of the people who genuinely care about and love you/those who are important to you, and who you can reach out to.

4. Write down short, encouraging phrases to yourself

  • “I am worthy of love, and fill myself with love first.” (Source:

  • “I matter. My wants and needs are just as important as anyone else’s. I am allowed to say “NO” to others and “YES” to myself.” (Source:

  • “I have what I need to get through this; I am stronger than I think.” (Source.

  • “I know with time and effort I can achieve.” (Source:

Mantras, my friend! A little positive self-talk can boost your self-esteem and confidence; even if it’s just for a short moment, it does work!
Create something short and strong that you can easily remember. I challenge you, every time you see your own reflection - whether it be through the selfie-camera or a real mirror - say something good to yourself. Or if that’s too much to ask for, try with at least once a day, during the start of your day to empower yourself.

5. additional questions to ponder…

  • How do I currently take care of yourself? In different environments/situations?

  • In which areas am I struggling most?

  • Where and what are my priorities right now?

  • What are some barriers to fulfilling my goal/executing my plan?

  • What habits might I need to cut that are currently dragging me down or holding me back?

share with me below: what are some of your self-care tips & techniques?