Sarita Hartz: Self Care for Expats

Sarita Hartz Self Care for Expats

Listen in to hear my conversation with Sarita Hartz as we discuss self care for expats, burnout, mission work, radical self care, technology fasts and more! If you prefer to read the transcript, scroll down past the video.

I kind of thought of anything self care as selfish, so I would think, ‘Oh, that’s just selfish. You shouldn’t focus on yourself, you should focus on other people.” The faulty logic with that, is when you’re not taking care of you, you will become a burden on others eventually. The best thing is learning to set boundaries, learning that other people don’t define me, and someone else’s approval doesn’t say who I am. – Sarita Hartz


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Naomi:  For those of you who are first time joiners for our Triangle Live broadcasts, we are so happy that you’re here with us. You can comment along with us, and Sarita and I can see what you have to say, and then it allows us to really have some great engagement. I am really, really happy to have you, Sarita on with us today. Tell us a little bit about yourself, and a little bit about your journey.

Sarita:  Yeah, I’m so happy to be here. Thanks, Naomi. It’s been awesome just getting to know you a little bit better. So, my journey is complex. I went to Africa when I was 24, it started as a six-month missions-trip type of thing where I was just volunteering with different organizations, and it quickly grew into just a full-on love affair with Africa. I started in Rwanda, and then went to Uganda, and yeah, just, my heart got attached there, and I was mainly working with girl child soldiers who, during the civil war there in Uganda had terribly things happen to them. And so, yeah, I decided to move there full-time, kind of on a whim, and I started a nonprofit, and I lived there for about six years. And yeah, it was an amazing journey, highs, lows, ups and downs, but yeah, just through that whole experience I pretty much just gave everything I had to give, I sacrificed everything I had. I kind of had this idea that if you just give everything away, then God’s just going to fill you up, and you’re just going to have more, and if you’re a good person, you’re doing good things, like bad things won’t happen to you.

And then I realized pretty quickly that was really quite true, although I’m a little hard-headed and stubborn, so it took me maybe longer than most people to figure that out. So, about six years in, I really kind of hit this burnout. We had had a miscarriage, and just a lot of emotional things, and I wasn’t really processing, and I didn’t really have someone to process with that wasn’t – you know, I couldn’t really share my heart with like my board members, or my supporters, or people that I was afraid of what they would think, I was afraid of being vulnerable and authentic, and so we moved back to the States, and I started this journey of learning to heal myself, and self care, and then I realized, man, I wish that I had had someone when I was over there who was working with me on an ongoing basis, just like touching base, like doing soul care with me. And so, I decided to start doing that for other people, and it’s been an amazing journey just being able to provide, that something that I wish I’d had on the field.

Naomi: That’s so great, and I think it’s so important when you realize that it’s when you birth something out of a need that you yourself had, then I think you can operate in a way that really is helpful and meaningful to other people. So, yeah, I really love that.

Signs of Burnout

Naomi: You talked about some of the burnout that you experienced. Can you talk just a little bit about what the signs are, and how we would know if we’re approaching burnout? And I think one thing to just point out, that while you have a background in missions and global work, I think that the topic can relate to all of us inside of the Triangle Group.

Sarita: Yes.  I think any time we move or shift overseas, you know, we’re going through a lot of emotional stuff, and I think if we’re not processing that baggage on a regular basis, it just really builds up. So, I think with burnout, I mean for me, the biggest things that led to burnout I think was the stress, and the just mental weight of carrying the ministry, just the women and kids that I loved and cared for, and just feeling like all of their needs, and putting that kind of all on my shoulders. And so, I think that one of the signs of burnout is just definitely not processing, like having a lot of things build up, but not having processed them well, and so what starts to happen is, you know for me it was things like extreme fatigue, not sleeping at night. I would like go to bed, and then I’d like wake myself up thinking, ‘Oh, I forgot to do that thing, that girl needs to go to the hospital.’ It was kind of a constant state of emergency. It was like my adrenaline was going all the time.

Another big sign would be kind of snapping at people, and getting angry. Usually, you become really critical of self and others, so you start to get angry, usually at the people closest to you, so my poor husband took the brunt of most of my anger, but I think just because I was feeling like, ‘Oh my gosh, no one’s taking care of me,’ I would just start to get angry at other people like, ‘Why isn’t anyone taking care of me?’ I wasn’t realizing I had to take care of me. So, I was expecting other people like, ‘Oh, look at all these good things I’m doing, someone should be helping me.’ I had to help myself. So, I mean those are big ones, I think starting to lose passion for the work, or for the place and the people, so starting to get cynical. I mean, as we know, like living overseas, it’s not easy, the driving especially in different countries is so different, but starting to lose empathy and compassion for the place and the people.

