The one theme that has run through each of the days this week is the importance of taking care of ourselves. Sadly, the other theme that has run right along side is the difficulty in practicing self care.
We know that we need to care for ourselves. So why is it so hard?
Self care is NOT a dirty word, but you would think that it is. Often when I would ask the question, clients would state they don’t have time to care for themselves. Many women (even young women my age) state they feel it is selfish to do something for themselves when they have a family, work and other responsibilities. I’ve known people who seem to wear it as a badge that they are over scheduled, have to have their children at 3 different practices in different parts of town, are stressed and have so many responsibilities.
This week alone I have met with clients and individuals I provide clinical supervision to and the topic has been that they are out of balance and not doing well. One acknowledged she isn’t eating well and had chips and dip for dinner one night. The other stated she finds herself hunched over her computer with aching shoulders but doesn’t take the time to stretch her back.
The answer is typically that there isn’t time. My response back is why not? If the time isn’t taken, what will the results be? Bad eating habits often result in erratic energy levels and weight gain. Constant pain can result in knotted muscles and spasms.
I previously discussed self care in What’s in your Toolbox?, and explained the importance of knowing what activities you need to do when life gets extremely hectic. As I sat across from the individuals this week, I know what it is like to be in their place. I truly believe that my own lack of self care and not taking care of stress led to my own thyroid issues (and hey, who knows maybe even my infertility).
I remember what it was like to stay at work and facilitate a support group until 8:00 PM and then be back at work in 12 hours. I would get home and barely talk to James as I had been listening to others all day. I stopped going to the gym because I had to have evening hours and I would be too tired to get up in the morning to work out.
I also spoke about how I limited my socialization with friends to the weekend and often wouldn’t go to get togethers during the week because I was too tired. Wow, what a life I was living!
Balance and self care. We truly aren’t taught either of these subjects. At least we aren’t taught them directly. If we are lucky we have good mentors to model the behavior. However, for those of us who have chosen the helping profession, I believe we have to search harder for role models. I also realize that as a therapist, teacher and supervisor that I must model behaviors.
Over the past months there have been several co-workers who have made the decision (for various reasons) to leave Hospice work and we have talked about the differences in our lives since we have left. One states they are sleeping better and no longer clinch their teeth, another is working out and has joined a gym, another has spent the summer with their kids in a way they have never done. It is easy to blame the work (which is very hard and emotional work) but the reality is that each of us stopped taking the time to care for ourselves during our tenure at some time or the other. There wasn’t time, we were too tired, we just didn’t want to. There can be lots of excuses.
So I sit with my clients and supervises and we discuss the things that are good self care for them. We explore the activities which have helped in the past that they are not doing. We hope to find some balance in their life.
I have stated to everyone all along that if I had not had some things in place in my life that the stress I have encountered would have overwhelmed me. Yes, I often felt like I was simply keeping my head above water – but it was above water.
As my client and I discussed today, self care doesn’t have to be expensive. True, it can be helpful to get a massage for the tight back, a manicure or pedicure, a weekend trip. However, self care should be comprised of small things that one does on a daily basis.
Self care can be the body wash you use in the shower or the candle you burn when you get home. Self care can be listening to your favorite play list ( I have one titled driving for in the car) or watching your favorite TV show. (The past few semesters, the evening class I taught was on Wednesdays and I would come home and watch Modern Family and do nothing else). It can be taking the time to read a favorite magazine (last month I bought one I don’t normally read and sat on my back patio in the sun).
It scares me to think how easily it can be to fall into the old patterns of not caring for myself. One friend commented that work felt like a treadmill that kept getting pushed to a faster and faster rate and she couldn’t get off. As I look back at my own career, I can see myself there. I stopped all of the things that were good for me.
A former student told me today that as she starts her new job she is using me as an example of setting boundaries for herself and practicing self care. During her time with me, I was always honest in regards to the fact only she could be responsible for herself. I was also honest that self care isn’t easy at times. Her statement was such a wonderful compliment.
Self care isn’t a dirty word or concept – it’s essential.
Take care of you!!