What is Self Care?
“Self care” is a term that many therapists and helping professionals use in reference to taking care of one’s self. This is an important matter for helping professionals because we are uniquely charged with caring for others.
When your work involves:
- thinking about others,
- identifying their needs,
- listening to their concerns or problems,
- absorbing and/or reflecting their emotions,
- and managing multiple relational dynamics (including professional relationships, client relationships and social relationships)…helping professionals are at risk for being depleted or burning out.
We often think of compassion fatigue (difficulty feeling emotionally present and connected) and burnout (depleted and significantly less able to provide effective services) resulting from the work itself. I am sure that this is true for many helping professionals. However, for helping professionals who are also entrepreneurs, I find the biggest risks to well-being are the challenges inherent in owning or managing a business and one’s life.
In fact, for therapists who are entrepreneurial, therapy and other services provided (like consultation, supervision, training, speaking etc….) are often a safe haven. In the therapeutic space, we escape from ourselves and are laser focused on others.
What Interferes with Well-Being?
Well-being is multifaceted. It generally involves multiple dimensions.
Unfortunately, cultivating self care has become a cliche’. We focus on describing the things we might feel guilty about taking time out to do as “self care.” In truth, these activities are mere band aids or first aid; they matter and can be helpful but they don’t address the underlying need(s). These small to larger forms of self care that I refer to as “first aid” include, but are not limited to the following: doing something fun, getting a mani/pedi, getting a massage, going out to dinner, or taking a vacation. All of those things are facets of a self care strategy. However, the underpinning of self care is much more complex.
True self care results in being:
- energetic (not tired),
- centered/grounded (not scattered), and
- present (not disconnected).
The underpinning of self care and thus well-being involves recognizing what interferes with optimal physical, emotional, spiritual, psychological and social health. In other words, what is getting in the way?
What is Getting in the Way?
What gets in the way of well-being is different and nuanced for each of us. Below are some examples:
- a lack of access and resources for health care services,
- the belief that one can’t take time off or things will fall apart or pile up,
- the needs of loved ones (children, spouse/partner, friends, family),
- inadequate rest, nutrition and/or exercise,
- a lack of organization and/or being overwhelmed by the sheer amount of what is in one’s area of responsibility,
- lack of support systems or not reaching out to others…and so on.
When we focus on self care first aid and don’t address the underlying unmet needs, we are caught in a perpetual cycle where the areas in real need of support go unaddressed. When this happens, we can develop ongoing health problems and perpetuate high levels of stress.
Self Care First Aid
When we merely engage in self care band aids, we run the risk of not resolving the underlying problem(s). As Stephen Covey shares in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, we must put first things first.
When in doubt, go back to the basics.
- Am I eating well?
- Am I sleeping adequately?
- Am I spending time with loved ones?
- Am I asking for and receiving support/help?
- Am I engaged in my spiritual life and/or life affirming practices?
- Am I managing my financial resources effectively?
- Am I exercising regularly?
- Am I expressing my feelings?
- Am I having fun?
When I find that a number of the answers to these questions is “no,” I ask myself which of the areas requires immediate and ongoing attention? After all, they are all important.
In my experience, one or two things will stand out as what we avoid the most or what we are least likely to do regularly. If you look at the whole list and realize that all your answers are no – that is okay. Just pick 1 or 2 areas to focus on…so that you can climb your way to well-being and flow.
What are Focus Days?
For many years I’ve structured my schedule to allow for 2 buffer days during the 5 day work week. It has been an important structure to support having time for myself as well as time for administrative tasks. Unfortunately, buffer days over the past year or so have been utilized for too many purposes beyond their original intent. This happened gradually. I found myself saying “I can do x, y or z on Tuesday or Thursday.”
My buffer days, would occasionally be focused but that became the exception not the rule. The reality is that my direct service days serving clients and colleagues do not permit getting caught up on administrative and creative tasks.
I have determined that protecting my buffer days requires a “re-frame.” The re-framing of this necessary element of my professional (and thus personal) life is pivotal. I recognized that if I were working for an agency or an organization, I would not have the flexibility to regularly set aside my work for other matters (even if those matters are important).
The Truth Is…
The truth is that my buffer days (flexible days) are on the weekend. Focus days will ideally occur during the 5 day work week, so that when I am off work…I am truly off work.
When “things” come up, I have to rely on support systems to assist me. Where there is no support, a plan to create or build support is vital.
The truth is that when I am on track and focused, I am less stressed and therefore less stretched. I know that for me to truly feel replenished by any self care band aids, I have to have the underpinning structures in place (sleep, nutrition, exercise, meditation, reflection on gratitude and time spent alone).
What is true for you?
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