One of the important topics we discuss regularly at Riverview Center is “self-care”. As you know, our team of advocates, therapists, counselors, volunteers, and educators do their very best to ensure all survivors of sexual and domestic abuse receive the best quality, client-centered care we can provide. Working with survivors can be the most rewarding career, but as you can expect, it can be very difficult too. There is a term “vicarious trauma”, which is the emotional residue of exposure that professionals have from working with people as they are hearing their trauma stories and become witnesses to the pain, fear, and terror that trauma survivors have endured. So who takes care of the caretakers?!
As the Executive Director of Riverview Center, I do my best to emphasize the need to first take care of ourselves in order to be the best at taking care of others. But that is easier said than done sometimes! Think of the airline attendant who always instructions us to put on our own oxygen mask before we help others – that oxygen mask is our self-care, and can be life-saving, in a different way.
No matter what your profession is – or if you are a stay-at-home parent, volunteer, community leader, etc.- self-care needs to be at the top of your list. I can not pretend to know everything there is about self-care, but I know it is a work-life balance that can be very hard to find when you have 100 things on your plate and can’t decide which is a priority and what can wait. So I have turned to other professionals and co-workers for ideas, and expect that we can all use a little encouragement in this area.
Self-Care can be Mind, Body, Heart and Spirit, and each person has their own idea of what self-care looks like. I myself find that a cross section of the 4 categories fit me. So before I give you some suggestions, ask yourself what have you done in the last few days to take care of yourself? If you are like most people, you may not be able to come up with much…and that is the problem! For me, it is also about taking (not finding) the time to fit in self-care. It is easy to blow-off the walk you were going to take, or not get to bed at a decent time, or attend that religious service – because we are so busy putting everyone and everything else ahead of ourselves. Give yourself the permission you need to do something daily that may or may not fall into one of these categories. Even if it is only 5 minutes at the beginning or the end of the day – take that time, you will be glad you did!
Mind/Thinking: taking care of your intellect: movies, reading, teaching, surfing the internet, planning, studying, games of logic, self-reflection, support group, journal, laugh, breathe, end negative talk, give yourself permission to makes mistakes, breathe again, be kind to yourself, allow yourself to say no, forgive yourself, video games, word puzzles, sharing thoughts, reminiscing, and breathe again!
Body/Doing: taking care of your physical self: stretch, plan your meals to include healthy options, challenge yourself to a new activity, camp, ski, jog, swim, yoga, picnic, pilates, snowshoeing, gardening, cycling, shooting hoops, go to batting cage or driving range, dancing, access regular medical care and dental care, massages, bubble baths, weightlifting, turn off your cell phone, take a vacation, and sleep.
Heart/Feeling: allow yourself to feel all emotions: share feelings, volunteer, laugh, cry, listen to music, sculpt, write poetry, be intimate, listen, talk to a friend, flirt, tell yourself how gorgeous you are inside and out, play, watch a sunset, ask for help, lay in the grass and close your eyes, celebrate yourself, access counseling or other support, have quiet time with a warm drink, meditate, and breathe.
Spirit/Being: look beyond yourself and find a connection: walk your pet, water plants, go on a retreat, prayer, church, go into nature, take photographs, daydream, contemplate, self-reflection, rituals, sleep, devotion, sing, volunteer, pilgrimage, connect with children or the elderly, find peace in your space.
I do practice what I preach – most of the time! I was recently asked what do I do for self-care. At first it was hard to answer, because it a regular part of my life and don’t think about it as a task anymore. 1) My family commits to at least one vacation a year – and not just get away –but GET AWAY! I ask co-workers to not contact me and turn on my auto-reply for emails- and do not take my phone to the beach with me! 2) I enjoy a girls’ day or date night out on occasion, 3) I partake in some fluff fun: I play trivia crack and words with friends, and watch a few good TV shows religiously! 4) I make priority lists and try to stick to them, and 5) I try to let my weekends be committed to non-work activities, such as watch my children play sports, catch a movie, or cook a nice meal. And I do all of this without making any apologies. There are things that I know I can do better, but baby steps, in a world where we are praised for working 60 hours a week and rewarded for not taking sick or vacation days.
So, if your new year’s resolution is a faded memory, forgive yourself, and start taking time out of your day for you!
“Self-care is not about self-indulgence, it’s about self-preservation.” Audre Lourdes