As a budding member of the mental health profession, I have the privilege of being surrounded by people who have the desire to help, contribute, and ultimately make their life’s purpose to guide, help, or influence the lives of others in a positive manner.
In a recent workshop, it was soon apparent that a challenge faced by those in the helping profession, is that of self-care. The general consensus was that when self-care was ignored, the following consequences arose; burnout, lack of motivation, exhaustion. Not attending to one’s own needs impacted the way people functioned in their daily life, and sometimes seeped into their interpersonal relationships.
The tendency to ignore one’s own needs due to the often-hectic nature of everyday life is not exclusive to those within the helping profession. From personal experience, I see it everywhere; people who seem to have no ‘switch off’ button, who are so used to doing everything at the same time, complaining about it, then wondering why they are always tired or don’t have time.
One important component of self-care involves an awareness that you can’t run on high-speed forever. Running off of an intense autopilot isn’t sustainable in the long term, and there are emotional (and sometimes physical) side effects that result from ignoring your own mental, social and emotional wellbeing.
The first problem is that people often don’t see any other way of functioning; the notion of taking time off seems so counterintuitive that ‘time out’ is often associated with free time, of which we complain we don’t have enough. There is no magic wand for giving more hours in a day. However, there exists the possibility to manage our time better by acknowledging our impending limits and turning our attention to taking care of ourselves while we do all the things we do. Making time for ourselves is simply an act of kindness and consideration to ourselves; it seems silly that we acknowledge the need to service our cars, recharge our batteries, hit the reset button on everything else while bumbling away in our own lives.
The second hurdle I’ve come across is that self-care feels selfish. However, if you do not have the capacity to look after yourself, you not only impair your capacity to function, but your ability to help others. A good way to frame this is to consider it within the rules when going through the safety procedures on an aircraft; fit your own mask before helping others around you. Someone mentioned to me; “if you don’t, then you’re dead. And then can’t be of much use to anyone, can you?” This is a dire and extreme example, but it makes sense.
We as humans, simply need to take time for ourselves to recharge, and regroup. One definition of self-care is broad, suggesting that self-care is something ‘one does to improve the sense of subjective wellbeing.’ Other researchers have identified dimensions of self-care as including physical, psychological, spiritual and support components.
For me personally, self-care involves retreating from the world, and ensuring that my free time is spent with positive connections around me, which are nourishing and positive.
The point is that not only is it ok to look after yourself, it is absolutely necessary.