Breathe deeply!  Taking Care of the Caregiver

~by Judy Szeg, Educator, Office & Volunteer Coordinator, Safeline, Inc.

 “You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe                                          deserve your love and affection.”  – Buddha

Watch a lit candle.  Do yoga.  Walk your dog.  Smell your favorite scent.  Listen to music.   Dance.  These are small things but, oh, so important when done mindfully.

The readers of this blog have very diverse roles – teachers, other school staff, parents, counselors, therapists, faith leaders, youth group or community leaders, the list goes on and on.  One thing that we may experience in common is that we may sometimes feel overwhelmed as we do our best to support the children and youth in our lives.

Unfortunately, many of the children and youth that we know experience very serious challenges in their young lives, whether due to domestic or sexual violence, alcohol or substance abuse, bullying, poverty, homelessness or many other issues.  When we interact with them on a regular basis, become aware of their situation and witness their pain, fear or sadness, we may find that we are impacted more than we realize.

Have you found yourself having difficulty sleeping and worrying about a youth you know?  Feeling hopeless about your work?  Feeling distracted or irritable?  Finding a change in your eating habits?  Feeling less joy toward things you usually enjoy?  For people in helping roles, these signs may reflect vicarious trauma or compassion fatigue.

When we find that we are feeling overwhelmed like this self-care becomes crucial.  In our busy jobs and busy lives, we may feel that we don’t have the time for self-care.  But, if we do not take care of ourselves, we are not able to be that consistent, predictable, safe person that the young people in our lives need us to be.  We need self-care not only for our benefit but, also, for their benefit.

So, start small but start!  Self-care strategies do not necessarily require a large chunk of time.  Even if you start with 5 or 10 minutes a day, it can make a difference.  There are many self-care strategies to choose from besides those briefly mentioned at the beginning of this post and what works for one person may not work for another.  A few others may include journaling, guided imagery (taking a mental walk in the woods or on the beach), look at flowers or stars, squeeze a stress ball, focus on being “in the moment” while doing chores like washing dishes or talk with a friend.  Additional resources are listed at the end of the post.

Some of these are things you can actually use at work or in your office such as mindful breathing, playing a CD of ocean sounds or wearing a scent that is soothing to you.

Humor is helpful for many people (myself included!).  Watch, read or listen to something funny.  Laughter IS good medicine.

For some of us who have used self-care techniques before, we may find that we need to try some new techniques from time to time in order for them to be fresh and effective.

Want to hear more about how our work can impact us?  Watch this Ted Talk by Laura van Dernoot Lipsky (Trauma Stewardship).

Additional Resources:

Trauma Stewardship: An everyday guide to caring for self while caring for others, by Laura van Dernoot LIpsky with Connie Burk

Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers:  The Acclaimed Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Diseases, and Coping – Now Revised and Updated, by Robert M Sapolsky