On Site Self Care Strategies for Helping Professions
This article has been featured as a Guest Blog for CultureCon and the American Association of Christian Counselors. Please share with your family, friends & colleagues. We all need this message!
Burnout was recently defined as an epidemic and diagnosable condition by the World Health Organization. With the COVID19 pandemic, it is time to begin developing onsite self-care strategies. Whether we are in the office, or joining virtually, there are stressors leading to the burnout that so many have recently experienced. As helping professionals, it is even more important for us to take care of ourselves. If we do not have oxygen, we will not be able to put the oxygen masks on others.
Do you remember thinking differently, that it is the parent’s responsibility to care for the child first, and place the oxygen mask on them before caring for themselves? I do. I was raised in Knoxville, TN by immigrant parents from Cyprus. We began journeys to visit extended family overseas in 1979. I remember when we heard the recommendation for parents to care for themselves first, by putting on the oxygen mask. As a family, we were baffled. This seemed neglectful. Over time the concept has made more and more sense. What if the parent passes out due to lack of oxygen? Then they will not be able to care for the child. In 2010, while visiting Cyprus, I had a contentious conversation with my first cousin about this. The cultural beliefs of this small island nation pointed to such actions being neglect if the parent did not care for the child’s needs first. He emphatically argued that the parent should put the oxygen mask on the child first. I could not convince him otherwise.
What does this look like in the everyday practitioner’s work? We all experience stress with a stress response. Positive Psychology teaches us to do what we can about our response and let the rest go, meaning the very stressful event that is out of our control. Clients come to us with problems, and it is our role to guide them with solutions they come up with. Fostering such insight takes a lot of our energy, as we listen empathetically, putting aside our own very real problems and emotions. If we skip lunch, devotions, time with family & friends and having fun; this will affect our well-being. It is our responsibility to care for ourselves. No one is going to do this for us.
Creating a culture of on-site self-care strategies, meaning thinking about self-care as a priority, is key to success for ourselves and our team. “Burnout is caused by chronic stress, not stressors, the Nagoskis say in their book, “Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle.”It’s important to differentiate the two. Stressors are external: to-do lists, financial problems or anxiety about the future. Stress, on the other hand, “is the neurological and physiological shift that happens in your body when you encounter [stressors).”
We all have stressors in life, and they have been profound with the challenges the COVID19 pandemic has brought forth. How are we responding to these stressors? A larger question to ask, ‘is it the leader’s responsibility to foster self-care at work to address this burnout epidemic?’ Experts in culture development in organizations exemplify how putting employee happiness in the forefront benefits the clients they serve as well as investors.
Fostering companionate love at work among teams with relational management is key to building a team that will thrive in times of stress. Companionate love at work has benefits, including increased engagement, productivity with reduced absenteeism in front line staff. Imagine finding our work environment a place we want to join daily, and miss when we find ourselves working virtually, or off-site. Now think of the components that make that a reality. None of us have arrived here as a place of work where our well-being is at the forefront.
The 2020 World Happiness Report found social environment being key to life satisfaction studying 2 groups: “The fortunate group has one or more friends or relatives available for intimate discussions and has weekly or more frequent social meetings. The unfortunate group has neither of these forms of social support. We know that those with more supportive personal social connections and activity are more satisfied with their lives.” With our work becoming increasingly stressful, how can we foster conditions for a ‘fortunate group at work?’ When we form a community at work, we will see the new normal of working smart, taking care of our own well-being.
All of us can identify with being engaged and productive when we love what we do, feel heard, and a sense of belonging. Practitioners need the support of one another, as our work drains us emotionally. This means creating space to have conversations about this video by Sigal Barsade, Love at Work. When we think back on 2021, let it be the year that onsite self-care strategies became our banner at work.