When we get caught on the hamster wheel, it can quickly feel that we are stuck. The emotional and psychological fatigue which follows consistently pushing ourselves to be everything and do everything can begin to take it’s toll.
Whilst it can feel a bit fluffy to talk about self-care, it is incredibly important. When working in key worker roles, this can, over time, lead into compassion fatigue.
Compassion fatigue is when an individual who works in a care role feels emotional, physical and spiritual distress. Compassion fatigue is frequently found in those whose jobs involve consistently ‘giving’ to others, for instance, social work, nursing, teachers and care workers. In a role where those more vulnerable need us to support them, it can be easy to let go of boundaries, work too many hours and feel that you are constantly ‘on the go’.
We might find that:
- your patience is low
- you feel overwhelmed, irritable or snappy
- feeling sad or a sense of dread
- you have a lack of empathy
- fatigue or listless
- feeling negative or cynical
- withdrawing from others
- withdrawing from activities you love
- nightmares and sleep disturbance
- experiencing intrusive thoughts
- Digestive issues
How can we possibly keep giving when we are:
- running on empty
- giving from an empty cupboard
As we are so often told, we need to consider our own oxygen masks. You can only give from the reserves you have. In order to have reserves, you need to self-care for YOU.
L.R.Knost explains “Taking care of yourself doesn’t mean me first, it means me too”
You can increase your self-care by:
- Get active – Taking time to exercise, whether taking a walk with a friend, getting out in nature, a yoga class or a trip to the gym. Exercise releases endorphins and serotonin which improve mood and well-being.
- Spend time with people who make you feel good – Making regular time for interactions with friends and those we love increases connection and releases oxytocin which makes us feel better.
- Set boundaries – Setting clear boundaries between work and home may feel hard, but it is important. Having downtime where work stays on our desk and we can take time to do things that are good for us is imperative to self-regulation.
- Pay attention to nutrition – When we are exhausted we can quickly become reliant on caffeine, alcohol or sugar to ‘keep us going’ however this adds even more stress to the body. Paying attention to a balanced and nutritious diet and good hydration supports the immune system and reduces stress.
- Take time for hobbies – Scheduling time each week for hobbies or activities that you enjoy supports the development of a clear work-life balance and reduces the risk of burnout. Taking time for hobbies improves our overall life satisfaction.
- Journal – Keeping a journal can help us to process our emotions and feelings. When we are burnt out we can often suppress our emotions, so taking time a few times a week (or daily if you prefer) to journal what is on your mind can allow us to reflect, review and evaluate, as well as sometimes identify patterns or problem solve.
- Digital Detox – Screens and social media add to our brain stress, blue lights are shown to reduce REM sleep which is vital for restoration so taking a few hours before bed, or a day a week (or longer) to have a digital detox can support mental and emotional well-being.
- Self-care Strategies – Implementing positive coping strategies on a weekly (or daily) basis can reduce stress. This might include; meditation, breathing activities, hypnotherapy tracks, getting out in nature, a face mask, a bubble bath, meeting with a friend or cuddling a family pet. Finding positive strategies which lighten the load, even for 10 minutes a day can hugely reduce burnout.
- Say no – You cannot be everything and do everything, you are only human. Sometimes, we can develop a practice of saying yes to everyone else and no to ourselves. If you know your cup is already running over, saying no is a practice of self-care and compassion. Remembering you are no use to anyone if you are on your knees and that saying ‘no’ is sometimes fundamental to our mental health.
- Ask for help – When we are used to being everyone else’s superhero, it can feel challenging to ask for help. However, sometimes sharing our struggles means that we can seek out new strategies, support or ideas. This may be talking to your boss, GP, occupational health, a therapist or a coach to help you re-evaluate and find a more sustainable approach.
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