What is Self-Care?

A focus on self-care is becoming increasingly important as the demands within caregiving professions seem to be intensifying.  Self-care is any activity of an individual that is done with the intention of improving or maintaining wellness.  Professional self-care can be defined as the incorporation of skills and strategies by caregivers to preserve their personal, familial, emotional and spiritual needs while serving the needs of their clients (Newell & MacNeil, 2010).

Categories for self-care can include 1) physical:  body work, exercise, adequate sleep, nutrition:  2) psychological:  effective relaxation time, contact with nature, forms of creative expression, balance between work and recreation;  3) social/interpersonal:  supportive relationships and knowing when/how to obtain help;  and 4) professional:  balancing work and home life, setting boundaries and limits, and getting help/support through peers, role models, and supervisors (Charles Figley interview, 2005).

Self-care has been identified as the greatest strategy to prevent or reduce the undesirable effects of Compassion Fatigue, Secondary Traumatic Stress, Vicarious Traumatization and Burnout.  Professional caregivers are at much higher risk than other professionals of experiencing compassion fatigue due to the nature of our work (Radey & Figley, 2007).

Compassion is a very important element in the success of a caregiver engaging clients in direct practice work.  In order to gain the trust of the clients we mush develop a positive working relationship and be able to empathize with the client.  “Sometimes our hearts go out to the clients to the point where we feel their pain and suffering, which can lead to mental, physical and emotional fatigue” (Radey & Figley, 2007).  Chronic exposure to others’ traumatic events is also a factor that puts caregivers at higher risk of experiencing compassion fatigue.  Compassion fatigue can lead to burnout, a condition of emotional, physical, psychological, and spiritual exhaustion that results from practicing with people who are vulnerable or suffering (Newell & MacNeil, 2010).

Citations

Compassion fatigue:  An expert interview with Charles R. Figley, (2005).  Retrieved 4/15/14 from http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/513615.

Newell, J., & MacNeil, ., (2010).  Professional burnout, vicarious trauma, secondary traumatic stress, and compassion fatigue:  a review of theoretical terms, risk factors and preventative methods for clinicians and researchers.  Best Practices in Mental Health 6(2), 57-68.

Radey, M., & Figley, C., (2007).  The social psychology of compassion.  Clinical Social Work Journal 35(1), 207-214.

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Scheduled Time Off

Scheduling time off for vacation, “staycation” or weekend getaways can be essential in preventing burnout.  “Burnout is a progressive loss of idealism, energy, and goals as the result of personal or occupational stress.  Burnout results from high levels of stress over time.  Continuing personal or work stress, without rest, will eventually lead to burnout” (CR Figley (Ed.) Encyclopedia of Trauma. Sage Publications).

Getting a break from the demands of life, both professional and personal, can be necessary.  Sometimes we need a change of scenery to let go, rejuvenate, and gain fresh perspective.  This can often be accomplished by scheduling time off from work and away from home.  It is best to schedule time off before reaching the point of frustration and exhaustion.  Vacation to a new destination, a favorite place previously visited, a workshop or retreat, visiting out-of-town family and/or friends could be exactly the break you are needing.

If you have some paid time off but cannot financially afford a vacation away from home, I recommend the “staycation”.  Spending vacation time at home can also be a refreshing break.  Time off may seem extended by “unplugging” for a while by taking a break from email and turning off the cell phone.  Letting people know in advance that you will be doing so is a good idea.  Setting boundaries around your scheduled time off can give a sense of freedom and relaxation.  Giving yourself permission to do what you want to do, moment by moment, and without a schedule during your time off is a wonderful gift to yourself.

If time off from work is not an option, you may also get a nice break by scheduling a weekend getaway trip.  A quick change of environment can have similar relaxing and refreshing effects as a vacation.  The same intentions as the “staycation” mentioned above could be done during a weekend at home.  Sometimes saying “not now” or “no” to others and “yes” to yourself is necessary self-care.  You’ll have more to give others when you tend to your needs and rejuvenate yourself.  By giving from this place, everyone wins.

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Compassion Satisfaction

“Compassion satisfaction is the pleasure we derive from being able to do our work well.  Higher levels of compassion satisfaction are related to your ability to be an effective caregiver” according to Dr. Beth Hudnall Stamm.  The Professional Quality of Life Scale (PROQOL) Version 5 (2009) was developed by Dr. Beth Hudnall Stamm and can be used to measure compassion satisfaction, burnout and secondary traumatic stress.  This self-assessment is available as a resource on our website.

There are multiple ways in which compassion satisfaction can be cultivated.  Rather than than focusing on the negative or challenging aspects of the work, one can generate positive feelings by focusing on the aspects of the work that are enjoyable.  Remembering accomplishments, positive feedback from clients/patients/supervisors, times when a difference was made in someone’s life, and feeling gratitude for such opportunities can help shift a person’s perspective and elevate his/her mood.  Creation of a “smile file” to keep positive feedback from others, awards, cards, etc. can be helpful to review at times when the work seems overwhelming and you have lost sight of your positive impact.

