Yesterday, I explained a bit about burnout and the mental health struggles that many of us are navigating in light of the extended and complex impacts of COVID-19, summarizing some recent interviews I’ve done (read Part 1 of 2). Today, let’s talk about why this is so hard for so many of us and some practical steps we can take to care for ourselves well.
Grieving Our Illusion of Control Alongside Additional Stress
One of the most difficult things to grapple with through COVID-19 is not only the ongoing changes but also the lost illusion of control that I mentioned yesterday and noted back in March. In many ways, the rhythms, routines, and expectations of “normal” are no longer present as we once understood them and we have no clear, concrete date for when they could return to normal, or even what the new normal will look like. Plus, what many of us are navigating includes added layers of stress, fatigue, loneliness, and juggling multiple roles without a break (e.g., homeschooling and care-giving while also trying to work). As a social worker, I’m especially sensitive to the fact that these layers of stress are multiplied for many of us and for different reasons, such as the types of jobs we have, access to care and resources, varying abilities, health concerns, systemic issues, our own or others’ needs, and degree of support from loved ones and employers.
Therefore, remembering what IS within our control is critical as we cope with the waves of adjustment, grief, and stress that arise. More than ever, we must find ways to discern what we can do to care for ourselves and to fiercely prioritize those self-care practices, emphasizing that self-care is a regular practice to engage in, like learning a new sport or instrument!
What is Self-Care and Why is it So Important for Helpers?
Prioritizing the practice of self-care is especially important for those of us who are also caring for others, whether we’re parents, partners, caregivers, teachers, health or mental health care providers, faith leaders, public servants, leaders within our organizations, among many other types of helpers. We cannot give to others that which we don’t reflect upon and offer to ourselves (see more).
We all need to pay close attention to self-care these days, and I’m not talking about spa days or random all-day TV marathons. Instead, as I mentioned in this recent Psychology Today article, I define self-care as an intentional, preventative, continual effort of recognizing that in order to care for others well, we must reflect upon, identify, and tend to our own bio-psycho-social-spiritual needs and that we are worth caring for ourselves. In the same way social workers care for clients’ bio-psycho-social-spiritual makeup (including clients’ physical health, mental health, social supports, and spiritual health), we need to do the same for ourselves as well.
Self-care strategies aren’t one-size-fits-all across individuals or situations. Instead, we must draw on a mixture of short-term and long-term self-care strategies that uniquely support each of us. The short-term strategies can help when we’re suddenly under high levels of stress and may include deep breathing exercises (e.g., breathing in to a count of 4 and out to a count of 6), a grounding practice (e.g., asking yourself what’s one thing you see, hear, taste, feel, and smell), drinking cold water, or taking a few minutes to meditate. On the other hand, long-term strategies help promote resilience when they are regularly practiced and can include healthy sleep habits, a daily centering prayer practice, weekly social gatherings (even virtually!), remaining mindful of the food/drinks we consume and how they make us feel, or scheduling regular mental health therapy appointments. (Again, to find a mental health care provider, visit here or check out my resources). If you’re struggling with suicidal ideation, call 800-273-8255, or if you’re in crisis, text ‘HOME’ to 741-741).
Creating a Self-Care Toolbox
By having a self-care toolbox filled with diverse strategies that tend to our whole being for various scenarios, we are much better positioned to live with a grounded and embodied resilience for when stressors and crises arise.
How do you create a self-care toolbox?
On my website, you can sign up for my free Self-Care for Helpers Guide that’s based on an assignment I’ve offered my social work students over the last several years. In this one-week guide, I’ll walk you through identifying your personal answer to “Why is self-care important?”, determining unique self-care strategies to help care for your physical/mental/social/spiritual health, recognizing potential barriers and schedule considerations, and integrating the strategies into a toolbox to help navigate this difficult season. I also include a number of books, podcasts, and links to support your self-care practice.
Giving Ourselves and One Another Permission to Practice Self-Care These Days
Ultimately, I hope that we take the time to recognize that we cannot push through this season operating as usual but instead, we need to be exceptionally kind, gentle, and caring toward ourselves, especially among those of us who identify as helpers, as we care for others. As COVID-19 cases rise, as we transition into the holiday season and grieve the loss of typical holiday celebrations, and as we continue to do the best we can in light of juggling so much, my hope and prayer is that we give ourselves and one another the overwhelming permission to practice self-care these days.
And may we remember that we are beloved and that we are worth caring for ourselves.
Thank you for following along with this little two-part summary around mental health, burnout, and the importance of self-care these days! I hope you’ll visit one of the following links, sign up for the Self-Care for Helpers Guide, and most importantly, practice caring for you these days!
I would also welcome readers to follow along on social media @hollyoxhandler (Facebook | Instagram | Twitter) or checking out CXMH (a podcast on the intersection of faith and mental health), for gentle reminders to fellow helpers on caring for themselves well these days, particularly around the intersection of mental health and spirituality/faith.
Be well, friends. Breathe deep, take good care of yourselves, and remember how truly loved you are as you are.