Self Care!

A child will take love and take nothing in return.
And a child will take love and take everything in return.
– Will Geer

Sorry, but you cannot do it all! Well, you could try, for awhile, and then you burn out, sputter and crash! Honest. Trust me on this. Working with youth, be it teaching, coaching, counseling, or ministering to youth is darn hard work. And well it should be. It’s important for us to honor the time we need for self care just as we invest so much of ourselves while caring for the children that we work with.

When a child or teen seeks your help or is in crisis, either as an individual, or among many as in a class or a group, being there for them means everything, to them of course, and to you as well. You put in 110% for as long as it takes. And all the while the energy and “juice” that makes you who you are to them gets drained away in the process, oftentimes with little self awareness that you also need to be taken care of yourself and that you need to find ways to have your batteries recharged as well. (We hope this site does a bit of that!)

Some workplaces offer very good care to support their staff. Other places do a horrible job of it, yet keep expecting their workers (teachers, human service workers, clergy people) to keep chugging along like nothing ever happened. There’s the normal tiredness that comes with a regular day of hard work, that good sleep, a decent weekend and a few days off can take care of. But a deeper fatigue, that runs the risk of burnout, may carry the following signs:

  • Frequent irritability and constant anger around the “edges” of your daily work routines, or taking it out on loved ones (partner/spouse and children) at home.
  • Chronic problems with sleeping.
  • Unexplained weight gain and increases in substance abuse, especially alcohol abuse.
  • “Compassion fatigue,” meaning you find it harder and harder to empathize, listen to, and genuinely express care for your clients, etc.
  • Experiencing a feeling of dread about going to work each day.  

Here’s a checklist of things to pay attention to and consider doing:

  • If you are provided supervision, make sure you use it during stressful and traumatic times of crisis, etc. If your supervisor’s level of support is inadequate, try and get another person to be in that role for at least the short haul.
  • If you work in places where you’re on your own most of the time and have very little available supervision, reach out to a colleague who is not dealing with the same stuff that you are, or consider hiring a pro to supervise you through the crisis that’s wearing you out.
  • How’s your office/work station environment? (I know, don’t laugh!) Are any parts of it enjoyable to be in? Is it clean or cluttered? And how’s the “quality” of light coming in? (Stop laughing…I’m serious!) These things matter. If you can enhance and control or change any of it, do it.
  • Try to get out of the building where you work…even for 10 to fifteen minutes, get away from your phone and desk, get some fresh air, listen to music, walk around the block…whatever it takes to just get out for a bit. (Just remember to come back if you’re still in the middle of your day!)
  • If you can, when your workday ends, get near a body of water and just gaze outward. Make a point of seeing the horizon whenever possible.
  • Watch the foods you eat, and be aware if your diet is changing in direct proportion to the level of stress you’re dealing with. “Comfort foods” are wonderful, and are okay on the short haul, but be aware of carbo loads and high fat intake, or consuming more alcohol than usual.
  • If you have a pet, (hopefully more than a goldfish!) spend time with it. If you don’t have a pet, consider spending time with a neighbors pet in all the usual ways.
  • If you health plan provides for it, or if you can afford it, consider some therapy for yourself! You don’t have to wait until you’re completely emotionally unhinged to deserve some therapy for yourself. If it’s good enough for your clients, it’s good enough for us, too!
  • If you have a sense of a spiritual/religious life, don’t overlook this when you’re feeling overwhelmed with your work of caring for others. How many times have we heard clients or people we care for say that if it weren’t for their belief and faith in what they call holy, that they wouldn’t even be here today? Well, that same power, joy, Spirit and comfort of something that’s bigger and greater than we are can help us in the same way.
  • If you know that you sometimes, or frequently, get dangerously close to compassion fatigue, exhaustion or burnout, consider a burnout prevention plan for your personal “youth worker toolbox.” In it list some of things I’ve mentioned above, including some sources of humor, people to reach out to, special things to do and places to go that you can make happen cheaply, easily and quickly.

Related articles: Juice and Joy, and Juice for the Journey

Kevin Lee

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