Building a support network within the workplace can make work more enjoyable.  Reaching out to people in the same profession for support is helpful as they are likely to have experienced similar frustrations and joys while doing their jobs.  It is nice to take the time out to enjoy lunch and conversations with friends at work.  Identifying supervisors and mentors to whom you can go to for advice and/or learning opportunities can be gratifying.

Effective self-care can help you to maintain resiliency and keep your balance, thus contributing to compassion satisfaction.  Creating balance between work, family/friends and personal needs is essential.  Continually assessing and adjusting self-care between these three areas is important in establishing and maintaining balance.  When it seems as if one area of your life is dominating the others, it is time to make an adjustment.  To do so requires contemplation and mindfulness regarding what is working and what is not.

I encourage you to find opportunities to laugh, have fun, play and relax during time spent away from work in order to recharge and return to work refreshed.  It is too easy to get caught in the demands and responsibilities of both work and the home/family.  There will always be more to do and sometimes it can wait.  Your needs are important too!  You’ll have more to give when you acknowledge and respond to your needs.

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Mindful Living

Life can be a meditation if living is done mindfully and with intention in each moment.  According to Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, meditation expert, “mindfulness is the practice of experiencing reality in the present moment through awareness”.  This requires slowing down and being fully present in the here and now.  We often get caught in the stories cycling in our minds about past events or thinking about the future.  We can learn from the past, but it is gone and does not serve us to dwell there.  Thinking about the future can be helpful for the purpose of planning, however can create fear and anxiety regarding the unknown.  The future is not reality and has not yet happened.  The present, the moment of here and now as it is experienced, is the only moment that is real.

One can experience great peace and acceptance by living in the present moment.  There are many gifts and much beauty missed in the present moment because we can find ourselves identifying with the stories played out in our minds regarding the past and/or future.  This is part of the human condition and there is no reason for self-judgment as the purpose of the mind is for thinking.  Over-identification with our thoughts can be counterproductive as they are often driven by emotion and based upon opinions and judgments rather than on reality.  Getting out of our minds and fully living in our bodies through experiencing can be liberating.  In upcoming blogs I’ll explain the benefits of meditation and give tips on how to begin a meditation practice.      

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Spring Cleaning and Clearing

Spring is a great time to do some cleaning up and clearing from the outside-in and the inside-out.  It can be a time for space creation and renewal as one’s energy is often elevated and more motivated for change.  Many people have reported feeling lighter after doing some deep cleaning or getting rid of things that they no longer need or that no longer serve them.  It may be that positive feeling of accomplishment when such endeavors have been completed or the feeling of freedom from letting go.  Additionally, it feels great to donate those things we no longer want to someone who is in need.  It can take some motivation to get started on cleaning, clearing and organizing projects, but the benefits are well worth it.

We can also affect our external world by creating and clearing space internally.  Are there emotions, attachments, relationships, and/or habits within yourself that you would like to release?  Are there activities you still do that are no longer of benefit or people you spend time with that drain your energy or you no longer enjoy?  These questions are worth contemplating and if the answer is yes, now is a good time to release that which no longer serves you in order to create more spaciousness.

Perhaps time spent with a therapist or life coach could be beneficial.  It is possible that taking up a new activity or spending time with a new friend might be enjoyable.  Making more space for yourself to take pause, contemplate and/or relax could be what you do with the additional space created.  We can sometimes feel resentful of the time and effort given to others when we are not spending enough time meeting our needs.  Self-awareness regarding personal needs and responding to those needs can help us to restore balance and peace within a busy life.

I encourage you to think on these things and put intention into what you want to keep, let go of and bring into your life.  It is helpful to evaluate that which is working well and no longer working in your life.  Contemplate on how you can make space and take action.  It is a great time to spring forward in life, as the possibilities are limitless!

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Welcome to Our Blog

Self-Care Specialists welcomes you to our blog.  We are a heart-centered business with the mission of providing professional caregivers with exceptional training designed to aid in the attainment of compassion satisfaction.  If the caregiver thrives while doing his/her work, the client/patient is likely to receive superior compassionate service.

Self-Care Specialists does training through our hosted events, professional conferences and organization hosted classes.  Future training events will be hosted by Self-Care Specialists for caregiving groups including mental health professionals, medical providers and animal caregivers.

Future blogs will include further discussion on compassion satisfaction, secondary trauma and holistic tips for wellness.  Guided meditations will be added to the website for your convenience shortly.  We are thrilled that you have joined us today and hope you continue following as we grow.  Upcoming events and updates can be found on Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin.  Additionally, within a few weeks you will be able to sign up to receive our newsletter for announcements and updates.  Our goal is to make information available and to be accessible to answer questions.

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