As important as self care is for Chaplains and other caregivers, it’s probably one of the most neglected parts of our job. And self care is part of our job, because if we don’t care for ourselves we will be unable to do our job.
When I say this, I don’t speak from years of experience doing so – I’ve been relatively bad at self care. So this is something I’m realizing and learning along the way. But I hope that any others who are sitting on the fence will see not just the benefit but the necessity of some form of self care. I always thought of myself as more of a Type B person than Type A. That was before I saw how anxious I could be and how driven I can be when it comes to work. When I’m “on the clock” I often feel like I have to prove something to somebody, even when nobody’s looking. When it comes to self care it’s rather hit-and-miss. I tend to put it off to when I don’t have anything else to do, or feel like I should wait until work is done. The problem is that in life the minute you leave a vacuum something will fill it unless you choose what to fill it with.
From where I sit, one reason we as caregivers – especially those in health care settings – neglect self care is that our environment can be so fast paced. There is always more to be done: one more call to make, visit to tend to, more time to be spent with someone. I think there is also an underlying sense of competition at times, especially when we view (or others view) our positions as less necessary than the rest of the team. While I think that most of us that serve as Chaplains consider ourselves to have an equivalent voice on the health care team, it may not practically work out that way in all cases. Also, there can be a sense of needing to prove one’s value or worth to the team and to the company, if not to garner attention than to at least preserve our positions. When staff cuts happen, the supplemental services may have the most to lose.
With all of this possible tension, as well as the stress of the job itself, self care needs to be a scheduled part of the day and as important as the work we do as servants and caregivers. It can’t be something that I do when I have time or when I feel like it. Chances are I won’t have time, and if I do I will more than likely fill it up with something else. And when I do have time, I might choose to do something else instead – like more work. I’m learning to take the first half hour of my workday, after checking my work email, to read or write. Reading gives me new ideas and insights, and writing lets me work those ideas out.
I think we as caregivers also need to re-look at our self care strategies every now and again to make sure they are really devoted to care and not just filling time with something that is less than meaningful or purposeful. I do a lot of driving for my job, and love to listen to podcasts and courses on CD in my car. But from time to time I would find that I was getting stressed out about them. If I didn’t have an educational CD going while driving at all times I felt I was slacking. I got to the point where my “self care” was actually causing me anxiety! So out those went. The same with the podcasts – not that I don’t listen to them anymore, but if I miss one oh well, and if they’re too old and I haven’t listened to them I delete them.
Remember to practice self care every day as a part of your work, not set aside from it. It’s not luxury, it’s work.
Remember to make sure your care is actually caring, otherwise it’s just another distraction. If it’s not helping, do something else.