So, you know, I started getting angry at things I wouldn’t normally get angry about, and that really bothered me because I really did love Uganda, and I loved the people, but I just kind of started getting cynical. Another one is, you know, losing motivation, so procrastinating, just like putting things off, just not motivated to do much, and definitely getting sick a lot. So, when you don’t take care of your body, another big sign of burnout is just a lot of illnesses, so I developed adrenal fatigue, I had my typhoid – I had like everything, and my body just wasn’t able to heal itself, because I wasn’t really giving it time to rest and so I think when you have a lot of repeated illnesses, or you end up in the hospital, you’re kind of like, ‘Hm, maybe I need to pay attention to that.’

Self Care for Expats

Naomi:  Kim says prioritizing is a big thing for her. She had a massive conversation recently with other triangles about loneliness and self care for expats, so she said this is a timely conversation. And my mom, Deb Smith, is actually here with us, and she said ‘Success’, and Danielle also says ‘Real life and real passion.’

Naomi:  So, let’s talk about some of your top tips. So, we’ve talked about what burnout is, and I think that we all have different levels of burnout. It’s kind of funny, because I just got back from the eye doctor, and I’m completely dilated, so I’m having a hard time seeing, but one of the things she asked me was if I’m getting enough sleep, and enough water and hydration, and I kind of thought it was strange, because she’s an eye doctor. And she just really laid into me, and she said if you are not taking care of your full body, it starts to impact things like your eyesight and eye fatigue, and I just thought, ‘Wow, how timely was that?’  So, let’s talk about your top tips. What are some ways that we can remedy burnout? And I happen to have had a sneak peek into some of your eBooks that we’re going to talk about, and there are some really great tips. So, give us a couple of your top favorites.

Sarita:  Okay. So, unfortunately, most people think they can recover from burnout quickly, because usually we’re overachievers, we’re perfectionists, so we’re like, ‘Okay, I’m going to nail this burnout thing, I’m going to get over it, I’m just going to get back to work. Sadly, that’s not really that true. It usually takes a long time, and it takes a lot of commitment to radical change, which I think most of us are uncomfortable with, because we want to keep doing our mission, we want to keep serving, want to keep loving, but burnout really means you have to take a concerted amount of time, usually away from the thing that is causing the most stress and burnout in your life. And so for some people that’s a job change, for some people that’s going part-time or taking a step back, for some people that’s taking a sabbatical – you know, it can take anywhere from like six months to three years to recover from burnout.

And so, I think it’s just important to recognize that this is something that we have to really devote really ourselves to, and it’s almost a practice of learning how to take care of yourself, and it takes time and effort, and it’s not a quick fix. And so I know people are always bummed out when I say that, but it’s also, I think, a great opportunity to explore the things and the reasons that led to burnout in the first place. Self care for expats is really important. That kind of leads me to my second point, really, that, go to therapy. I am like such a big proponent of therapy.

Naomi: Therapy’s not bad.

Sarita: Inner healing, everything, get it all, just like do it all. I literally did it all, I went to a life coach, I saw a therapist, I went to an inner healer person, I just was like, ‘I need everything. I need a spiritual director.’ I think that, ultimately, we end up burned out for a reason, so it’s not just the fact that we’re giving and giving, and we’re not taking time. Usually, it’s because there’s larger issues at play. There are like wounds from our past, you know childhood trauma, just even belief systems that we had that are wrong, like I know for me, one of my big ones was, ‘Oh well, I really wanted the world’s approval, I wanted God’s approval, I wanted the world’s approval, so if I do all these good things, people will love me, they’ll see how great I am.’ You know, you’re just craving that kind of affection, and love, and approval from other people, and so I think that I had to look at what were the things driving me, and how did that drive me into burnout. And so I think really, in order to recover, you really have to address those things, so what are your belief systems that are in place that are causing you to burnout?

So, that’s a huge one, it is a big one for me.

Healing and Recovering from Burnout

Sarita:  So Jenny is asking:”How do you manage the possible guilty feelings that accompany taking time off or away from what is so important to you, but is stressful, in order to heal and recover from burnout?”

