SELF-CARE AND COMPASSION - This Week's Focus - COVID-19
Self - Care is Health Care
It can be challenging for many reasons to focus on self-care. Perhaps cumulative stressors, relating to unrealistic expectations placed on us, by others or ourselves, have impacted on our energy reserves at present.
Daily essentials like sleep, hydration and social connection (which we will be exploring in detail next week) are especially important for those who are working in our hospitals at this time. Building in pauses throughout our day and repeating positive mind-set phrases can support us to avoid pandemic burnout.
- I am doing the best I can right now
- This is the most meaningful thing I can do
- We will get through this together
Self-care is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health. It is a broad term that covers just about anything positive that we do to be good to ourselves. It’s about being as kind to ourselves as we would be to others. It’s partly about knowing when our resources are running low and stepping back to replenish them, rather than letting them all drain away. It also involves integrating self-compassion into our lives in a way that helps us avoid burnout.
It is important to note that not everything that feels good is self-care. Numbing behaviours like drugs, alcohol, over eating or surfing social media in excess are often mistaken as self-care. These activities can help us regulate challenging emotions but the relief is temporary. On the other hand when self-care is practiced correctly it has long term benefits for both the body and mind.
Self-care is something that when you do it, you wake up the next morning feeling better, while numbing is something that when you wake up the next day, you think, ‘Maybe I didn’t need that extra glass of wine or dessert’. Good self-care is key to improved mood and reduced anxiety. It’s also key to good relationships.
The 8 Areas of Self-Care
There are eight areas in our lives where we can practice self-care: Physical, psychological, emotional, social, financial, spiritual, environmental and professional – click here for information on self-care suggestions.
Why can self-care be difficult to do?
One of the main reasons many of us give for not practicing self-care is that we just don’t have the time. We are so busy that when we do get some down time we are exhausted. When we are tired, and perhaps most in need of self-care, is exactly when exerting effort for anything can feel like an especially tall order – even if we know it will help us feel better. Self-care can take many different forms. It may be as simple as being more mindful during our daily activities when we eat, shower, drive etc. It does not always have to involve additional time. Another reason we can find self-care difficult is that when we do get some down time, we feel guilty indulging ourselves. Self-care is not selfish, it is a necessity that enables us to continue meeting all of the demands that life places on us.
Well-nourished people are kinder, more compassionate, more resourceful and more resilient. This is what the whole world needs, now more so than ever. When you commit to regular self-care you become a better version of yourself, everyone your life touches benefits - this has to be the most sensational win win! Have you nourished yourself today…..?
Compassion - What is it?
A common definition of compassion is “being moved by the suffering of oneself and others and being motivated to reduce that suffering.”
This definition involves two major parts:
An openness and sensitivity to suffering – we care about the suffering and pain of ourselves and others.
A motivation to reduce it – we want to help when we see ourselves or others suffering and in pain
Compassion can often be viewed as a ‘soft, fluffy’ concept. In fact it is anything but. Compassion requires courage, self-awareness, inner resources, self-care, connection and good communication, curiosity and vulnerability. In order to be compassionate with others we need to first be compassionate with ourselves. This means we need to take care of all aspects of our health.
What are the barriers to compassion?
Compassion is a very different way of dealing with suffering and emotional pain than we may be used to. Our upbringing, families, cultural and societal norms, the organisations we work in or need to avail of as well as our own internal judgements can affect the way we think about this. For example we may believe:
- If we are hurting or in pain, that means there is something wrong with us
- If we or others are having a hard time – it is our (or their) fault
- We are undeserving of compassion and self-care
- We are being selfish if we practice self-compassion because practicing self-compassion means we have to do things to care for ourselves. This can be particularly difficult when we have always been in caring/supporting roles
- If we or others are experiencing emotions like fear, sadness, anger that means we (or they) are weak and undeserving of sympathy
- When life’s difficulties come up, we should just be able to “tough it out”
It is also important to acknowledge that very often when we feel most stressed, under pressure and challenged in whatever way, we can feel least motivated and able to do the things we need to do to care for ourselves. This is the time we need to set small, realistic and achievable goals. Once we do one thing and start to feel the benefits we feel more motivated and better able to continue and build in more self-care. Remember that self-care is how we practice self-compassion.
What is a compassionate approach?
- It recognises that life has difficulties, that we all feel pain, fear, sadness, anger, loss, grief, difficulties and broken-heartedness in our lives
- It recognises that these are not signs of weakness but are normal human experiences
- It recognises that avoiding, denying or otherwise refusing to acknowledge and work with these difficulties produces suffering and problems
- It recognises that we can live more happily and healthily if we have the courage and skills to acknowledge and work with this directly
Why is compassion so important?
In week 2 when we examined anxiety we covered the fight, flight, freeze response to stressful situations and the impact on our emotions, behaviours, cognitive functioning and physical health. Practicing self-compassion helps soothe our stressed systems so that we feel better able to manage all these areas. What are the benefits?
- We feel less overwhelmed and more in control
- We are able to think more clearly and problem solve. This is really important at a time when life is so uncertain and we are needing to adapt to our changing circumstances
- We are less judgemental of ourselves and in turn less judgemental of others. We don’t just jump in and react to situations & people. When our systems are calmer we are better able to respond in ways that are more likely to result in better outcomes and better relationships
- It supports us to improve and maintain wellness in all areas of our lives
Peer support can be vital at this time and Elissa Epel, health psychologist suggests identifying a 'touch point person' or ‘buddy’ who has a similar role to you to check in with each day. Having a sense of permission to reach out for this support (someone who can provide a safe space for you whether that be our partner, friend, supervisor or colleague) and holding each other’s experiences can help immensely. When we feel anxious, frightened, overwhelmed or emotionally exhausted, rather than trying to avoid inner feelings, trying to find a way to approach them is best.
Any member of staff can avail of the Trust's Psychology Support Line - your colleagues are here to support you at this very difficult time.
Take some time to explore the resources (attachments and links provided on this page) including the top tips for coping developed by the Trust's Psychology Department.
Recovery College Videos on Self Care and Compassion