When I lived abroad for the first time, I started to see our culture through different eyes. Now, having married into a family from another culture, I am able to observe the U.S. from the outside looking in on a regular basis. One thing is for sure. In the U.S., we work really hard. I’m all for using our gifts, doing our best, bringing glory to God, etc. Working hard is not an inherently bad thing. The problem is that we tend to take it too far. Hopefully this is a timely post for many of us. I know that the beginning of the school year does not effect all of us at this point in our lives, but I wanted to share some thoughts on self-care as we prepare for the fall.
In my field, burnout is very common. Social workers, like other helping professionals, are at risk for secondary/vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue. I like the term “compassion fatigue” because I think it describes this ailment perfectly. In social work education, we obviously focus on practice theories, program development, intervention strategies for various client populations, etc. But you know what? I happen to believe that self-care, as simple as it may seem, is worth writing into the curriculum. I’m so thankful for professors who discussed it with us and equipped us for what was inevitably to come. It is all too common to graduate and join the professional world…and gradually (or abruptly) forget to take care of ourselves. For some, the problem escalates. Suddenly we’re not sleeping well almost every night or crying at the drop of a hat or shutting out people who care about us because we just can’t deal with the intensity of what we hear and see working with people in crisis everyday. When you get right down to it, you can’t effectively help someone if you are not okay. In this fast-paced world, I think we could all use a lesson in self-care. Accountants and taxi drivers and veterinarians and soccer moms and everyone who does anything, basically. So here’s some encouragement from me to you.
1) Try to work on being really self-aware. Monitor your anxiety level and know your limits. Love yourself enough to change something if you are consistently feeling stressed. You don’t have to say yes to everything.
2) Find out what is therapeutic and relaxing for you and make time for activities like this on a regular basis–like at LEAST once a week! For me, it helps to recognize activities that allow me to quiet my mind. It’s usually going a mile a minute. Some are easy, non-time consuming things that you can do anytime, anywhere, like taking a few deep breaths or drinking a glass of water very slowly. Others require setting aside some time. I’ll give you a few personal examples. Above all else, time in prayer brings everything into focus. I love to cook, to watch a sunset or a storm, to hold a baby (or a baby animal), to go for walks outside when the weather is nice, to write letters to God, to read a good book, to watch a favorite movie or TV show, to take an exercise class like yoga or water aerobics.
3) These things should be done proactively. Don’t wait until you have a complete breakdown before you try to take care of yourself. Believe me, life will be easier for you if you listen to that voice inside that says “Don’t do it!” or “Slow down” or whatever your inner voice says. If you ignore it on a regular basis, it will catch up with you. And you will wish that you had made better decisions for yourself before it got to this point.
4) Finally, don’t be so hard on yourself. It wouldn’t be constructive for someone to read this and then get frustrated when they can’t put it into practice perfectly the first week that they try. Think about celebrating small victories and taking baby steps. With any lifestyle change, what will work better for most of us is starting small and slowly progressing.
Thank you for allowing me to get on my soapbox for a few minutes. I hope and pray that this is a year of much joy for each one of you. Thanks for reading…and namaste. 🙂