Okay, that’s a great question, Jenny. That is so hard. I struggled so badly with guilt, especially when really, ultimately, recovery for me meant I had to lay down what I was doing with the ministry in order to recover, and that was so hard, because I kept thinking about all the people that I was letting down. I think that working with my life coach and uncovering – she helped me do like the enneagram personality test, and that really helped me understand like I’m a type 2, so I’m a helper. I think Jenny’s a helper too, and so usually our motivations are driven by wanting to help other people. But when I started to see like, ‘Okay, this is an unhealthy level for me, and this is a healthy level for me,’ that started to help me determine, ‘Okay, I don’t have to feel guilty about doing this, because this is what a normal other person would do.’ And so, me like having conversations with mentors and friends, who were like – okay, so if you think of where I was on a pendulum, let’s say I was swung like way over here to like taking care of others, and expending, I basically had to allow myself to go all the way over here, which was radical self care, like putting self first, which was not my MO, and in order to come back to some kind of balance. And so I basically had to, I think through the permission of others, like my mentors, and life coach, and just giving myself permission to do that, you know, ultimately, if we’re not taking care of ourselves, someone else is going to have to end up taking care of us, you know? We might end up in the hospital, we might end up sick, and so really, in trying to alleviate some of that guilt, I would tell myself, ‘Okay, if I’m doing this, then like ultimately I’m going to be a better person for other people, I’m going to be not placing such a burden on my husband, or family members, or people who have kids. I’m going to be a better person, a better wife, a better parent, you know all these things, and so I think that kind of helped me alleviate some of the guilt of like taking care of myself.

Realizing too that I think sometimes we think there’s only like one thing in the world that we’re going to do, like one mission we’re going to accomplish, and I think that really, we have so much purpose that when we actually recover from burnout, we can put all of that new energy and new creativity into a purpose, and so I think that also helped me alleviate some of the guilt, that I knew that if I could learn from this, and if I could really get this, then I could start something new, and I could start something else. And even if it was the end of one thing, it could be the beginning of something else that’s even more beautiful.

Five Minute Journal

Naomi: I love that. Talk to us a little bit about your ideas around the five minute journal.

Sarita: It’s so awesome. So, I just recently heard about it, so I’ve just started doing it, but it’s just the idea that if you take five minutes in the morning and in the evening, just to like start your day out, you start your day out with gratitude, so you write a few things that you’re thankful for, and then you write down a few things that kind – for me it’s like things I’d love to accomplish that day, things I’d love to see happen in the world, and then you just kind of like make these little notes, and then you have like a mantra for that day. So, maybe it’s, ‘I am worthy of love, and I give love away to others,’ or something, you just make something up that sounds good for you. And it’s amazing to me, what I’ve seen is that like when I write things down, like it actually tends to come true, and if I put that in my mindset just in the morning – so I’ll just go grab my coffee, come back to bed, and just like write the things down – and just really setting my intention for the day has helped really focus me and also, you know, reminds me of what’s important.

And so, at the end of the day you can say, ‘What did I do really well today?’ and so you get to kind of celebrate your success, and then, ‘What’s one thing I would change, so I don’t do that again?’ And so that makes me aware of like, ‘Oh, you know what? Today, I got really angry at myself because I didn’t do this well, and tomorrow I’d like to not get angry at myself,’ you know? It really kind of helps just focus, and it’s a great practice, and I really love it, so I really highly recommend that for anybody.

Naomi:  That’s awesome. Kim Hafner has a really great point to make. ‘Self care for expats does not equal selfish’, which I think goes back to that whole guilt. So, I think, what would you have to say  – is there a way to communicate the process of self care in avoidance of burnout? How can we communicate that to our loved ones that this is what we’re doing, and this is why?

Sarita:  Yeah, I think that was a huge realization for me. I kind of thought of anything self care as selfish, so I would be like, ‘Oh, that’s just selfish. You shouldn’t focus on yourself, you should focus on other people. I think that the faulty logic with that, is that when you do that and you’re not taking care of you, you will become a burden on others eventually. And so, I think that it was hard at first. Actually, I think my family, like my mom was like, ‘Finally, you’re taking care of yourself.’ So, like there were definitely people that were just kind of like, ‘Oh, finally she gets it,’ but I think that for others that was tough. Like for some people, making changes with the ministry, that hurt them, that worried them, and so I had to deal with other people’s feelings and reactions, and that was really tough. I would say the best thing is learning to set boundaries, like learning that other people don’t define me, like someone else’s approval doesn’t say who I am.

