Care giving is seen as one of the most selfless professions in which those of us who feel great amounts of empathy use that empathy to “enrich the lives” of those receiving care in a near selfless fashion. Therein lies the problem. Not only are those being cared for seen as lesser in all respects (capable, competent, content, self-aware etc.), those caring for them are put on a pedestal, admired by so many as “martyrs” who sacrifice their own lives in order to help others lead their own. This paints caregivers in the most positive light imaginable, and not only falsely represents what it is we do, but it also sets us up for failure. This perception makes it hard for us to find time for ourselves without feeling guilt or shame. Further, if we don’t feel them others thrust them upon us.
It is quite common to hear people talk about how important self care is and it is especially big in the care-giving field. It has to be. If you are living the majority of your life inside someone else’s home, entirely engrossed in every aspect of their life – it is hard to find time for your loved ones, let alone yourself. Think of yourself as a glass of water, and think of your care-taking clients as an empty glass. You continue to fill this glass with water from your own, always making sure that the other glass has enough. At the end of the day your glass is left empty, and no one is around to fill it back up for you.
This poses two problems: first, you do not have enough energy or resources to continue giving to others, and second, you have absolutely no resources left for yourself! The desire to feel supported is not selfish. In this profession, as in many others, it may be rare that you receive gratitude – from those you support and from your employers. Some days, it may feel as if you are the only one supporting the clients, and it seems your coworker who is supposed to be there to support and complement you and your work is falling behind. At the end of it all, you may not receive so much as a simple thank you, or recognition for your contribution. This can be damaging – it can leave you feeling unsupported in the workplace, isolated from the clients and coworkers, and it can stifle your energetic and optimistic outlook on change and new opportunities for those you support. This may affect your performance, it may affect your feelings of self-worth or efficacy, and it can even affect the way you communicate with others. It can very quickly turn an optimistic and energetic individual sour.
This is why self-care is especially important for caregivers, counselors, and therapists. For those caring for others, caring for yourself is often the last thing that crosses your mind, but it is one of the most important things that we should be practicing on a daily basis.
For me, self-care is rather easy. I love a good book and a cup of coffee, I can paint on my back porch, or I can escape to the woods for a few days. I have been practicing self-care since before I started my university career, and while studying Psychology, became even more aware of how important it was that I continue practicing it.
For some, it may not be so easy. Especially considering the martyr complex that is so often developed in these kinds of professions. The first step to allowing yourself to indulge in well deserved regenerative rest is to create a new image of yourself as caregiver; an image that portrays you as being human, just like those for whom we care.
Next is allowing yourself to talk to those around you about your profession in the most real way imaginable. Let those closest to you know about the struggles that you face daily. If they fail to support you, find someone who will.
Following along those lines, you should also find it within yourself to develop a support network within your workplace. Whether this is with one or two coworkers or even one of your superiors, you should always make sure you feel appreciated and heard in the workplace. Should you find it too difficult to reach out to either coworker or supervisor, allow yourself some “you” time while at work, just to breathe and remind yourself that you may be having a hard day, you may be feeling under appreciated, but you are worth so much, and you have others in your life who recognize the work you are doing, and recognize how essential you are in that position.
Lastly allow yourself time to unwind when you leave their home, and enter your own. It is hard to not bring work home with you, especially for those tending to the needs of others. Even when we leave their home, we are still turned “on” and tuned in to their lives. We have to be. Emergencies happen, staff get sick or don’t show up. When you are truly involved, and care about the people you are caring for it is near impossible to keep them out of your mind. This is especially true for those of us who like to see positive changes happen in people’s lives, and who want to help those changes happen. Regardless, it is important that we learn to leave these feelings at the door when we leave their space.
As a side note, if you feel the desire to vent about work, or you are feeling creative about how to help enhance these individuals’ lives – leave your house. Go on a walk, and think about work outside of your home. Your home is for you, work should never be brought inside.
As I mentioned before it is very easy for me to find ways to unwind – I have my own passions and interests that I pursue outside of work, and these act as forms of self-care for me. For those who have yet to find their passions, it is never too late to start searching. Remember that self-care is about recognizing your worth and your abilities, and making sure that you feel positively about yourself and your life afterwards. This could be anything from yoga ,to dance lessons, to reading, or even taking a bubble bath. Allow yourself time to appreciate you, so that you can strengthen your self-esteem and self-awareness, in order to improve your overall mental health. It helps too that self-care will always result in a positive feeling, that will inevitably seep back into your work and relationships!
Self-care is one of the most important things we can all easily practice every day, and we should not be made to feel guilty about it, because we matter too.

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