Caring for Ourselves as Healthcare Workers

Self-care: This is a topic that we who work in the mental health / social services fields talk a lot about, but perhaps neglect to act on in our own lives, especially during times when we feel pulled to be available and supportive to our clients, our family, and friends.

In an ongoing pandemic environment, this has proven to be particularly true: many of us are making herculean efforts to take care of everyone else around us and relegating our “self-care” to an undefined time in the future, when things “get back to normal.” Funny thing is, if we are truly honest, things are not going to get back to normal again – we are going to be creating a “new normal,” one that could not be imagined before the advent of COVID-19.

If we are to be ready to face this “new normal” and to build resilience to continue providing support to those we care about in our personal and professional lives, it is critical we give more than “lip service” to our own mental health needs on a regular basis, in the here and now; self-care cannot always “wait” until we find the time, finish “all” the work or until someone gives us permission to pay attention to our own needs. Self-care demands that we create opportunities for tuning in to our own needs, to care for ourselves in a very real and consistent way.

Here are some tips to keep in mind that can help you put your own mental wellbeing front and center in your routine, in order to have the energy and desire to be fully present to those who rely on you:

  1. Be honest about your own needs: While we may wear a “helper” superhero cape on our jobs, in reality we are only human, and though we may know too well how to suggest that others attend to their needs, we may have trouble admitting that we also have trouble coping sometimes. It is ok. Life is hard, especially with the extra stressors we are all experiencing now! You don’t have to have all the answers, all the time – sometimes we need to take a step back and examine what we need on a personal level to feel in control of our own emotions and choices.
  2. Asking for help is not weakness: Ok, so we absolutely know and believe this for our clients, but how often to do we feel this about ourselves? As helpers, we tend to think that just because we know it is a strength for others to ask for help when needed, we tend to think that this same principle does not apply to us in order to be healthy (come on – we all think this at times!) We can be convinced that the helper “superhero” title is real, and that we somehow possess superhuman strength and resiliency by virtue of our profession, making it even more difficult for us to let others know when our stress is too much or we need help to get through a tough time. But the bottom line is this: if we are not asking for help when our load is too much, we will eventually collapse under the weight of the expectations we put on ourselves. And, when we collapse, who will be left to help hold up those we are committed to helping? That’s right – no one. So, in a sense, we owe it to ourselves and those we care about to reach out for help when we need a break, need help to get through a stressful situation, or just to make it through our difficult days. This could include some form of therapy or other treatment.
  3. Slow down, be present, breathe: These things may seem simple and straightforward, but how often in a busy day do we truly take a few minutes to get in touch with ourselves and take our own emotional “temperature?” We have gotten accustomed to pointing that electronic thermometer at our foreheads every day when we get to work, and to the possibility that we will need to adjust our day and our overall lives for a time if it reads above 100 degrees. Why can’t we do the same each day to be aware of our level of emotional “fever?” If we find that, upon examination, our feelings are heating up, it might be a great indication that it’s time to adjust our day, take a few minutes to evaluate the best way to protect ourselves and those around us from the impacts of getting sick (remember what you tell your clients – stress and anxiety have a definite impact on our physical health!) and to slow down and catch our breath. Only we can adjust the pace of our reactions to the stressors around us, and we can only really see these stressors fully when we step back and take the time to do a true and honest assessment. Trust me – while you take time to breath and be fully present in the moment, the world will not end, and you will give yourself an opportunity to realize what you need in order to feel strong enough to meet the challenges.

You’ve made it this far in reading this article, and taking this few minutes of time to read an article about taking good care of yourself is a great start, and see – the world did not end during the few minutes you took a break and did something just for you! Hopefully, this will be the beginning of you realizing that you are as important as those you care about, that you have the power to be in control of how you take care of yourself, and that you need no one’s permission but your own to stay mentally and physically healthy.

You can do this – you are the best at caring for others. Now take off your “helper” cape, breath deeply, and do what you need to be happy. You deserve it!

Written by Geneva Robinson, Crisis and Information Center Director, Seven Counties Services

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