How do we understand self-care?“Self-care” can be understood in many different ways. In its simplest form, the term refers to our ability as human beings to function effectively in the world while meeting the multiple challenges of daily life with a sense of energy, vitality, and confidence. It also implies that we are active participants in that process. Self-care is not “other-care.” Rather, it is care that is initiated and maintained by us as individuals. It requires our active engagement.
The term “self-care” spans a full range of issues: physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. Some conceptualize this construct by considering the dimensions of mind, body, and spirit, or in terms of thinking, feeling, and behaving. It is referred to as “wellness,” a “healthy balance,” “resilience,” and simply, mental health. It is important to note, though, that no matter how one breaks down the dimensions of self-care, in the end, all of these different aspects are interconnected. Failure to take care of oneself in one realm can lead to consequences in another.
Personal Stress and its CausesAt the personal level, there is no way to provide a comprehensive list of the different stressors that people experience. Some examples are personal issues like divorce, the death of a loved one, parenting stress, and natural catastrophes. Other stressors might include increased family responsibilities or personal commitments outside of work. What is stressful for one person, however, may have little or no effect on another. This fact calls attention to the importance of
self-awareness. By finding the time to monitor our own stress, we can better deal with things as they arise.
Professional Stress and its CausesHomeless service providers work in highly stressful environments. If allowed to escalate, stress can lead to many negative job-related outcomes. How we choose to negotiate these environments has a lot to do with whether or not our stress is alleviated. As is the case with personal stress, the causes of occupational stress are also many. Some identified factors are listed here:
- Job Expectations
- Organizational Issues
Treatment of Choice: Self-careThe “treatment of choice” for diminishing the negative effects of this stress is to seek resiliency and renewal through the practice of healthy self-care. Self-care is most effective when approached with forethought, not as afterthought. In the same manner that we provide care for others, we must care for ourselves by first acknowledging and assessing the realities of our condition, creating a realistic plan of care, and acting upon it. Though many providers practice self-care in creative and effective ways, we all sometimes lose our sense of balance, and fail to provide the necessary care for ourselves with the same resoluteness that we offer care to others.
To better understand what self-care is, here are three things it is not:
- Self-care is not an “emergency response plan” to be activated when stress becomes overwhelming. Instead, healthy self-care is an intentional way of living by which our values, attitudes, and actions are integrated into our day-to-day routines. The need for “emergency care” should be an exception to usual practice.
- Self-care is not about acting selfishly. Instead, healthy self-care is about being a worthy steward of the self – body, mind, and spirit – with which we’ve been entrusted. It is foolhardy to think we can be providers of care to others without being the recipients of proper nurture and sustenance ourselves.
- Self-care is not about doing more, or adding more tasks to an already overflowing “to do” list. Instead, healthy self-care is as much about “letting go” as it is about taking action. It has to do with taking time to be a human being as well as a human doing. It is about letting go of frenzied schedules, meaningless activities, unhealthy behaviors, and detrimental attitudes such as worry, guilt, and being judgmental or unforgiving.
There is no formula for self-care. Each “self-care plan” will be unique and change over time. Ultimately, we must listen well to our own bodies, hearts, and minds, as well as to the counsel of trusted friends, as we seek resiliency and renewal in our lives and work.
Adapted from Self-Care: Essential Information, Syracuse University