Who I am is, I’m someone who’s loved, and I know that now. And so, I think really getting deep in the core of me, of just the fact that God loves me, and I can love myself, I think self-love was such a huge – learning to love myself, I would literally make lists of like, ‘Three things I love about myself.’ Like, I had to just do that for myself to get it in my soul. I think that the self care term is hard for people. Sometimes I use the word soul care, because that seems a little less like selfish, but in terms of communicating, I think just letting people know where you’re at authentically and vulnerably, and just saying, ‘Hey, you know what? I’m really struggling, I’ve been struggling for a long time, and I’m actually like in therapy working through some things, and I’ve realized that I need to change these things in order to be a healthy person, and I would just really love your support and your help with that, so that I can be the best me. Because ultimately, when I’m the best me, I’m going to be able to love you so much better.’

Naomi: Vulnerability is such a big part.

Sarita: Vulnerability is being able to say, like, just own your truth. Own the fact that, ‘Yeah, this is too much for me.’ Like I know I hate to say that because I love to go and do everything, but I’ve hit a wall.

Technology Fasts

Naomi:  Can you segue into talking about technology fasts?

Sarita:  I think this is really hard for us. I was reading an article recently that just says how addicted we are to our cell phones, our computers, we carry them with us to bed, we look at them over the dinner table, but I think for me a technology fast is really just setting intentional time where I’m not going to look at my phone, or look at my computer. For me, when I was in Uganda, I actually literally just had to like put that stuff like away. I would just go on like airplane mode, and I would like put my computer away for a weekend, mostly because I didn’t realize how much the input of like a certain email from someone – so maybe a donor wasn’t happy about something, or I got an email from someone that someone was sick – I didn’t realize how much the input was like, it would just change my day. It would change my mood. All of a sudden, I’d be worried about that thing instead of just focusing on what I had intended to do that day, which was rest.

And so I think just having certain rules for yourself like, ‘Okay, when I get home, let’s say I get home from the office, okay maybe like six o’clock, I’m just gonna turn my computer off or put it away, I’m going to turn my phone on airplane mode, I’m gonna just turn off Facebook -‘ I think just having intentional times where you check those things – and my husband is honestly so much better at this than I am, like he has like particular times he checks his email, particular times he checks his Facebook, which is rarely, and I’m not as good about that, so I actually just have to like do airplane mode and things like that, because I need to set boundaries with myself. And I just I think that if I’m going away for the weekend and I’m trying to rest, or I’m trying to have a day for myself, I try to just not look at that stuff, so I just don’t even bring it. I don’t bring my computer with me, or I just don’t have my phone on, or I have it on vibrate or something where I’m not constantly checking it.

But I think it’s mainly just having those intentional times, and then having – I think it’s great every once in a while, and I know that Jonathan Trotter was with us, and I read a blast by his wife who was talking about how they even took I think like a week or two, like just completely off the grid, and I think like that’s great, just to take an intentional sabbatical from technology where – my husband I like to go camping, so we’ll just like drive out to the desert, and like literally even if you wanted to check Facebook, you can’t. Like you’re in the middle of nowhere.

Naomi:  Rachel says she finds spots with no signal and lets her batteries run out when on holiday.

Sarita:  Good job. That’s what we do. We go to the desert, we go hiking in the mountains, camping, we just get where there isn’t any signal, and literally it’s like, ‘Sorry, you couldn’t get in touch with me because I was too busy taking care of myself.’

Naomi: Yep, Jonathan said it was the best couple weeks ever.

Sarita:  Yes. Awesome. It’s so great, and you just realize like you’re not thinking about what everybody else is doing, like you’re just thinking about what you’re doing. You’re being present in the moment, and that when I shut off, everything is still okay when I get back on. The world didn’t fall apart.

Family Dance Parties

Naomi:  Yes. So, let’s talk a little bit about something that our family knows a lot about, which is the family dance party in our kitchen.

