I can recall my undergraduate degree in Social Work, having one class session devoted to “The Importance of Self-Care” and thinking to myself, “This is so simple, why are we spending an entire session on this?” Instead of paying attention, I allowed my mind to drift, thinking about my to-do list and planning an agenda. When I think back, I don’t recall any type of self-care activity that made it on my to-do list; how ironic! If I could, I would tell my younger self to put the list on hold and “listen-up!” as self care is vital to maintaining a healthy personal and professional life, especially for those in the care-giving field.
As a professional Social Worker I now have a greater understanding as to why self-care was being taught in the first place. I have experienced stress related to my role in caring for others by listening to patients describe trauma or losses they have experienced, witnessing patients struggle to meet financial stability and daily functioning, handling crises that sometimes arise and need to be tended to, etc. Listening, supporting, advocating, educating; all of these aspects are a piece of my professional work with patients but what is my work in regard to my own health and well-being? I have learned first-hand that I have to check in with myself on a daily basis in order to attend to my self-care needs and that self-care in fact is not so “simple”.
We teach our patients to “practice self-care”. We create specific, measurable goals around implementing self-care techniques but how much time do we as professionals or just as human beings think about our own self-care? I would guess the answer would be “not much” or we might find other excuses as to why this area of our lives has not been tended to: “There isn’t enough time in the day”, “I will take care of myself but first I must take care of others, they need the support more than I do”, “I plan on getting around to that self-care thing…eventually” and the list of potential excuses goes on and on. I have learned that taking my own advice, the suggestions created with a patient in regard to making time for self, focusing on health and well-being is essential and will help me to not only maintain being a productive and actively present professional, but will allow me to grow as an individual.
So what is Self-Care anyway? According to the World Health Organization self-care is defined as:
“Self Care in health refers to the activities individuals, families and communities undertake with the intention of enhancing health, preventing disease, limiting illness, and restoring health. These activities are derived from knowledge and skills from the pool of both professional and lay experience. They are undertaken by lay people on their own behalf, either separately or in participative collaboration with professionals.”
A simpler definition taken from the American Holistic Nurses Association outlines self-care in the following way, comprised of three essential parts:
- body: exercise, grooming, massages, breathing, yoga, conscious eating
- mind: quiet contemplation, meditation, focusing on the moment, healing music, laughter
- spirit: meditation and prayer, reading spiritual literature, listing positive things in your life, random acts of kindness
My personal definition of self-care is anything that allows me to take pause, slow down, reflect, and engage in an activity that feels calming or provides a sense of enjoyment/relaxation. It means to “re-charge” my battery. One may initially think this is simple as I did as a student, but actually implementing this skill when the majority of our professional role is to support others, supporting self can easily be left behind. I hope we can continue to not only support others in their exploration toward maintaining self-care but to take a stand by recognizing the importance and value of implementing our own self care on a daily basis.
This quote summarizes my continued effort toward the importance of maintaining self-care: “I have come to believe that caring for myself is not self-indulgent. Caring for myself is an act of survival” – Audre Lorde
In closing, I end with a question: What does self-care mean to you and how much worth are you placing on caring for and about your own personal and professional well-being?