Self-care in the helping profession
Why is self-care important?
Caring for ourselves and making sure our own needs are met ensures our health. It can also set a good example for the people around us to advocate for their health as well. When we are healthy physically and mentally, it’s easier to reach our goals both personally and professionally. Careers that give support to other people or a group of people are typically considered helping careers. When our physical, mental, spiritual needs are taken care of it’s easier to focus on the needs of others. Career-wise, self-care is also important because when it’s not happening, it’s easier to become burnt out (more information on that here: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/burnout-prevention-and-recovery.htm). Work stress can look different for everyone, some people don’t show stress at all, yet, it can have devastating effects on the body long term (more on that here: https://www.apa.org/topics/stress/body). The most important thing is to recognise what stress looks like and learn the best ways to handle it.
What does self-care look like?
There is no guaranteed success strategy for all people but there are plenty of ideas to try out. There are many forms of self-care including physical, mental, and spiritual, which are all equally important. Physical self-care care means taking care of our bodies and all its needs. This includes sleeping enough, eating, exercising, hygiene, and listening to our body’s natural rhythm. These things can be somewhat predictable but still vary from person to person.
As for nurturing mental well-being, there are endless possibilities of what that could look like.
Not everyone wants to meditate or sit quietly to themselves and that’s okay. Mental self-care can be caring for a plant, doodling/drawing, listening to music, going for a walk, or taking deep breaths. For some it can be running or jogging, painting, dancing, playing video games or a combination of multiple things.
The point is that there is no right or wrong way to practice self-care. Simply being patient with ourselves and allowing grace will help determine what well-being looks like.
Some practices to feel grounded in times of stress or anxiety:
- Deep breathing can help us to feel our bodies, give us a sense of control, and of course, provide more oxygen to the brain! Try taking a 5-6 count breath in, hold for 0-2 seconds, then exhaling for 5-7 counts. If a phone application is more your thing try this one out: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/breathe-simple-breath-trainer/id1106998959.
- Do a quick body scan. A body scan is easiest to do while sitting or lying down in a comfortable position and consciously tuning in to every part of the body from the toes to the top of the head. This can help us feel grounded in our bodies and slow down the pace of the brain. Sometimes, placing hands on the body can help with focus.
- Stretching and slowly moving with intention. Light stretching is a good way to increase blood flow in the body and the best part is that it’s very accessible. Stretching can be done at every level of flexibility and ability. Doing some simple stretching can take just 5 minutes or, if it feels good, a half hour to an hour! Check out this link for more ideas (https://gmb.io/stretching/).
Every person needs something a little different to feel successful at work and at home. For those working from home since the start of the 2020 pandemic or before, the lines between work and home might have become blurry. The idea of “success” and what dictates that has certainly changed during this time. What feels personally successful is important to know when setting boundaries. Communicating those needs to a team, co-workers, and/or supervisors with honesty and respect shows commitment to your goals and those of the organisation. Communication is one thing but enforcement of those boundaries is another beast.
Some strategies to enforce boundaries are outlined below:
- Blocking off time on a work calendar
- This is especially helpful if the calendar is shared with co-workers or supervisors. For example, blocking off a chunk of time in the morning to check emails then focusing on other tasks during the rest of the day.
- Turning off the computer instead of just on sleep
- With at home, remote work it’s too easy to reach over and check an email quickly or make one last edit on a document after work hours. By turning off the computer or laptop completely, it creates a barrier to this because now it will take longer to start the machine back up again.
- Practicing this can also set a kind of ritual or habit for when the work day has concluded.
- Setting Do Not Disturb mode on your cell phone
- With Apple and Android phones, there’s an option to schedule a program called Do Not Disturb that will silence all notifications, and the phone won’t even vibrate. This is perfect to turn on during an important meeting, when completing an important and timely task, or during sleeping hours to ensure that the vibration or light from a phone won’t wake anyone up in the night.
- This feature allows the user to set specific hours, or turn the feature on and off at will. It can also be set to allow notifications from certain contacts to come through.
- Setting Do Not Disturb on iPhone: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT204321#:~:text=or%20iPadOS%2014%3A-,Go%20to%20Settings%20%3E%20Do%20Not%20Disturb.,when%20the%20device%20is%20locked
- Setting Do Not Disturb on Android: https://support.google.com/android/answer/9069335?hl=en
- Turning off email notifications during off hours
- If getting alerts or notifications is a problem, playing around in the settings of the phone or computer to turn off that notification can be really helpful
This list is nowhere close to exhaustive, but hopefully it’s a good start. When people can set their own professional boundaries, work-from-home life can feel more manageable.