Self-care; Sounds So Simple, Yet It Is So Elusive
By: Sara Hanson, B.S.W.
"For someone to develop genuine compassion towards others, first he or she must have a basis upon which to cultivate compassion, and that basis is the ability to connect to one's own feelings and to care for one's own welfare. Caring for others requires caring for oneself."
Dalai Lama, 2003
The term "self-care" itself is so broad and vague, it can be hard to identify what it would even look like. It can also feel like a privilege; something you get to do if you have the time, and maybe people make you feel like taking the time for self-care means you are being selfish. When you have an abundance of responsibilities and tasks requiring your time and attention, how can time for yourself even fit in?
Self-care has many definitions, but can broadly be defined as the self-initiated behavior that people choose to promote their own good health and general well-being (Mills, Wand & Fraser, 2018). Self-care is multifaceted and unique to each person, and can include nutrition, physical activity, interpersonal relations, spirituality, chronic medical condition management, and stress management (Ayala et al, 2018). When considering the importance of self-care, it is equally important to understand the importance of self-compassion, which is the practice of giving the same kindness to ourselves that we give to others (Mills, Wand & Fraser, 2015). Self-compassion is a vital piece of the practice of self-care, because if you do not have compassion for yourself and your needs, self-care will continue to be elusive.
So what are the things that inhibit our ability to practice self-care? We already discussed self-compassion, but inhibitors of this practice are not just within ourselves; they are environmental, social, and occupational (Mills, Wand & Fraser, 2018):
- Stigma - The belief that self-care is something selfish, that you will be judged for taking time for yourself, or that needing self-care means you are weak and highlights your vulnerabilities.
- Planning - Self-care is often treated like a privilege, so we do not plan or carve out time for it. If we treat taking care of ourselves as a necessity in order to be there for our families and for our jobs, then we view it as more of a priority than an "extra".
- Workplace Culture - Feeling like work has to be brought home, or taking time off will cause resentment or make it harder when returning to work are common themes in self-care difficulty, especially in this time of staffing shortages and pandemic related stressors.
These inhibitors are deep rooted and can feel discouraging, especially now. COVID-19 feels relentless, and has caused immense emotional and physical pain, burn-out, and hopelessness. But consider what might happen if we turn all of those feelings and experiences into fuel for promoting self-care and self-compassion at every level of our lives? What would it look like if we started each day knowing that self-care is valued and a priority not just in ourselves, but in our relationships, and in our workplace? When we flip those inhibitors around to focus on prioritizing and encouraging self-care, what would that look like?
- Stigma - Vulnerabilities are a universal experience, and highlight our humanity. Brene Brown, world renowned author and scholar of shame and vulnerability research identifies vulnerability as "The most accurate measurement of courage". While we cannot control how others view our vulnerabilities or desire to prioritize self-care and self-compassion, we can change our own view, and in doing so, those around us will take note, and incremental change will follow. Being authentically human in acknowledging vulnerability; having the courage to challenge stigma or be assertive in saying no, and leading by example in supporting and normalizing self-care are all small ways we can improve our own well-being as well as fostering a culture shift in the way others view self-care (Mills, Wand & Fraser, 2018).
- Planning - Promoting self-care in our lives means that we make it a routine and plan for it. As previously stated, self-care is what works for you, there is no universal self-care activity. For some it is meditating, or exercise, or ensuring a good night sleep. For others it may be cultivating and investing in social relationships, or taking time to do things that make you feel good about yourself, like a massage. Planning for self-care includes identifying what is right for you, and carving out time for it in advance.
- Workplace Culture - This is another area that may, as one person, feel hard to effect change on, but everything starts small. On an individual level, this could include not taking work home every night, or working with team members on identifying time off and scheduling to get a break. A study in Australia that included 24 members of a palliative care team identified several aspects of work culture that promoted self-care, these included self-regulation of workload; which was the identification and discussion of one’s capacity to maintain workload and personal health, cohesive teams and supportive work environments which were bolstered by reflective practices and debriefing after stressful events, and a work culture that supports the importance of self-care (Mills, Wand & Fraser, 2018).
Self-care is not a selfish indulgence, apathetic to the needs of others, but a proactive and relational practice of understanding our own health and human needs motivated by desire to be our best selves and improve our own personal growth and efficacy in all areas of our lives (Mills, Wand & Fraser, 2018). Promoting self-care for ourselves includes cultivation of self-compassion and planned allocation of time and resources towards investing in ourselves, while culture change and workplace investment occurs with team communication, supports including debriefing and supervision, as well as the promotion of self-care opportunities. For more information on these resources offered to employees of the University of Rochester, go to the Well-U website to view programs that can help with mindfulness, exercise, chronic condition support, or connection to a professional who can help you talk through issues in your life that make self-care difficult to envision for yourself.
Behavioral Health Partners is brought to you by Well-U, offering eligible individuals mental health services for stress, anxiety, and depression. Our team of mental health professionals can accurately assess your symptoms and make recommendations for treatment. To schedule an intake appointment, give us a call at (585) 276-6900.
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Keith Stein |