Sarita:   Oh yes. This is my favorite. So, I think it was in college, me my girlfriends would be cooking dinner together. We all lived in this house called the ‘funk house’ and it was amazing, and I don’t know if we got this off of Grey’s Anatomy, or if we just developed it ourselves, but we would just start like start a dance party in our kitchen. We would just like put on music, and be like cooking and dancing, and then when I was in Uganda, when I was feeling low or just super stressed out, I would put on some loud music. For me, that’s like hip-hop, for some people that’s The Cranberries, or Bon Jovi or whatever, and I would just dance around. And it’s amazing, like it’s really hard to feel bad when you’re like smiling, and laughing, and jumping around. If you just need a little like infusion of joy, like you just kind of head bang, dance around, and just kind of let yourself go a little bit, and just let the movement of your body get all that stress away.

Naomi:  We did those with our kids – not so much now as they’re getting older, but definitely growing up we would have a five o’clock dance party in our kitchen, and it really it just helped the stress of the day melt away, and it also really set us up for the evening, and going to bed in a connected way, so yeah, totally love dance parties in the kitchen.

Sarita: That’s awesome.

Self Care Plan for Expats and Global Workers

Naomi:  I want you to talk about what you’ve been working on, and share with everyone who’s watching about the book that you’ve written, and then how we can get our hands on that.

Sarita:  When I was living overseas, towards the end when I started realizing I was burning out, I’d started to try and look for ideas for things that I could do to implement self care. So, I would like search the internet, I would go on Google, I’d tried to find ‘self care for expats’ and I wouldn’t come back with anything specific to where I was. Like, where I was, was in a really remote region, I was like six hours from a capital city, from a really good hospital, there was no gym – like things like that were just tough, and so it was like really hard for me to read these self care plans for people that live in the US when I didn’t, and I couldn’t really implement like most of the things they were saying. So, recently I’ve just been thinking about it, because with my clients and now life coach, I usually send them a self care plan to fill out, because I want to hold them accountable. I think the thing about self care is, if you don’t have an intentional plan, it’s not going to happen.

And so, writing it down and holding yourself accountable is huge, and so I just wanted to create something that was specific for people that maybe didn’t have access to the normal kind of conveniences or luxuries, and things that they could actually creatively implement in their life. And you can get as creative as you want to get, but I just wanted to give people some ideas and tips, and really just address the whole concept of self care (and self care for expats), and why we don’t have to feel guilty about doing it, and just put a lot of suggestions in there that would be useful for the population of people that I work with. So yeah, it was really fun doing, it was fun thinking about the ideas and getting creative, you know, just like bringing seeds over and planting your own garden, and just things that like I didn’t have access to nutritional food, and bringing vitamins. This is really crazy, I brought my grandmother’s old like spinning like bicycle arm from like 1970 over with me, like in a huge box, and I just would like spin it in my house and stuff.

I just had to get creative, and that kind of helped, that kind of worked for me, and then just communicating that to others. So, I started communicating to my board and, ‘Hey, listen, like I think about once a month we’re going to take a three-day weekend, and we’re going to go off grid so we can just reset, and that way we have more to give. And so, I just started trying to implement more things like that, and then letting other people know that that’s what I was doing. But yeah, so the eBook is on my website,, and you know just sign up for my blog updates, newsletter, and you get it for free. And I really do want this to be a collaborative effort, so I would love to hear back from other people, creative things that they do that we can add into the book, things I didn’t think of. You know, I’d love to just have those ideas in there as well, so.

Naomi:  That’s awesome. Thank you Sarita! You have so much to share, and there’s so much goodness on your website as well and in the ebook. If you are struggling as a global worker, as a missionary, investing of your time and your soul into other human beings, and other animals, and other things on earth, there’s a lot of good.

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Author: Naomi Hattaway

Naomi Hattaway is the founder of I Am A Triangle, an online community of members from around the globe who have one thing in common – they’ve lived around the world, away from their passport countries. Offering in-person gatherings in over 80 cities around the globe, I Am A Triangle also exists to be a one-stop-shop for resources whether you are just pondering a move abroad, currently are living the adventure, or are repatriating back “home.” She also owns 8th & Home Real Estate and Relocation, a referral network matching families on the move with real estate professionals who chase communities and not commissions. After living in several locations in the United States, her family (three kids, now ages 21, 13 and 10) moved overseas to Delhi, India where she learned to thrive in the midst of chaos.

Following a one-year stint in Singapore, they are now back in the United States, and she has traipsed her way from Florida to Virginia and is now – for the time being – in Ohio. Naomi is passionate about community building and empowering others to thrive, not just survive, in the places they call home.

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