Mental Health

6 Ways for Helpers to Practice Self-Care

My name is Elaine, and I’m an overachiever.

If there were a support group for helpers who give too much to those in their care, I would be the first to sign up. In my previous life as a nurse, a volunteer, and in my various roles as a busy homeschooling mom, teacher, wife, friend, helper, counsellor, etc., I have leaned towards overextending myself to the point of not taking care of myself. Often this has led to a very tired, grumpy, and, if truth be told, unhappy person headed towards burnout.

All this changed about ten years ago after returning from a job in a country where no one was in a hurry. There were many emergencies, and even though there were times when I was called upon to put out fires (quite literally at times), I noticed that this slow pace allowed me to take time to relax, be with others, and enjoy what I had, which made for a much happier existence. Upon my return to Canada and my overachieving life, I decided it was time to put my own oxygen mask on first.

I am intentional, even greedy about self-care, and I’m far healthier as a result.

Now I spend time taking care of myself – not to the exclusion of others, but to the inclusion of me. I am intentional, even greedy about self-care, and I’m far healthier as a result. Here are six tips to help you find ways to be “greedy” about self-care:

1. Intentionally find moments of joy

Create a list of things that bring you joy. These don’t have to be long, drawn-out activities that take a lot of time. A 20-minute episode of your favourite, gut-busting, laugh-out-loud sitcom could make the list. Brewing a fresh cup of coffee or tea and savouring every last drop is another. Going for a 20-minute walk and making sure to engage all of your senses also counts, as does listening to your favourite music. I like to pull up a mix of ‘70s and ‘80s for some nostalgia while I walk. Create your list and keep it simple so you will be more likely to turn towards joy when you need a quick fix.

2. Take time to decompress

Before you return home each evening, be intentional about taking 10 minutes to decompress. Take an extra loop around the neighbourhood and listen to some soothing music or that last chapter of a great audiobook. This helps you separate whatever is leftover from work before you enter your home.

3. Take a break

Don’t compromise when it comes to breaks. When I was a nurse, I often worked through my breaks as I felt that the patients came first – and in many cases they did. However, this was somewhat faulty thinking because, in hindsight, another nurse could have and would have taken over. But in the rare instance I needed to stay with my patient, it became my habit of staying (overachiever), which, in the end, led to burnout.

Be intentional about taking your allotted breaks. They are there for a reason, and if they aren’t, negotiate them into your work schedule as part of your mental health awareness. If we don’t take care of ourselves, we cannot adequately take care of those we care for, teach, and help.

4. Be curious

As a way of reducing anxiety and stress related to situations where things are outside of my control, I often use curiosity to reduce my anxiety. If an aggressive driver is on my tail, I create a curious story to calm my body’s reaction to the stress: “Maybe they’re late for an appointment,” or “Maybe they have to use the washroom really badly” (that one always makes me giggle). Then my body relaxes, and I feel less stressed. I’m intentional about doing this on my drive home during rush hour.

5. Fill yourself up

Be intentional about doing things that fill you up. I am an avid reader, but I found myself constantly reading books that were related to therapy and trauma. I realized that my days and nights were filled with thoughts of trauma. I wasn’t sleeping well. I woke up exhausted, as though I hadn’t really slept at all.

I knew something had to change, so I became intentional about finding audiobooks that were fun and inspirational to listen to on my way to and from work each day. What a difference it has made in my days, to fill myself up before I arrive at my office and after I leave each day. I am filled up with something fun and I can leave the traumas of my day behind.

6. Acting as if

Because many of us are working from home due to the current world circumstances, it is important to separate work from home. One way to accomplish this is to create a separate workspace that is for work only. This may be difficult due to space limitations, but as much as is possible, try to separate your workspace from your home/relaxing space.

Self-care is key to preventing short- and long-term burnout.

Keep your schedule as close to your former work schedule as possible so it will be easier to separate work from home time. That means coffee breaks are still part of your day, and lunch is lunch – the full hour. If you need to get up and go for a walk as if you were catching the bus, then do so. Keep it as close to a work vs home schedule as possible so you can separate the two. It can be tempting to let the two melt into one, so avoid the temptation.

Self-care is key to preventing short- and long-term burnout. Taking the time to be intentional about caring for yourself as a caregiver, helper, parent, counsellor, therapist, teacher, etc., is an important way to implement self-care and ensure that you are able to continue to care for yourself and other important people in your life. Putting your own oxygen mask on first is vital to continued success in your career and your home life. So go ahead and be greedy about that oxygen.

Taking the time to be intentional about caring for yourself is an important way to ensure that you are able to continue to care for yourself and other important people in your life.

For more FREE RESOURCES on this topic and others, visit our free resources page.


Elaine Conrad

MEd, RP – Trainer, Crisis & Trauma Resource Institute

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