For those of us in the helping professions, “the struggle is real”. Some jobs/careers in the helping professions include the following: doctors, nurses, therapists/counselors, social workers, pastors, priests, ministers, etc. Any job that works directly with people to help them become better can fall under the “helping professions” category. The work is very rewarding, but it can also be challenging. Long hours, low pay, time away from family and friends, neglecting one’s own self-care, and the list goes on and on. If you’re not careful, helping others can kill you.
I always tell helpers that you are a vessel. You are full of good will, good advice and compassion. But if you ever become empty, you can no longer pour out. There are many people in the helping professions who have lost their passion and consequently, they have lost their compassion for others because they are simply burned out. They have become bitter, overly critical, and cynical, which informs the way that they treat those they are called to help.
Those who we help, in whatever context, deserve our very best. Therefore, we must take care of ourselves in order to be able to pour out effectively. As a therapist who has worked in the mental health field for over seven years, I know first hand what it is like to have a challenging and demanding schedule. It comes with the territory. Before I recently transitioned to a new position [reference my previous blog entitled, “The Symptoms of Transition”], I was working 55 hours per week on average. I had to learn how to practice better self-care.
As a person who’s purpose is to help others, I understand that my life is an example and a testimony to other people. Everything that I go through or experience, I know that it is to help someone else. Based on my own experiences, I have compiled this list of ways to practice better self-care. Here goes:
- Eat Breakfast Daily: Yes, it is the most important meal of the day. I’m not a nutritionist. That’s not my lane. However, I do know from experience that eating a well-balanced breakfast helps you focus better and gives you a great start to the day. Many of us with hectic schedules are rushing out of the house in the morning and when we get to the office [if we have an office], we hit the ground running. Breakfast is important.
- Don’t skip lunch. Here I go with food again. Anybody that knows me, knows I love to eat. That’s no secret..lol. But seriously, take your full hour or 30 minutes. And do not, I repeat, do not eat lunch at your desk or work while eating. You need to separate yourself from your work and the work environment while you’re eating. This gives your mind a much needed break and you’re able to digest your food better and recharge. This is why they created break rooms!
- Set boundaries with yourself and others. As people in helping profession, we have to really guard ourself against what I call the “Savior Complex”. I learned this early on in my journey. Every social worker and counselor graduates from college thinking they’re going to “save the world”. You are not called to save the world. Jesus already did that. That work is finished. You are called to who you’re called to. You can’t “save” everybody. As a helper, your job is to help people facilitate change. You can’t make anybody change. They have to want to change. [You know this stuff!] Set boundaries with yourself and others. Do what you can do and don’t feel guilty about not being able to do what you cannot do. Unnecessary and unrealistic demands and expectations that you place on yourself and those that you allow others to place upon you will wear you down. I tell everybody, “NO” is a complete sentence. [Selah]
- Get your checkups. Never be too busy to get your annual wellness checkups, whether they be physical or mental [you need both working in the helping professions]. Don’t ignore pains in your body, either. Remember, YOU matter. Take time to take care of you. Don’t be the cracked vessel still trying to pour out. On a personal note, recently I was having trouble seeing my computer screen and the TV screen at home [when I had time to watch television]. When I started thinking about it and adding it up, I hadn’t seen my eye doctor in about two years and my prescription for contact lenses and glasses were both expired. Time flew by, and I was too busy working to take care of me. I know I’m not the only one; we gotta do better, helpers!
- Take your vacation time. Hey, guess what? You earned that time! It’s yours; take it! Stop letting vacation time pile up and “roll over” from year to year. That’s demonic…lol. A common and unspoken cognition of people in the helping profession is that no one can do it like we can. Our people need us; our clients need us; our staff and co-workers need us. NEWS FLASH: that job will be there when you get back. NEWS FLASH NUMBER TWO: If you died, they will mourn you for a week and then put a vacancy notice to fill your position! It is what it is. Take your vacation, beloved, and don’t you dare feel an ounce of guilt about it! One of my personal self-care goals is take a vacation once every three months; no work, no checking emails, no thoughts of clients; a real vacation!
- Leave work at work. This is a hard one for us and it takes lots of practice and discipline. Leave work where it belongs, at the office or in the field. There are some occasions (they should be rare) where you may have reports that you have to do and you run out of time at the office, but this should not be an everyday occurrence. Make it your practice to leave work at work. One of the major principles of self-care is that your bed should only be used for sleep and sex. How many helpers have beds full of laptops (with an s), books, client files and other paperwork. Set boundaries.
- Do what you enjoy. Kill the “workaholic” mentality. Rediscover what you like. Whether it’s going to the movies, collecting, sports, shopping, writing, going to the beach, whatever. Make time for yourself to enjoy life!
Again, these tips were born out of my own personal experiences. I have not fully attained, but I’m striving to achieve and practice all of this daily. As helpers, we’re the real MVP’s. Where would the world be without us? If we want to continue to be effective, we must take care of ourselves!
Live long and prosper.