IT IS ALL ABOUT SURVIVAL
While researching the topic of self-care, I came across the important analogy of the instructions on an aeroplane flight: “In case of an emergency, secure your own mask before assisting others”. It makes sense that you have the life support that you need so that you are able to help others. When you put that mask on yourself first, you model to other passengers that this act is necessary for survival and that they must do it too.
Much of our time is spent caring for others, not only because we are social workers, but because we are human. We have families to care for, households to manage and perhaps parenting roles that constantly challenge us with demands on our time.
If you believe that you should put yourself last and continuously neglect your personal needs, you will begin to feel resentful and empty. When this happens, you cannot possibly care for anyone or make a positive difference in anyone’s lives – not even your own. This is often referred to as burnout or compassion fatigue. If you ignore your symptoms and tell yourself that things will get better – without you having to do anything – you may be in a state of denial.
It is associated with taking care of one’s own needs, asserting oneself to increase the possibility of those needs being met and monitoring your time and energy given to others. To feel balanced in today’s world, we must address both our inner and outer needs. (Sinclair, 2011)
We practice self-care to replenish our own inner source so that we have more to offer to others. By recognising the importance of making time for oneself, one can give oneself permission to do so – this is a critical first step.
Wendy Salazar’s (2017) blog on GoodTherapy.org mentions some suggestions that I found useful in my own experience. These are:
- Don’t take on more than you can handle
In our context this is important. Know your limitations. Learn to say No! Set healthy boundaries for yourself in order to avoid feelings of becoming overwhelmed.
- Set aside time each week to recharge your batteries
This is best achieved by scheduling it into the diary and can be anything that you enjoy and brings out your creative side – write, cook, draw, paint…
- Find a healthy outlet to work off stress
Physical exercise such as gym or hiking, walking are good options to consider.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Make sure that you do not wear yourself out by taking on too much. Often a good support system and referral network are vital for one to maintain one’s sanity.
- Implement 20 minutes of quiet time each day
This is not a lot to sacrifice for some “me-time”. Take a few minutes to journal, meditate or just rest.
- Learn to spend more time relaxing
Try to spend a few moments during the working day to tune into yourself. Take time to appreciate nature, stop to watch a sunset, become mindful of relaxing when you need to.
- Schedule an appointment to talk with a counsellor
In our case, it is useful to have a supervisor/peer group to meet with regularly as part of one’s ethical obligations. This also helps to put things into perspective as you can use it to process your emotions and learn new coping styles.
This is important as there are some things in everyone’s lives that drain our emotional, physical and mental resources, while other things help us to restore them. Everyone is different and one has to take the time to explore and research what works for one. There is no one size fits all here.
Think about your trusty vehicle and how it gets you from point A to point B and even point C every day. Without a fuel gauge, you would not be in a position to know how far the vehicle can go and when to fill it up. Before you run out of fuel, you should also have some indicators as to when you need to fill up and this is only possible by developing an awareness of when you are running low. What are your “warning lights”? Is it physical, mood or cognitive symptoms such as irritability, anger, frustration, low concentration, poor sleep patterns, etc.?
The sources can be:
- Physical – involves using the body
- Cognitive – involves using the mind
- Emotional/relational – involves experiencing emotions and fostering social connections
Ideally one needs to minimise or eliminate anything that depletes ones reserves. Not an easy task I hear you say, but a very necessary one if you wish to remain able to give of yourself to others.
Sinclair (2011) summed it up beautifully when she said:
Take care of yourself.
Life is short, so enjoy every moment.
May your day be interspersed with joy.