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Monday, June 10, 2013

The Importance of Self-Care

A dialogue that is often heard in anti-sexual violence field is around the concept and importance of self-care.  It’s been present in each of the volunteer trainings I have been a part of both as an incoming volunteer or as a facilitator.  It’s been a part of conversations between myself and colleagues and also with supervisors.  Considering the high levels of burn out and vicarious trauma in this field, it makes sense.  However, regardless of how many times we have these discussions, I always realize that there are different ways to incorporate self-care into my life and am reminded as to just how important it is.

Doing this work it can be easy to talk to others about how important it is to have boundaries between work and home life and to have a balance of responsibilities, life, and play.  However the implementation and personal practice of it can be difficult and easily overlooked.  Sometimes it is hard to recognize when self-care is needed or when you are reaching a place of feeling overwhelmed or burnt out.  We get so wrapped up in our own lives, what needs to be done, and the day-to-day that we forget to zoom out and look at the big picture and our overall health.  Perhaps it is because you are just chugging along and handling the normal levels of stress in your daily life and rape crisis work but you are tottering on the edge of feeling burnt out.  Perhaps it is because you’ve been ignoring the signs.  However, when it happens it feels as though there was this one catalyst moment or something that pushed you over the edge.  It is easy to say ‘when I am done with this project’ or ‘I will factor in time tomorrow’ but somehow one project turns into another and tomorrow never comes.

There are other barriers to practicing self-care even when we recognize it is important and needed.  There might not be enough time or perhaps not enough money or other resources to do self-care.  Maybe it feels too overwhelming to work yet another thing into the day.  Maybe it feels as if your attention should be focused elsewhere.  Perhaps the people around us are telling us that the situation isn’t that bad or that we’re overreacting.  Perhaps we’re telling ourselves that we are overreacting.  Maybe putting other people first feels more important and natural for us.

I get it, self-care is hard.  However, regular practice of it can dramatically reduce stress and help us handle those unforeseen emergencies and experiences that may further create the need for immediate self-care.  A problem is that you never know when that catalyst or push-over moment is going to happen.  Crisis and trauma cannot be predicted, which is why they are so appropriately termed.  These unforeseen crises can present themselves in either our personal or professional lives.  Regardless of where it arises, it is almost certain that it will impact all aspects of our lives until we are able to address it head on.  Self-care, especially on a regular basis, can help us to recharge and, as one of my colleagues said, get our superpowers back.

A critical thing to remember about self-care is that it doesn’t have to require a lot of resources be it time, money, effort, or space.  Some of the most effective self care strategies can be short and simplistic.  Keeping this in mind can alleviate the barrier of practicing self-care in small intervals rather than overlooking it all together waiting for an hour or an afternoon to be free in order to engage in some self-care.
It’s also important to vary what you do for self-care.  The same strategy is not going to work time and time and time again.  It’s possible that it will feel repetitive and redundant and create more bad than good.  It is also likely that we won’t have the same resources or access when we need to do self care.  Therefore, by having an active and changing tool box of options, it is likely you will have one that will work for a variety of situations and in a variety of settings. 

Some forms of self care you may only pull out for special moments or to reward yourself for getting through something that was especially energy-consuming.  Usually we can equate this type of self-care with being a type of reward for finishing a specific action and there is a projected time frame of when we will be able to do the self-care.  This can look like purchasing an item you’ve been coveting for a while, getting a massage, seeing a show or concert, or going on vacation.  These options tend to take a lot of time and money.

Other forms of self-care can be implemented regularly throughout out week to keep us feeling fresh and prepared.  These can take much less time and money than the special forms of self care.  These can include:
• Small treats like a frozen yogurt from Angora (yum!)
• Exercise (running, strength, walking, swimming, etc)
• Journaling
• Yoga
• Meditation
• Being or talking with friends
• Reading a book for fun
• Going to an exhibit or museum
• Art (drawing, painting, sculpture, etc)
• Hobbies

There are also methods of self-care that can be done in short periods of time that don’t require much time or space and help to keep us on point until we are able to engage in a longer bout of self-care.  These can be useful for dealing with a particular stressful event or project or when you are crowded spaces or other environments where you can’t control the surroundings.  These can include:
• Deep breathing
• Short meditation breaks
• Stretching
• Reciting a mantra or inspirational quote

There are many ways to practice self-care and it may take a bit of time to figure out what will work for each person.  Recognizing the need for and practicing self-care can make you a stronger and more-aware advocate and individual.  It will go a long way in preventing people from feeling overwhelmed or burnt out. 

Since many of us are engaged in work that serves others or trauma, it’s important to remember the more we take care of ourselves the more that we will be able to take care of others and engage in this work.



Posted by stacey on 06/10 at 11:33 AM


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