Self Care Helps Us Stay the Course

By: Valerie Ling

I’ve spoken at two great events recently. The questions put to me on both days have been thought provoking, and I’d like to unpack one in particular.

The students I addressed are preparing for a life of service in Christian ministry. Most of them would have come from a different training pathway leading to professional and financial success. For them to actually disrupt that pathway and train again for a life of service is a pretty big deal. So here is what they asked: “We’ve made the decision to really dedicate our lives to serving others, so is it actually okay to think about self-care and resilience, and pacing or pulling back if our health is compromised… because surely we can keep going?”

On further reflection of this question, here are two concepts I’d like to share with you today.

Firstly, self-care is not about a recreational activity. It’s really about good stewardship of the resources that we have. So if I were a carpenter, I would take really good care of my tools. You invest in good tools, so that you have the confidence that those tools will deliver the service that people have engaged you to do.

When you are in a helping or caring profession, the tools are your voice, your body, your health, your eyesight, your ears, and of course the knowledge that you bring. So, much like a workman who looks after his tools, we need to look after our bodies and our minds, and steward these resources we use when we serve.

“Self-care is not about a recreational activity.”

The second concept is about preventable and non-preventable attrition. In both we exit or stop what we do, but in the latter it is because of things simply out of our control. If in the course of providing a life service there is a non-preventable reason like sickness or a pandemic or a change of circumstances, there’s very little that sleep, exercise or other resilience strategies can do to prevent an exit.

We Have a Choice to Put Measures in Place

In preventable attrition, however, we can actually put some things into place that prevent or slow down the reasons for exiting our work. These include good hygiene, looking a little bit deeper into what we need, and thinking about how relationships are going,

I suppose I put burnout in this category. Because it is an occupational health hazard, there are some things that we can actually be doing. We can learn to manage stress, learn to cope and understand the expectations we place on ourselves which are unrealistic. By being aware of these things and working on them, we can be good stewards of the resources  we have when we’re serving others. We can endure longer, and hopefully, serve more.

Article supplied with thanks to Valerie Ling.

About the Author: Valerie Ling is a clinical psychologist and consultant with The Centre for Effective Living (a psychology and mental health practice) and The Centre for Effective Serving (a workplace wellbeing consultancy).

Feature image: Photo by Rinke Dohmen on Unsplash