A team of volunteers take part in the Caribbean Volunteer Exchange initiative. (Courtesy of Good Deeds Day)
I could hardly get up that morning. I was e-x-h-a-u-s-t-e-d. I had a migraine, felt dizzy, and my eyes were crusted shut. Let’s not talk about how I felt mentally. I couldn’t function. At the urging of my friend, I visited the casualty and discovered my pressure was elevated and I had pink eye. The physician indicated that I was suffering from burn out. I am sure other social care professionals can identify with the occasional, if not common feeling of fatigue.
That day, it dawned on me, I need a break and I need to start taking care of myself. So, let’s talk about taking care of yourself, a.k.a., self-care. Self-care, the actions that are taken to preserve one’s health and well being, has become a big thing. An industry actually. For all intents and purposes, I think it should be because unfortunately, many of us need to be taught how to navigate our life to incorporate aspects that protect our mental, emotional, and physical health. Even worse, we often don’t recognize the signs of burnout because it has been normalized for us to push ourselves to the limit. We feel productive, we feel as if we are accomplishing our goals. However, our body, mind, and emotions are sending us signals that we should slow down. The problem? We are missing those signals. Furthermore, it is quite possible that our jobs don’t afford us the “privilege” of living a balanced life. Individuals who are in a field that is “people-based” where people’s development and empowerment is the crux of the position would know that oftentimes the energy you give to the work and your clients and the energy you should maintain for your own well being gets muddled. When all is said and done, you end up on the losing end.
A few days after my casualty visit, I started thinking about myself not only as a social care professional but also as a woman’s rights advocate. Having experience with both, I realized the titles are one and the same in many ways because social care professionals (i.e. social workers, community outreach coordinators, etc.) are advocates for their clients. Advocacy can be defined as the public support of a cause or policy. Those causes could represent advocating for children, women and girls, nutrition and hunger, education, and economic development. However, what support are these professionals receiving from their place of work to ensure their self-care? Very few social care institutions offer a reprieve for their employees (i.e. access to a therapist, self-care days, etc.). Furthermore, professional advocates who work for local and international organizations often place their life and health in jeopardy, depending on the nature and location of their work. However, the organizations they are employed by often lack the civility they extend to the population being served to the staff that is providing the service.
So who is supposed to lead in enforcing self-care, is it the worker or the organization? According to Devex, the social enterprise and media platform, it is usually the one leading that bears the responsibility. In essence, the organization that employs the workers should ensure that they have measures in place to safeguard the health and well being of their staff. Why should the organization lead? Employees by and large are mostly concerned with keeping their job than taking initiatives to support a self care culture within the field in which they work. In an interview with Forbes, Beth Kanter, co-author of The Happy, Healthy Nonprofit: Strategies for Impact without Burnout, stated that advocates for social change often operate from a scarcity mindset due to the nature of their work, hence it becomes natural to deprive themselves.
Presenters at Ujima Woman’s Self-care and Advocacy Seminar. (l-r)
Shanley Lewis, (Founder, Good to Me, Uk and self-care coach);
Claytine Nisbett, (Founder, Ujima Woman and women’s rights advocate
Alexandrina Wong, (President, Women Against Rape [W.A.R.] and health and
Studies have shown that the inclusion of recreational activities as part of the work culture encourages a work-life balance. Also, the communication needed to engage in these activities increases overall communication within the work environment. This improved communication among colleagues leads to better work relationships and the generation of ideas which is benefits the company. Finally, the less stressed your employees are, the more productive they are.
Recently, Ujima Woman, held a Self-Care and Advocacy seminar on the island of Antigua. Present were mental health professionals, government workers, and retirees which made the discussion more vibrant. The panel discussed simple self-care practices such as drinking water to the need to systematize self-care practices within private and public institutions. However, in the interim attendees suggested a “community of care”. Such a model would look like checking in on peers, having accountability partners, and encouraging our others to pursue holistic and sustainable methods of self-care, until a level of self-care can be institutionalized within our various organizations. Self-care practices are much more than getting one’s hair and nails done and getting a massage. Examples of holistic self-care practices includes developing a regular sleep routine, engaging in reflective journaling and meditation, and establishing and prioritizing supportive relationships. Monthly subscription services like Good To Me UK are great resources in assisting its members in practicing self-care. They aim is to provide you with tools, techniques and tips and to support your practice of good self-care.
Good To Me UK subscription box. (courtesy of goodtomeuk.com)
The sentiments that both the presenters and attendees were left with were “more needs to be done” and “please don’t let this be another one-off event”. This means we not only need to have conversations but define the actions we need to take around them. Ujima Woman plans to ensure that this is not just another discussion and plans to do workshops in their near future on how we can practically implement self-care practices in our personal and professional lives. In the meantime, this quote by Audre Lorde conveys our sentiments about self-care, “I have come to believe that caring for myself is not self-indulgent. Caring for myself is an act of survival.”