When I was in graduate school, my social work professor asked her students to write what we had done for self care on the white board. If someone wrote something that was truly self care, such as going to dinner with friends, seeing a funny movie, or going to a yoga class, she would praise them. If someone wrote something that she did not consider to be self care, such as catching up on paperwork, or doing volunteer work, she would cross out that item, and ask that person to dig deeper. She was instilling in us social workers that self care is crucial because burnout in our profession is so high.
In my practice, I have come to learn that stress and burnout is not limited to those in the helping professions. I have seen it with people of every profession, including full-time moms and retirees. My clients have come to expect from me that I will ask them what they are doing for self care, and that I will continue to encourage self care throughout their course of treatment.
My favorite form of self care is exercise. It costs nothing, and can be tailored to almost anyone’s limitations. Many of us know first-hand what a natural mood booster the endorphins generated from exercise can be. “Food is the most abused anxiety drug. Exercise is the most underutilized antidepressant,” wrote Bill Phillips, author of Body for Life. You don’t have to run a marathon to reap the benefits of exercise. Anyone can reap the benefits from a gentle yoga class, a walk around the block, or a few laps in the pool.
However, there are many other forms of self care. I simply ask, “what is pleasing to you?” Renowned psychologist Marsha Linehan said that her mother always had a peppermint candy in times of crisis because they were soothing to her. What is soothing to you? These things are often free. I enjoy the smell of freshly made coffee and bread more than the taste of them, and I like the smell of citrus and tropical fruits and flowers. I enjoy the feel of fleece, and find the PBS show Downton Abbey to be relaxing. Most of these things are free, or cost very little.
What are you doing for self care? What things are pleasing to your senses, and how do you enjoy them throughout your day or week? That is my challenge to you.